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Tribal judge halts hemp operations at farms around the Shiprock area

The tribe filed a compalint against hemp operations on June 12

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
  • Shiprock Judicial District Judge Genevieve Woody issued the order on the afternoon of Sept. 18 during a teleconference hearing.
  • The plaintiffs sought to halt operations at the hemp farms by asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction while the June 12 complaint was litigated.
  • Jordan told the court if the crops for the nine farms were lost due to the preliminary injunction, it would be devastating to Benally.

FARMINGTON — Activities at nine hemp farms in Shiprock and surrounding areas will be on hold after a tribal court judge issued a preliminary injunction against Dineh Benally and two of his businesses.

Shiprock Judicial District Judge Genevieve Woody issued the decision on the afternoon of Sept. 18 during a teleconference hearing, saying lawyers representing the Navajo Nation met all four requirements for a preliminary injunction to be issued.

The Navajo Nation Department of Justice filed its lawsuit against Benally along with two businesses, Native American Agriculture Company and the Navajo Gold Company, on June 12.

“We respect the ruling of the Shiprock District Court. The ruling allows our law enforcement officers to enforce the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the production of hemp," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. "We strongly urge everyone to respect the ruling of the court and move forward peacefully to ensure the safety of community members, police officers, and everyone in the impacted areas.”

The tribe alleged the defendants were illegally issuing land use permits on tribal land for foreign entities to cultivate and grow industrial hemp, according to The Daily Times archives.

Hemp plants are visible inside several structures on Sept. 16, 2020, in Shiprock, New Mexico.

The plaintiffs sought to halt operations at the hemp farms by asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction while the June 12 complaint was litigated.

The complaint also alleged Benally and the two companies were illegally marketing and growing hemp plants.

“I personally experienced the intimidation and threats of Dineh Benally’s security in Shiprock while working in my official capacity in a clearly marked tribal vehicle, said Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen McPaul in a statement. “I am incredibly pleased with the court’s decision today, and on behalf of the Navajo Nation, I would like to offer sincere gratitude to the Nation’s witnesses who came forward to testify in what (was) an intense and confrontational case.”  

The Navajo Nation criminal code prohibits the growth, development, possession or propagation of industrial hemp until Navajo lawmakers approve and adopt a regulatory system for industrial hemp, according to The Daily Times archives.

Hoop houses at a hemp farm are visible from U.S. Highway 64 in Hogback, New Mexico, on Sept. 16, 2020.

The hearing on the preliminary injunction started on the morning of Sept. 17 and spilled over onto Sept. 18.

Judge Woody heavily cited the testimony of Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency Executive Director Oliver Whaley from Sept. 17 in her decision.

Whaley testified that there were no licenses issued for operations including the use of septic tanks, a cesspool and possible use of large water hauling tanks to store gasoline for generators, according to Judge Woody.

The EPA director also testified there were clear violations of the safe water drinking act and said that the septic tanks were possibly leaking sewage into the ground and water.

Judge Woody also cited how Benally acknowledged some of the violations to Whaley.

Dineh Benally

Testimony from area residents was also cited by Judge Woody.

Some residents complained about hemp farm operations damaging corn and alfalfa crops, along with the odor of the hemp affecting their personal health.

There was also testimony about how residents felt children were unsafe in the area of the hemp farm operations.

Judge Woody issued her decision after about a four-hour recess.

Dave Jordan, Benally's attorney, was set to have five witnesses testify including Benally on the morning of Sept. 18.

Materials for building a hoop house are pictured on Sept. 16 near a current hemp farm operation in Shiprock.

Jordan announced the defendants would rest their case and not call the witnesses at the start of the Sept. 18 hearing.

Judge Woody then gave the plaintiffs and defendants five minutes each to give their closing statements before she called a recess to render her decision.

Charles Galbraith, an attorney representing the tribe, told the court how Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco called the hemp farm operations a public health crisis, causing law enforcement to struggle with increased activity.

A sign along U.S. Highway 64 in Hogback shows support for growing hemp on Sept. 16.

Jordan told the court it would be devastating to Benally if the crops for the nine farms were lost due to the preliminary injunction.

He also said hemp farms were not causing harm to the community and blamed protestors for instigating alleged incidents that included alleged arson.

NOTE: This story was updated at 3:54 p.m.to include comment from officials of the Navajo Nation.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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