The Yolo County District Attorney announced Friday that it is filing a civil suit against several land development companies that failed to honor rules about building on a Native American burial site in a West Sacramento neighborhood.
The district attorney’s office listed Albert D. Seeno Construction Co., Discovery Builders Inc., Seecon Financial & Construction Co. and A-S Pipelines Inc. as the defendants, according to a news release from the office. The four companies have been developing various named subdivisions that comprise Newport Estates or have performed subcontractor work there across two decades.
Spokesman David Irey said that the District Attorney’s Office received an anonymous complaint about the developers’ treatment of the land and found evidence supporting the claim. The suit asks the court for at least $500,000 in penalties among the companies.
According to the release, the complaint alleges that the developers were aware they improperly handled remains. When there is a discovery of Native American remains or artifacts during a construction project, federal preservation laws require notification to the Secretary of the Interior and also protection of discovered materials.
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“If the discovery occurred in connection with an activity, including (but not limited to) construction, mining, logging, and agriculture, the person shall cease the activity in the area of the discovery, make a reasonable effort to protect the items discovered before resuming such activity, and provide notice under this subsection,” the law states.
Irey said that a construction company must notify the coroner’s department immediately as well. He said it took the developers weeks to months to make the proper notifications.
According to the release, the development proposal contained information about remains and other artifacts – mentioning to developers that there “are significant cultural or archaeological sites identified in the ... project area.” The District Attorney’s Office also says that the developers’ found a Native American burial during the project’s early development in 1998 and 2001, and a 1986 survey had indicated “archeological resources” in the development area.
Some of the residents of the neighborhood were unaware that they lived in such close proximity to a Native American burial site, including Jack and Marilyn Meline.
“A strong feeling I have about it is being told, we should’ve been told,” she said when asked about the suit.
Laurie Garcia, who has lived in the neighborhood for six years, said she found out about the burial sites when protesters – who were protesting continued development on a Native American burial site – came to the area and told her that developers had found remains.
“It didn’t bother me, I assume most people would be kinda offended when that they were building on an Indian burial ground,” Garcia said. “Most places have some kind of history to it.”
Other residents, like Harpreet Baims and her husband, said they were made aware of the site’s proximity before they purchased their home. Baims said the construction of her home was delayed because of the discovery of remains or artifacts on the site.
When West Sacramento city officials found out about the discovery of remains – through “other avenues,” according to the suit – they ordered a complete archaeological survey of the land. The latest survey, conducted in 2015, found that multiple human remains had been unearthed and scattered during construction.
“The defendants’ unlawful conduct has resulted in the destruction and damage of countless Native American remains,” said Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig in the news release. “The flagrant disregard of the sanctity of the burial site is indefensible and deeply offensive.”