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Mashpee Indians Not Guilty, Claim Land Suit Caused Arrest

By Talli S. Nauman

Six Mashpee Wampanoag Indians, charged with assault and battery of police officers, disorderly conduct, and violation of an anti-noise law, are free after being found not guilty by Judge Dennis Collari, special justice to the Third District Court of Plymouth, on Saturday.

Earl Mills, Jr., one of the defendants, said yesterday he thought the police action was caused by "the greater consciousness, Indian awareness and the Mashpee Wampanoag land suit. The town was trying to put the flame out, but as it was, they couldn't."

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is suing the town of Mashpee for return of approximately 16,000 acres of public and private land they claim the town's founders illegally expropriated.

Defense attorney Lewis Gerwitz said yesterday the action was "an attempt to slap down the people" but the prosecution "never expected the kind of community support the kids got."

Collari said the evidence did not point to racial prejudice as a police motivation though it was argued all through the case."

He said he based his decision on the "lack of evidence" against the defendants.

Witnesses previously testified that following a noise complaint on July 29, 1926, state troopers and 20 officers from five area neighborhoods, equipped with dogs, riot helmets, sticks and mace, converged on a group of mostly Indian men who had been participating in a religious ceremony.

All defendants testified that on the arrival of squad cars they were either asleep or talking quietly around a campfire on public land which town officials had given the permission to use.

No Grounds

In his closing statement Saturday Gerwitz said many factors influencing the police action had not come out in the trial. "We have thought all along that there were no grounds for the police action but that it was just harassment," Gerwitz said yesterday. Although there was no proof, he said, "it would be hard to imagine why so many police would be called in unless there were "other forces in the community."

Gerwitz said George Benwag, chairman of the Mashpee Board of Selectmen, was one of these forces. He added Benway "posed as an impartial arbiter" at a homeowner's meeting regarding the land claim suit but testified in behalf of the prosecution in this case. Gerwitz said this was "a little strange."

"Benway was a main instigator in the case," Mills said, adding, "Selectmen are the top execs in town, including the police force. He is pushing against the land suit because of his real estate interests."

Benway testified in court last March 26, "I did have a real estate business but now 90 per cent of it is null and void."

Alan Green, assistant District Attorney and Special Prosecutor to the Town of Mashpee for the case, said yesterday the verdict was "not surprising."

Green said, "Washington freed the nation, Lincoln freed the slaves, and Collari freed the Indians."

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