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D.A. Still Suspicious of Peyote Pair
Dec 11, 1996
By SCOTT HADLY, Special to The Times

Crime: Bradbury won't return the hallucinogen to Paul Skyhorse Durant and Buzz Berry and questions claim of religious use.

Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury said Tuesday he has no intention of returning 250 pounds of peyote to two men who were arrested for possession of the hallucinogen and then released, and he questioned their claim that they were planning to use it in Native American religious ceremonies.

Although prosecutors declined to file drug charges against the pair--Paul Skyhorse Durant and a man who calls himself Buzz Berry--Bradbury said he is suspicious of what the two men were doing with 10,000 peyote cactus buttons. Durant's criminal background also makes the men suspect, he added. "When you are dealing with someone with a longtime criminal record, your suspicions are immediately aroused," Bradbury said. "I don't think these are two medicine men just traveling through the county."

The district attorney's office could still file charges against the men, he said. "We're still researching this," Bradbury said. "Work is being done to determine if this was legitimately purchased in Texas and whether or not this seizure is contraband or should be returned to its rightful owners."

Bradbury, who said he is partly of Native American descent, added that he respects the right to use peyote in Native American rituals but feels that the circumstances of this case need to be investigated. The large amount of peyote in the men's van and Durant's 1984 conviction for bank robbery in Los Angeles County made Bradbury more adamant about not returning the drugs, he said.

Tuesday, Ventura County Municipal Judge Steve Hintz set a Dec. 17 hearing to consider a motion filed by the pair asking for the peyote as well as sacred pipes and feathers taken during the arrest. Hintz also ordered the Ventura County Sheriff's Department to keep the peyote refrigerated to ensure that it does not spoil.

Michael Schwartz, a deputy public defender who filed the motion for the men, said the case hinges on religious freedom. Both Durant and Berry are members of the Native American Church, Schwartz said. And under the 1994 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, they have the legally guaranteed right to use and transport peyote.

Durant, who was acquitted of a Ventura County slaying in 1978 after a yearlong trial, contends that he is being targeted by Bradbury, who handled some of the pretrial motions on that case before it was moved to Los Angeles. Durant and another man, Richard Mohawk, spent more than three years in Ventura County Jail on suspicion of killing cabdriver George Aird, whose mutilated body was found in 1974 near an American Indian Movement camp in Box Canyon, southeast of Simi Valley. The trial was widely known as the Mohawk-Skyhorse case.

In 1984, Durant and Mohawk were convicted in a Los Angeles federal court for a bank robbery during which a customer was shot and wounded. Durant was sentenced to eight years in prison, and Mohawk was sentenced to 20 years.