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Narragansett Indian leaders insist chief sachem is RI resident

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CHARLESTOWN, RI (WPRI) – The Narragansett Indian Tribe’s Medicine Man insists Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas is a Rhode Island resident who is eligible to be the tribe’s leader.

Thomas has been Chief Sachem of the Charlestown-based tribe for nearly two decades. According to tribal election rules forwarded to Target 12, the chief must live in the state of Rhode Island or within a 50-mile radius.

But Medicine Man John Brown said it has never mattered where the tribe’s chief has lived.

“Where he lives is immaterial,” Brown said. “We’ve had chiefs live out of state in the past. The man (Chief Thomas) has done nothing wrong.”

Documents obtained by Target 12 from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles indicate Thomas got a Florida driver’s license on March 10 of this year, and at the same time registered to vote in that state. According to Florida law, Florida residency is a requirement to register to vote.

According to the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s office, Thomas’ voting rights in this state were canceled in March for “him moving out of state.” Charlotte County, Florida tax assessor’s records show that Thomas owns a home in Port Charlotte.

“He has a residence in Florida,” Brown said. “He has one here. There is nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t matter to the people of the tribe. It may matter to a few, but the majority doesn’t care.”

The chief’s residency is one of multiple complaints listed by some tribe members who, on Monday, protested the decision to invalidate the 2014 tribal council election that seated six new members. As first reported by Target 12, that move effectively kicked the newly elected leaders off the nine-member council.

Tribal Election Committee member Darlene Monroe said the council claimed the decision was based on irregularities in the election. But she said the claims were never proven and she called the vote a power play aimed at getting rid of the newly elected council members who are hungry for reform.

“They needed five for a quorum,” Monroe said. “They didn’t have a quorum. They think they’re above the law.”

Brown said there was a quorum and that there is evidence of several irregularities with last year’s election.

“One of those irregularities was there were people who voted who were not eligible,” Brown said. “There were enough irregularities that the tribe invalidated the election.”

Brown also insisted that Monroe was part of the problem for not supplying certain documentation to the council.

“That’s just not true,” Monroe said.

She led the protest on Monday and continues to call for new tribal leadership, starting with Chief Sachem Thomas.

“I believe the chief should step down,” Monroe said.

Thomas has not returned phone calls or emails from Target 12, but tribe attorney William Devereaux responded to the controversy.

“As far as I know, the chief sachem is a Rhode Island resident,” Devereaux said. “He is in Rhode Island more than Florida.”

According to Thomas’ driving record, his Florida license was suspended in October due to an insurance issue. But an official with the Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections said Thomas is still registered to vote there.Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter@wbuteau

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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