Round Valley Injustice

The Railroad of Bear Lincoln

Revolutionary Worker #914, July 6, 1997

"April 14 was a dark, dark night. It was very hard to see anything. On top of Little Valley Ridge, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department lay in wait, and ambushed and murdered our brother Acorn. He broke no laws, had no warrant for his arrest, there was no roadblock, no lights, no warning, only darkness and then a blaze of gunfire. Acorn died quickly, I believe he was dead before he hit the ground. The M-16s were still going off even after he was down. There sounded like five or six weapons going off all at the same time. I believe that the Sheriff's Department was only interested in getting a body count. I believe that it was their plan to kill as many Indians as they could."

Bear Lincoln describing the night
of April 14, 1995 in a letter

The shockwaves of the bloody events of April 14, 1995 are still being felt on the Round Valley Indian Reservation and in neighboring Covelo, in Mendocino County in northern California. That night, Leonard "Acorn" Peters was shot and killed by sheriffs in a hail of gunfire. Leonard's friend Eugene "Bear" Lincoln, a Wailaki and Concow Indian, was accused of killing Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputy Bob Davis. Prosecutors are asking for the death penalty for Bear. Jury selection for his trial is now underway and the evidentiary portion of the trial is scheduled to start in mid-July. People in the Native American community and progressive people throughout northern California are joining forces in defense of Bear Lincoln.


The first person to die in Round Valley on April 14 was Reginald "Gene" Britton, a Native American man who was shot by Acorn's brother Arylis Peters in the parking lot of Covelo High School. The shooting grew out of a long-standing dispute between members of the Britton family on one side and the Lincoln and Peters families on the other. According to the people in Round Valley, the conflict between the Britton and Lincoln/Peters families has its roots in tribal, religious, and historical differences. The Peters and Lincoln families are among the Native American families trying to revive long-suppressed indigenous culture and spirituality. The Brittons are among the more assimilated. The RW talked to several people on the Round Valley Reservation who claim that a pattern of discriminatory law enforcement--police bias toward the Brittons and against the Lincoln and Peters families--contributed to the dispute between the families and the shooting on April 14.

That night, following the death of Gene Britton, a manhunt was launched throughout the valley for Arylis Peters. The media has reported that Mendocino County Sheriff Tuso was in Covelo personally directing his men. Deputies Bob Davis and Dennis Miller were staked out on a ridge on a dirt road that leads down to Little Valley, a small isolated area in the western part of the reservation where Bear Lincoln and his mother Lucille lived. The sheriff's 4 x 4 was parked off the main road on a small fire road. Bear Lincoln and Leonard Acorn Peters were walking up the road to where the deputies were hidden out of sight. Moments later Acorn Peters and Sheriff Bob Davis were dead.

Bear Lincoln's attorneys and supporters claim that Deputies Davis and Miller ambushed Bear and Leonard as they walked up the road. They claim that Leonard was shot and killed in cold blood and without warning by the deputies--who may have thought that Acorn was his brother Arylis. Many people believe that Deputy Miller shot his partner Deputy Davis in a case of "friendly fire."

There is a lot of evidence backing up this version of events. Deputy Miller, in his own report given the night of the incident, states that during the incident, while he was firing an M-16 at a shadowy figure down the road, he tripped over the embankment on the side of the road. Miller's statement says when he looked up after falling down his partner had been fatally shot. Half of deputy Davis's head was blown off, consistent with a high velocity bullet, such as one from the M-16 fired by Miller and others in the Sheriff's Department.

Earlier in the evening the two deputies had been given orders to hide at the bottom of the mountain road and try to surprise the man they were looking for. Later, when they moved up the road to the point where the murder of Leonard "Acorn" Peters took place, there is reason to believe that they were again hiding out of sight. This would be the kind of assignment that Deputy Davis was known for. Davis was trained as a Navy Seal commando and saw combat service in Vietnam, Beirut, and Grenada. He was called "Covert Bob" by fellow deputies because he enjoyed surveillance and liked to drive around the reservation at night with his lights out. He carried his M-16 automatic rifle with him when he patrolled Round Valley, an area with a total population of 3,000.

The Sheriff's Department has put out several contradictory versions of that night. In the first report by Deputy Miller he claims to have seen only one man, Leonard Peters, walking up the road. The report claims that Leonard pointed a gun at them and started shooting and only then did they return fire. Later, after ballistics reports showed conclusively that Leonard had not fired a gun and the gun that they claim to have found near his body had not been fired, Miller changed his story. He now claimed that he had seen two men approaching on the road and that it was Bear Lincoln who fired the first shot.

Uncovering the Truth

The RW went up to the site of the shootings with Cyndi Pickett, Leonard Peters' widow. A banner hung from a tree with pictures of acorns and a broken staff. In another tree there is a ceremonial spear, placed there on the one-year anniversary of Leonard's murder. Cyndi Pickett told the RW how the events of April 14 have changed her life. "I've spent the last 26 years of my life living up in the hills. Now I'm devoting my life to the Bear Lincoln case. After it's over I don't think I'll be able to go back. I've learned a lot about the police. Literally, they are getting away with murder. I can't believe that what they did to Leonard is an isolated case. This is one of the things that I'll have to deal with the rest of my life."

Cyndi quickly pointed out many contradictions in the story that the Sheriff's Department has put out. The sheriffs claim that the police vehicle was in clear sight, so that Leonard and Bear must have known that the people who were confronting them were police. However, even in the middle of the day it was impossible to see a car parked on the fire trail when walking up the road from Little Valley. Pickett also pointed out that, from the position of Deputy Davis's body, Davis could not have been shot from the direction where Bear was walking. The bullets must have come from directly across the dirt road--exactly where Deputy Miller was standing when he tripped over the embankment. She showed us bullet holes in a tree that were all coming from the direction of the deputies.

Cyndi relived the torment that the sheriffs put her and Leonard's sisters through in the days after the killing. At first they thought that the police and the FBI might actually help them get to the bottom of what happened to Leonard. "That is how naive we all were. The cops had just killed Leonard and we wanted to believe that there was good reason it had happened. We didn't want to believe that they had gunned him down in cold blood."

Instead, the FBI only wanted to interrogate them about Bear Lincoln and treated them very disrespectfully, and the Sheriff repeatedly lied to them and prevented them from seeing Leonard's body for several days, moving the body to different mortuaries all over the county. "So right then I thought, what did they do to him that they don't want me to see," Cyndi told the RW. "So when I finally got him back I did a thorough examination of the body. He was shot lots of times in the chest...the back of his head felt like a Chinese checker board, the balls of my fingers fit into these little holes."

This contradicts the official autopsy of Leonard which found that he was only hit by one bullet--which did not leave his body. Another witness, who saw Leonard's body just minutes after he had been shot, reported that "his whole torso was just pulverized, he was so shot up" according to an article posted at the Albion Monitor website by Nicholas Wilson ( The initial statement by the sheriff's spokesperson after the shooting said that Leonard died "in a hail of bullets," contradicting the autopsy.

"If things were as they say then they wouldn't have had to change their story so many times," Cyndi told the RW, "I really think that they thought that no one would ask any questions and they could do whatever they want. Two weeks later they shot an Indian man in Hoopa in the back as he was running away and nothing was ever done about it. I really think that their feeling is this is just another dead Indian and nobody would ask any questions."

Police Occupy the Reservation

"When I hear stories of what's going on up in Covelo now, it's the same thing as Pine Ridge in 1975."

Nilak Butler, Native American activist, comparing the events in Round Valley
to the situation that led to the
FBI frame-up of Leonard Peltier

Round Valley is located in an isolated corner of Mendocino County about 200 miles north of San Francisco. The nearest town is about an hour's drive along a winding mountain road that snakes along the Eel River. Round Valley is made up of the small town of Covelo and the Round Valley Indian Reservation, which is the second largest Indian reservation in California. The valley has about 3,000 residents about half white and half Native American. The lumber mill closed there years ago and most of the Native American residents depend on jobs from the tribal council or welfare to survive. All of the major businesses along the main street through town are owned by European Americans. Native American youth complain that they are followed around the local market and treated like thieves. There is a long history of police abuse.

Shortly after the shooting on Little Valley Road, Lucille Lincoln, Bear's mother, who is in her 60s and is disabled, was trying to leave her home after hearing the gunshots and fearing that the Britton family was coming after them for revenge. She came upon the body of Leonard Peters lying in the middle of the road and a police roadblock. The police screamed at her, "Turn off the fucking lights or I'll blow your fuckin' head off." Lucille was taken from the car where her grandchildren were. When she told the deputies that she was disabled the police said, "Fuck the cripple" and pushed her down in the road where she was handcuffed. A little later she was told to run to the last police car. When she told the officer that she couldn't run he told her to "do the bunny hop." Lucille fell on her face.

The next day the largest manhunt in the history of the state of California was launched to search for Bear Lincoln. Residents of Round Valley who were monitoring sheriff's dispatches on scanners reportedly heard a "shoot to kill" order given. Bear was painted in the media as a ruthless cop killer before millions of people on the TV show America's Most Wanted. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat called him a "burly man with a violent past" and made a big deal out of a charge that he had been convicted of 16 years before. California Governor Pete Wilson offered a $100,000 reward for Bear. Bear was described as armed and dangerous.

It was not mentioned that Bear was involved with community organizations teaching the reservation youth Native American history and culture, or that, for two years, Bear was the director of the Round Valley Community Garden Project. Peter Schweitzer, the executive director of Plenty International, an agency which works with indigenous people world-wide, said of Bear, "The man I know is gentle and intelligent and has a green thumb. He inspired many of the young people in the valley to get out in the garden and work."

Meanwhile, an army of police descended on the reservation. Officers and helicopters came from neighboring counties, Highway Patrol, FBI, DEA, Forest Service and other agencies. A command post was set up at the forestry station on the main road through town. A posse of hundreds of bounty hunters came to Round Valley and searched through the hills on horseback and dirt bikes.

Cora Lee Simmons, the chairperson of Round Valley Indians for Justice, told the RW, "I would like to know someday how many officers that they actually had at the Forest Station. I would say a good 400. They would round up people with no search warrant and take them down there for one reason and then have some bogus charge. It reminded me of the Japanese concentration camps--that's what they were doing to all the Indian people. And you dared not get on the road because, sure as you live, they were going to take you in for whatever."

Cyndi Pickett added: "The manhunt was in fact horrendous. They had helicopters that were mounted with weapons that flew around Hull's Valley, and up by the North Fork of the Eel River, and through all these hills here. They went down to Lucille's house, Bear's mother's house, went in the house and discharged their weapons inside the house. The windows were broken from the inside out.... And there were bullet holes all over. They shot up a baby's cradle board.... They just went in and went crazy. They were angry and they were going to make the people on this reservation pay for the death of their deputy."

Scores of people were arrested, dragged off to Ukiah and held there for days on very minor or completely made up charges. One reservation resident told the RW how he had been pulled over when he went out to get coffee for people at his work. Automatic weapons were pointed at his head and the police demanded to search his car and his house. Many people sent their children out of town, fearing for their safety.

The purpose of this police occupation which lasted several weeks was to punish the entire community for the death of Deputy Davis and because they suspected the community of helping hide Bear Lincoln. One cop, when challenged by a mother for walking around with drawn guns in an area where her children were playing, told her, "We're here to make a point." A Ukiah police officer in a letter to the Ukiah Daily Journal wrote, "Until the bleeding heart liberals are pushed out of office and `educated' there will be murder and mayhem in this country. Enough is enough. If the people of Covelo want the cops out, then cough up Bear Lincoln. Until then, suck it up."

Upwards of 50 homes were searched without warrants. Police entered houses with M-16s and riot shotguns at the ready. Residents were told that if they didn't allow the police to search their homes they would return with a warrant and if they "found something" residents would not be allowed to return. Many people still did not give permission. The police searched anyway. One man whose house was searched by police told the RW: "They had those big rifles and every door that they came by they cocked their guns. If Bear was here they would have killed him. They were here to kill him."

Bear Comes Forward

In spite of their harassment and the massive manhunt, the authorities were not able to find Bear Lincoln.

On August 17, 1995, 25 people from the reservation journeyed five hours from Round Valley to San Francisco for the coming forward of Bear Lincoln at the offices of attorney Tony Serra. Cora Lee Simmons of Round Valley Indians for Justice described the scene: "It is very difficult to find the exact words that would best describe the feelings of seeing our man alive, well and standing like a real Brave should. The tears ran like water from the eyes of many in attendance. Many nights we worried, weakened in faith, wondering if Bear was cold, if he was hungry, or worse yet, if he was even alive." According to Simmons, Bear's first concern was that "we never forget how they murdered our brother Acorn and make sure April 14, 1995 is never repeated."

Attorney Tony Serra said that "He [Bear] is not submitting, he's challenging." A cultural consultant to attorney Serra said, "It is a testament to the strength and righteousness of Bear Lincoln's case that he has evaded the law with the support of Indians, whites, Mexicans, Blacks and people of all races of Mendocino County throughout these months."

Less than a week later the Mendocino County District Attorney filed charges against Bear Lincoln not only for the murder of Deputy Davis but also for the death of his friend Leonard Peters. Even though the police admit that the bullet that killed Leonard came from Deputy Davis's gun, Bear is held responsible under a legal theory called "vicarious liability." Cyndi Pickett said, "When I heard they were charging Bear with Leonard's murder I couldn't believe it. It made me sick."

"We Will Never Go Back"

During the last year a newspaper editor was put in jail for refusing to turn over a letter that Bear Lincoln sent to him. Another newspaper reporter was arrested after he questioned why there was such a heavy-handed police presence at Bear's preliminary hearing. After a mountain of publicity has gone out in the major media depicting Bear Lincoln as a vicious killer, the judge has now issued a gag order preventing Bear's attorneys from talking to the press. But the events at Little Valley Road, the police occupation and the struggle to free Bear Lincoln have lit the fires of resistance.

Cora Lee Simmons is in her 50s and lives in an isolated part of the reservation. She talked with the RW about the group she helped found after the murder of "Acorn" and the manhunt for Bear--Round Valley Indians for Justice. "They thought the Indians would take this lying down and that we wouldn't say anything. Did they get the surprise of their lives because we said, `NO MORE!' "

While Cora was talking the phone rang. Someone was calling up to report an incident of the police harassing one of the reservation youth. The police had pulled over the youth, a relative of Bear Lincoln's. However when people confronted the deputy, the youth was able to run and get away.

"At first we didn't know how to take care of ourselves other than if the police are bothering you or if these evil people are torturing you, call everybody in and the more eyes you have and the more witnesses you have the less likely things are apt to get crazy. So that's how we would care for ourselves," Cora continued. "Someone would call and say that we have to go over here. Someone else would call and say we've got to go over there. Everyone knew that they had a safe house to go to."

Many people from outside Round Valley supported the people on the reservation. The Round Valley Support Coalition was formed bringing together people from the Mendocino Environmental Center, the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project from Garberville, the Human Rights Monitoring Project from Mendocino County, Earth First! and others. A phone tree was set up so that people could respond quickly to cases of police abuse. The Civil Liberties Monitoring Project, which was initially formed after the passage of the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 to document cases of abuse against immigrants, came into Round Valley and helped document and witness the attacks on the people <%1>during the police occupation. An attorney in San Francisco has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of people on the reservation, stating that the authorities had systematically violated their civil rights. And the defense of Bear Lincoln was taken up at the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, October 22, 1996 in San Francisco.

As Bear Lincoln's case goes to trial, the people of Round Valley are determined to get justice. "We've had enough of being mistreated, the racism, whatever they were doing. It's so wrong," a Native American man active in the struggle told the RW. "All through the justice system they're just like that. We're tired of it. We demand to be treated as equals, not below their feet."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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