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Karuk leader suspended - claims he's not guilty - after airport meth arrest
By Ryan Brown Pioneer Press April 22, 2009
CORRECTION: In the original print article the Pioneer Press incorrectly named Leaf Hillman's son as Leeon Hillman. The quotes are from a man who identified himself as Leaf Hillman's son. However, they are not from Leeon Hillman. The Pioneer Press apologizes for the error.
Orleans - Leaf Hillman insists he's an innocent man.
Despite being arrested earlier this year while allegedly trying to pass meth and drug paraphernalia through an airport, the Vice Chairman of the Karuk Tribe says the real facts will come out soon.
"I'd like to remind people about the term 'Innocent until proven guilty'," Hillman said during an interview with the Pioneer Press. "It's still a part of the system."
According to a Medford police report, On January 24, 2009 at around 5:30 a.m. Hillman was passing through a security checkpoint at the Rogue Valley International Medford Airport when a Transportation Security Administration officer noticed a razor in the backpack Hillman was carrying.
Upon further review, the TSA officer noticed some suspicious items with what appeared to be a white powder in them, according to Medford Police Lieutenant Tim Doney. The federal agent called the Medford Police Department who responded to the airport within minutes.
"Our officer observed several items being pulled from Mr. Hillman's backpack," Doney said.
"The backpack contained drug paraphernalia including a razor blade and several small baggies or packages. The baggies contained a white powder that later was tested and confirmed to be methamphetamine."
Hillman, who claims he was on his way out of town for a business trip, was cited for unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a felony, and released on his own recognizance. He was still able to make his flight out of town, he said.
"He was issued a citation and released," Doney added. "I can't tell you any statements Mr. Hillman made at that time, but he was cooperative."
Hillman was arraigned on the meth charge April 2, where he pleaded not guilty. His next court date is scheduled for May 4.
"I don't think the world is out to get me," Hillman said when asked by the Pioneer Press if he was set up. "Some people apparently don't like the positions I've taken on issues regarding the tribe. Some people don't like the positions of Leaf Hillman. But most of those people don't even know me personally."
Hillman has been a primary opponent of the dams on the Klamath, demanding - on behalf of the Karuk Tribe - they come out.
Hillman said he wouldn't address the exact circumstances of his non guilty plea, he's leaving that part up to his lawyer.
"I'm going to let my attorney deal with it in court, rather than deal with it in the media," Hillman said. "I do intend to be fully exonerated."
The Karuk Tribe's Chairman Arch Super released a statement earlier this week announcing Hillman had been suspended from his duties as Vice Chairman, pending the legal outcome to the meth charges. Super did not return several calls from the Pioneer Press.
Hillman is a little miffed at the public's fascination surrounding his case.
"If this happened to Joe the Plummer, no one would care," Hillman said. "No one would even know about it, but because I'm a public official, everyone knows."
Hillman also alleges there are several papers about his charges circulating around the community that were supposed to be kept private.
"I understand that there are certain things that are part of the public record," Hillman said. "But there's also such a thing as private information. I've seen things about me on the internet that shouldn't have been shown to the public, things that were private."
The Pioneer Press has received several emails with court documents regarding Hillman's case. All of the documents in the emails, however, were part of Hillman's court file which is viewable by the public, according to Pioneer Press Publisher Daniel Webster, who viewed all the documents at the Jackson County Courthouse last week.
Hillman's son said the charges against his father are trumped up.
"The baggies they supposedly found were empty," he said when contacted by the Pioneer Press. "How can they find drugs in empty bags? It doesn't make any sense."
Leaf Hillman said the toughest part of this whole ordeal has been realizing people don't always give you the benefit of the doubt.
"It's easy to make allegations," Leaf Hillman noted. "The truth will come out and I don't see this even making it to trial. I will be exonerated."
If convicted, Hillman could receive a sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,500.
(Permission to share this article from the publisher
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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