California resident Brian Phillips insists that the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community stole his $25,000 Toyota Tundra pickup.
The vehicle was seized under tribal law in December 2011 after a security guard caught him smoking pot in the parking lot of Casino Arizona, and appeals with the tribe and U.S. government have done no good.
The tribe also took his two ounces of hashish, eight-ball of crystal meth, marijuana and pain pills. He considers that "theft," too.
We've written about these heavy-handed seizures by the tribes previously. No question about it -- if you get stopped on Indian land with even a small amount of drugs, tribal authorities might seize your vehicle permanently. Records show that Phillips' Tundra was registered to somebody, we can't tell who, in March. The chief of police may own it now, for all we know.
Phillips, 50, a former U.S. Marine and authorized California medical-marijuana user, is outraged.
"Hate to break it to the Indians, but they're supposed to resemble legitimate law," Phillips fumes in a letter to New Times. "I consider the products that they confiscated from me theft under the color of law."
That's right -- he's saying it's not just the truck that was improperly seized, it was the drugs, too.
"I use meth because it also relieves some of my sciatica pain," Phillips says. "You can disbelieve if you like, most do, that I get pain relief from meth. I know it works."
He adds with indignation, "What I use the meth for Is my business and no one else's. It may be considered as contraband to them but to me it is my private property. They cannot regulate what I wish to consume, as an adult in a supposedly free society."
Phillips says he's disabled, collects Social Security disability, and only brings in about $1,100 a month. He bought the Tundra after a settlement with the Social Security Administration that awarded him back pay.
Of course, that brings up the question, which we didn't bother to ask him: How could he afford trips to the casino, not to mention his portable pharmacy?
Phillips did tell us that he'd been traveling through Arizona on December 29, 2011, on his way back to California from Colorado, where he'd purchased the hashish, when he went to the casino.
Tribal court records indicate that it's Casino Arizona policy for security guards to perform a "welfare check" on anyone sitting in a vehicle in the parking lot for more than 15 minutes. When the guard checked on Phillips' Tundra, he smelled the pot and called tribal police, who soon arrived with a drug-sniffing dog.
Phillips' truck was seized and he was transported to the Maricopa County Jail. He was soon released but told to stay in town until a court hearing three weeks later. By the time he made it back to California, he says, he was broke and car-less.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Maricopa court records show he was charged one year later with possession of marijuana and narcotics, plus misconduct with weapons for a handgun found in the vehicle. Phillips didn't appear for further court hearings, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. However, Phillips' name doesn't show up in an active-warrant database; we're trying to find out the current status of his case.
Phillips hopes his case brings attention to the tribe's heavy-handed vehicle seizures, and to the injustice of drug laws in general.
"I know I sound nuts but the only thing the government should be doing is regulating purity of the products I wish to buy but instead they deem them illegal," he rails. "As a consumer I'm now forced to deal with illicit and questionable people and sources. instead of getting a quality product from my pharmacy I am exposed to strychnine arsenic, pesticides, drain products (lye) and a host of other adulterants that end up in black marked drugs."
We're pretty sure nobody's forcing him to snort lye and arsenic. But we understand his viewpoint, to an extent. Especially when it comes to the truck being seized, which is one of the bitterest pills Phillips has ever swallowed.