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Hughes County Sheriff's Office ends cooperation with tribal police

Posted at 6:01 AM, Feb 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 11:23:42-05

HUGHES COUNTY, Okla. — The Hughes County Sheriff's Office has announced they will no longer be honoring their cross commission with the Muscogee Creek Nation Lighthorse Police.

This commission is part of the McGirt ruling - a Supreme Court decision that states if crimes happen on tribal land or a tribal member is involved in a crime, then federal and tribal agencies will take over.

In a letter from Feb. 8, Sheriff Marcia Maxwell with the Hughes County Sheriff's Office says the decision was a hard one to make.

In her words, she says in light of the tribe's inability or refusal to assist on tribal calls in the county and lack of prosecution on McGirt cases, they have no other choice but to ignore the ruling.

Maxwell says the goal of the Sheriff's Office is to protect citizens, both Native and non-Native. She continues to say that when deputies arrest a Native suspect, they rarely are prosecuted and spend time in jail.

She says this is frustrating to both local law enforcement and the victims and families of crimes within the county.

Maxwell says the Sheriff's office budget was slashed this year and they simply cannot meet the needs Muscogee Creek Nation is demanding regarding calls of service.

She says those requirements include:

  • deputies going to the scene
  • making arrests
  • providing all paperwork for tribal court
  • providing supporting documents of tribal citizenship
  • transporting arrestees to another county

Maxwell says, right now with their manpower, it's just not logically possible.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler says Native victims seem to be the most affected due to the McGirt ruling and he wants to be able to prosecute these cases.

"Anything that I can do to help the prosecution of people who seemingly are getting away with some of these crimes, I want to be able to do. I want to be able to protect our community," says Kunzweiler.

Late last month, the Supreme Court upheld their landmark McGirt ruling. Principal Chief of Cherokee Nation Chuck Hoskin Jr. said they'll continue building their criminal justice hiring system to hire more law enforcement and grow their resources into victim services.

"What matters is whether we have a criminal justice system that keeps people safe, that's fair, that puts a blanket of comfort around victims. It doesn't matter whether it's the state or federal government or the Cherokee Nation, we all need to work towards that," Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said.

The Muscogee Nation said Thursday morning that they reached out to Maxwell but hadn't heard back.

They sent 2 News Oklahoma a statement including the following:

"It is unfortunate that Sheriff Maxwell did not decide to first contact our Attorney General’s office regarding these matters. We would have explained that with the cross-commission, or cross-deputization, agreement we have had in place, our Lighthorse officers don't need to respond when the Sheriff’s officers are present. Likewise, the Sheriff does not need her officers to be present in most circumstances to prosecute our cases.

Our Acting Attorney General reached out to Sheriff Maxwell immediately upon receiving this letter from media yesterday afternoon. At this writing, he had received no response.

If she would have directly provided us the defendants’ names, we could have looked up the resolution of each of these cases."

The Muscogee Nation laid out the other issues in their statement:

  • Only part of Hughes County is within our jurisdiction. These may not be cases originating within our jurisdiction.
  • Dropping a cross-deputization agreement does not give the Hughes County anything back. The County don't suddenly regain jurisdiction over Indians.
  • In fact, without a cross-deputization agreement, the Sheriff has created a great risk for civil liability if they make an error in arresting an Indian. The "good faith" exception normally available to cross-deputized law-enforcement officers is gone.
  • Absent a cross-deputization agreement, any evidence the Sheriff collects on a case where she doesn’t have jurisdiction may well be excluded from use as evidence in trial.
  • The Sheriff’s letter doesn’t identify if the alleged perpetrator(s) are Indian. It could be that they are non-Indian and we would not have jurisdiction in most instances.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt tweeted his support for Maxwell on Thursday morning.

"I fully support Hughes County Sheriff Marcia Maxwell and all of our brave law enforcement working to keep communities safe," Stitt wrote.

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