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Melee breaks out in Cayuga Indian Nation leadership dispute

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Greg Cotterill
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SENECA FALLS, N.Y. (AP)  People threw punches and were dragged to the ground Saturday as a long-simmering leadership dispute in the Cayuga Indian Nation flared up for a second time in a week.

The altercation followed a news conference by a group of chiefs who oppose the authority of Clint Halftown, the federally recognized leader of the roughly 500-member western New York tribe.

Halftown on Feb. 22 sent bulldozers to demolish a convenience store and other buildings controlled by tribe members who oppose him.

The seven chiefs called a news conference Saturday adjacent to a disputed property to address the incident and brought supporters from other American Indian nations that make up the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

A group that crossed the caution tape and walked onto the property after the news conference was immediately confronted by a large group wearing Cayuga Nation Police jackets and fighting broke out, according to The Citizen of Auburn.

The fighting lasted about 10 minutes before the nation police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd, the newspaper said.

The Halftown-led government released a statement saying a Cayuga police officer went to the hospital with unspecified injuries.

``This morning, our Nation was the victim of a vicious attack,'' according to the statement.

They said they will charge three members of other nations in the Cayuga court system. Two will be prosecuted for trespass and assaulting a Cayuga police officer and one will be charged with damaging a police vehicle, according to the release.

They referred the case of a non-native accused of assaulting a Cayuga officer to the Seneca Falls Police Department. There was no immediate comment from police.

Joe Heath, an attorney representing the opposition group, said Halftown's government was the aggressor.

``This morning, Halftown's all non-indigenous police force attacked Cayuga and Haudenosaunee citizens as they peacefully came onto the properties which Halftown has leveled,'' Heath told the newspaper. ``These indigenous people have a much superior right to be on Nation property than the mercenaries who attacked them.''

In 2014, the anti-Halftown Unity Council claimed control of some of the buildings that were destroyed last week.

After the demolition, Halftown said the nation was retaking possession of stolen property. He said the buildings were demolished to prevent them from becoming ``a target for any further friction in the community.''

Reporter Greg Cotterill of WEOS radio in Geneva contributed to this story.