Immunity of Tribal Police

In Hardin v. White Mountain Apache Tribe, (9th Cir. 1985), the plaintiff sued a tribe and "various officials" after tribal police removed him from the reservation. (Hardin, supra, 779 F.2d at p. 478.) The court held the individual defendants were immune. (Hardin, 779 F.2d at 479-489.) However, although the caption of the opinion indicates the tribal police department was named as a defendant, the opinion does not state whether individual police officers were named, nor does it address specifically the issue of whether tribal police should be immune. Therefore, Hardin cannot be construed as holding that immunity extends to tribal police. Defendants' remaining case authority, Davis v. Littell (9th Cir. 1968), is particularly significant because it is the earliest decision, to our knowledge, that extended immunity to a tribal official. In Davis, the court held that a nontribal member employed as the tribe's general counsel could not be sued for making a defamatory statement to the tribal council about his assistant. The court concluded that protection against liability was justified by "the public need for the performance of public duties untroubled by the fear that some jury might find performance to have been maliciously inspired." (Davis, supra, 398 F.2d at p. 85.) In reaching that conclusion, Davis relied on United States Supreme Court authority holding federal officials absolutely privileged against liability for defamatory statements made in the performance of their duties. (Barr v. Matteo (1959) 360 U.S. 564 79 S. Ct. 1335, 3 L. Ed. 2d 1434; Spalding v. Vilas (1896) 161 U.S. 483 16 S. Ct. 631, 40 L. Ed. 780.) After Davis was decided, the Supreme Court further refined the absolute immunity afforded federal officials.