George John has taken over as head of the Navajo police less than a week after being stripped of his badge and arrested for impersonating an officer by men loyal to the police chief he replaced.
John was appointed amid a dispute over the authority of embattled Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald, whom the Tribal Council placed on administrative leave after he was linked to corruption in testimony before a U.S. Senate hearing last winter. MacDonald has contended the council action was illegal.The council's choice as interim chairman, Leonard Haskie, appointed John to head the police force. However, officers loyal to MacDonald's hand-picked chief, Bill Kellogg, had refused to obey John.
Now the force is under tribal court order to obey, and John said Thursday he understands Kellogg and nine other ousted officers will honor the order.
"It's been a tough 2 1/2 weeks," John said, sitting for the first time in the police chief's office Thursday. Last Friday, policemen had stripped him of his badge and gun and had arrested him for impersonating an officer.
He spent much of Thursday meeting with police commanders and a lawyer representing the police.
Asked if officers now will follow his orders, John said: "I feel the rank and file support me. I'm not going to say everyone out there supports me. But I feel most support me, and I don't see any mass resignations."
Tribal Council spokesman Duane Beyal said Michael Stuhff, attorney for Kellogg and other officers, has indicated all police will abide by the order.
"The terminated policemen will be afforded the right of filing grievances against their firings, like any other employees," Beyal said.
The tribal police department has about 300 officers.
Lawyers for MacDonald and the Tribal Council have agreed to a preliminary injunction that forbids MacDonald and his top aides from exercising power, calls for MacDonald's staff to vacate the chairman's offices and forbids anyone from blocking entrance to tribal offices.
John said he believes MacDonald's supporters will leave without the use of force, but if they refuse, "we will have to take whatever means are called for."
Developments on Wednesday included a filing in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., and the first peaceful distribution by Haskie's government of tribal payroll checks.
Haskie-appointed Controller Bobby White said his office would issue termination checks, eliminating 26 MacDonald staffers from the payroll with lump-sum payments of between $6,000 and $8,000.