Federal program gives tribes access to criminal databases

Federal officials on Wednesday launched a new program that will allow tribes access to national criminal databases and fix a system that allowed a man to buy a gun that was later used by his son to kill four classmates and himself at a Marysville Pilchuck High School.

Raymond Fryberg was the subject of a 2001 domestic violence restraining order issued by a Tulalip Tribal Court, which should have kept him from buying a firearm, but the restraining order was never sent to the federal criminal database used to check criminal histories during firearm purchases because of a breakdown in information sharing between tribes and outside authorities.

Fryberg’s 15-year-old son, Jaylen, shot the students and himself last Oct. 24 at Marysville Pilchuck.

The Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information, or TAP, will allow federally recognized tribes to enter criminal records into and pull information out of national databases overseen by the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The program was announced during a conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI held in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Justice officials said the mass shooting by Jaylen Fryberg drove home the importance of getting an effective system in place for all tribes.

“Empowering tribal law enforcement with information strengthens public safety and is a key element in our ongoing strategy to build safe and healthy communities in Indian country,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said. “The Tribal Access Program is a step forward to providing tribes the access they need to protect their communities, keep guns from falling into the wrong hands, assist victims, and prevent domestic and sexual violence.”

Michelle Demmert, a Tulalip Tribes attorney who was at the conference in Oklahoma, said they’ve spent years working with federal officials to identify gaps in the criminal database system and this announcement seems to say “the Department of Justice and the Office of Tribal Justice has heard the tribe’s voice.”

“The TAP program will reinforce the Tulalip Tribes’ commitment to using available tools to protect its community,” Demmert told The Associated Press in an email.

Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Conference of American Indians, the oldest and largest organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, said the plan “responds to a long-standing public safety concern in Indian Country.”

“Today’s announcement is an encouraging step, and we hope that the new DOJ Tribal Access Program will lead to real change and meaningful solutions,” he said in an email. “The safety of our communities depends on it.”

In addition to letting tribes submit data, it will also allow them to conduct background checks when a tribe needs to place a child with a foster parent in an emergency situation — another area tribes have long sought to have fixed.

Taking that a step further, the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced at the conference that it and the Office of Justice Services have created another new program that will give tribal social service agencies 24-hour access to criminal history records to ensure the safe placement of children in foster care.

Demmert praised that move, saying the Tulalip Tribes “is encouraged that our ability to protect our most vulnerable population — children — in times of crisis will be assisted with this work around issue to access name-based criminal history records when children need to be placed out of the home.”

Francesca Hillary, spokeswoman for the Tulalip Tribes, has said tribes have been asking for a system to access the national databases for years. Justice officials said they’ve been working with tribes to resolve the roadblocks that kept a system from working effectively.

The FBI oversees a justice information services system in all 50 states. The system includes the National Crime Information Center, used by law enforcement to get data on stolen property, wanted people and sex offenders, and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, used by Federal Firearms Licensees during gun purchases.

To date, the systems have been available to federal, state and local law enforcement but not to all tribes.

The TAP program will support and train tribes as they connect with the system. Once established, they’ll be able to use the databases in the same way as outside law enforcement.

Raymond Fryberg has been charged in federal court with six counts of illegally buying 10 guns during a period when he was prohibited from having firearms. On Wednesday, his trial was moved from Aug. 31 to Sept. 21, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

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