A woman accused of killing four people, including three of her relatives, at a tiny American Indian tribe’s Northern California headquarters had been evicted from tribal housing because she was suspected of stealing from the tribe, its lawyer said Monday.
Cedarville Rancheria attorney Jack Duran said Cherie Lash Rhoades was suspended as tribal chairwoman just three weeks before the gun and knife attack pending a federal investigation into allegations that she embezzled at least $50,000 in U.S. grant money.
Rhoades son, Jack Stockton, was ousted as vice chairman and evicted from tribal housing on the same grounds, Duran told The Associated Press.
Duran said the meeting in Alturas, California, was being held to consider Rhoades’ appeal of her eviction.
But at some point, Rhoades opened fire, killing her brother Rurik Davis, 50, who had been named interim chairman by the tribal council, authorities said.
Also killed in the attack were Rhoades’ niece Angel Penn, 19; her nephew Glenn Calonicco, 30; and Shelia Lynn Russo, 47. Penn and Calonicco were members of the 11-person tribal council, and Russo was tribal administrator, Duran said.
Duran said Penn was holding her newborn infant on her lap when she was shot, but the baby was unhurt and will be placed with a sister.
Responding officers arrested Rhoades outside the building, where a declaration of probable cause says Undersheriff Ken Richardson saw Rhodes stabbing one of the victims in the parking lot and handcuffed her after another person tackled her. The document adds that police talked to six people who witnessed the shooting. The two women who survived bullet wounds were also cut with a knife.
A criminal complaint filed Monday in Modoc County Superior Court charges Rhoades with four counts of murder with a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun, and two counts of attempted murder. She was to be arraigned Tuesday morning.
District Attorney Jordan Funk said she will face the death penalty if she’s convicted, because the complaint carries the special circumstance of multiple victims.
The Cedarville Rancheria is a federally recognized tribe with 35 registered members. The Rancheria owns 26 acres (10 1/2 hectares) in Cedarville, where most members reside in nine small, one-story houses built in the 1950s on the outskirts of town.
Though police have said they are still working on a motive, a nephew who lived with Rhoades, Jacob Penn, said she snapped under the pressure of her brother trying to evict her.
Eviction from tribal housing is among the most serious punishments for American Indians. However, Rhoades and Stockton were not being removed from tribal rolls, and would continue to receive their share of $1.1 million in gambling revenues shared by casino tribes with the Rancheria, which does not have a casino, Duran said.
Alturas Police Chief Ken Barnes said that as the shooting erupted, young children were inside the building and on the property, and a judge from another tribe was listening to the eviction proceedings over the phone.
After running out of bullets, Rhoades grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed a woman, police said. She chased one of Davis’ daughters out of the building and into the parking lot while brandishing the knife.
There, she was tackled by the tribal headquarters maintenance man, Duran said.
Both of Davis’ daughters were wounded. Officials said one was alert and talking, while the other remained in critical condition Friday.