VARICK — In the words of Seneca County’s undersheriff, the dispute between factions of the Cayuga Nation has reached a new level of violence.
The sheriff’s department made two arrests Saturday morning and is continuing to investigate a shooting at a Nation-owned home on County Road 124 in Varick Thursday evening. Two people staying in the house suffered gunshot wounds that were not considered life threatening.
Undersheriff Gary Sullivan said deputies and state police responded to the home about 7:40 p.m. after several reports of shots fired. A short time later, two people with gunshot wounds showed up at the LakeSide Trading convenience store and gas station on Route 89 in Seneca Falls.
Dustin Sharp, 30, of Hamburg, Erie County, suffered gunshot wounds to his lower left leg and ankle. Spencer Gauthier, 44, of Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, suffered gunshot wounds to his head, back, left arm, and right side.
Both were taken by North Seneca Ambulance to Geneva General Hospital and later transferred to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. Sharp was listed in satisfactory condition Friday while Gauthier was treated and later released.
Sullivan said an investigation done by the sheriff’s office, with assistance from Seneca Falls police and state police, revealed numerous members of the Cayuga Nation Unity Council went to the home. A verbal and physical altercation ensued, followed by a number of gunshots.
A vehicle used to take members of the Unity Council to the house was set on fire and destroyed. Witnesses told deputies several people fled into a wooded area near the home, and a perimeter was established by deputies and troopers throughout the night.
Deputies, with assistance of the state police and its Special Operations Response Team (commonly known as a SWAT team), executed a search warrant at the home Friday morning with the cooperation of the residents. Sullivan said Seneca Falls police also assisted with the execution of the warrant, which recovered a weapon and other evidence relating to the shooting.
On Saturday morning, Seneca County deputies, with assistance from Seneca Falls Police Department, stopped a 2011 GMC Yukon that was believed to be one of the vehicles that transported people to the County Road 124 residence. The vehicle was spotted at LakeSide Trading and later stopped at the intersection of Farron and Nobel roads.
Deputies said the driver, Garth Vanevery, 41, of Cossad Road, Seneca Falls, and a passenger, Michelle Seneca, 38, of Cossad Road, told them they are members of the Cayuga Unity Council.
Deputies executed a search warrant on the vehicle and discovered about 10 grams of cocaine, a digital scale, baggies commonly used to package illicit drugs, over $750, a billy club, an electronic stun gun and a black jack. The vehicle was impounded and seized as evidence.
Vanevery was charged with third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a Class B felony; two counts of second-degree criminal use of drug paraphernalia; and three counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Seneca was charged three counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Both were arraigned in Fayette Town Court and sent to the county jail without bail.
In a joint statement, Seneca County Sheriff Jack Stenberg, Undersheriff Gary Sullivan and Seneca Falls Police Chief Stuart Peenstra said “it is clear to law enforcement that there is an apparent extreme lack of control within the Unity Council.”
The investigation is still in progress and the results will be presented to the district attorney’s office in the near future. Sullivan added that dozens of leads continue to be followed up on.
“The events that took place last evening are very troubling in that it has escalated to a new level of violence,” Sullivan said in a press release issued Friday afternoon. “We are very fortunate we didn’t have two people die last night.”
Sullivan credited the assistance from the Seneca Falls police, state police, state parks police, and North and South Seneca ambulance personnel.
The shooting comes after the factions reported coming to a peace agreement in July, although there were physical confrontations over control of LakeSide Trading after that. One group took numerous cartons of cigarettes out of the store, piled them up outside and set them on fire.
In a statement sent Friday afternoon, the Unity Council said it is working with police to address Thursday’s situation. Unity Council leaders added that the home has been occupied since August by former employees terminated from employment at the Cayuga Nation.
“As part of their termination, they are required to leave Cayuga Nation property, including that house, but many had remained. Peaceful measures to encourage their removal were under way, but unfortunately a number of impatient individuals took the issue into their own hands last night, without knowledge of the Cayuga Nation Council,” the statement reads. “During the confrontation that ensued shots were fired from the house. It is now a matter for the police. The Cayuga Nation Council does not condone violence or drug use.”