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Tulsa DA describes interrupted McGirt forum as 'successful', hopes to have another

Posted at 7:31 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 08:02:16-04

TULSA, Okla. — A forum dedicated to answering questions for crime victims about the McGirt ruling sparked a protest and ended early.

The Tuesday evening event was organized by Tulsa's District Attorney, Steve Kunzweiler, with the goal of helping Oklahomans understand the McGirt ruling and its impacts.

The ruling means much of northeast Oklahoma is considered an Indian reservation. Thus, tribes or the federal government now prosecute crimes involving Native Americans.

“A lot of Native Americans don’t realize the tribes can only get involved in criminal justice cases if one of the members is the suspect in committing the crime, unless it’s domestic violence,” Kunzweiler said the day after the forum.

He and other local prosecutors want to help victims navigate a criminal justice system made new by the McGirt decision.

“It is imperative that we preserve past convictions so that victims and their families are not revictimized,” one of the forum panel members said as he addressed a crowd roaring in opposition Tuesday night.

“This is a complicated issue,” Governor Kevin Stitt added. “If an Indian family is hit by a drunk driver, where does this case go?”

A mic was shared by multiple Oklahoma DAs as they took turns answering questions.

“If the drunk driver is also a member of a federally recognized tribe, then that case can go to the tribal courts,” one said.

The case goes to the federal government when the suspect is not Native American.

“The federal government is stepping in and taking jurisdiction over these cases,” said Matt Ballard, DA of Oklahoma’s 12th district.

512 Rogers County cases have been transferred to the federal government for prosecution and only 23 have been filed, a panel member later announced.

“We will do everything we can to see that cases don’t fall through the cracks, but my staff are spending days calling Native victims, calling our Indian victims and telling them the very hard truth that their case is being dismissed,” Ballard said.

Oklahoma DAs are concerned that cases resurrected by McGirt are not getting a fair amount of attention.

Kunzweiler said he is working with tribal leaders every day and is even training tribal prosecutors.

He also hopes congressional leaders take the reins on issues brought by the McGirt ruling.

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