Federal, State, Municipal And Tribal Officials Present Unified Front At McGirt Press Conference

Aug 11, 2020

At a Tuesday press conference at the U.S. Attorney's Office in downtown Tulsa, federal, state, municipal and tribal officials said they are all effectively working together to ensure public safety is not negatively impacted as jurisdictional questions are resolved following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

"I don't want to deemphasize that those folks who are committing crimes aren't getting a free break," Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said. "It's just been a readjustment. We recognize there's a change, but it's not altering how we're handling prosecutions. It's just a different entity that's going to handle it."

"We are all doing our absolute best to make sure that everyone is safe in Oklahoma," said Muscogee (Creek) Nation Assistant Attorney General Kyle Haskins. "In fact, I don't know that anybody, outside of it being in the media, would have been able to discern the day before McGirt came out versus the day after. It applies to people who are members of a federally recognized Indian tribe who are committing crimes on Indian land. We are all finding our way, we are doing it in cooperation with each other, it's a cooperative, and it will work out well."

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Trent Shores said that the cooperative effort is working out, though he did acknowledge his office is straining under an "extraordinary increase" in the number of cases due to the ruling.

"All of those aspects of our justice system are obviously impacted by this," Shores said. "Just this month alone, our number of indictments more than doubled what we typically do. The number of judges who can hear those cases did not."

"There is no better team ready to handle that workload than my team that I have here in the U.S. Attorney's Office," Shores said. "They are hard chargers and they are working around the clock right now. My question is: How much longer can we continue to work at this pace?"

Shores said he had met with U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who said he would put out a nationwide solicitation for volunteers from other U.S. Attorney's Offices to help the Northern District of Oklahoma handle the new caseload.

"Just this morning, I confirmed that we already have volunteers from Brooklyn, in the Eastern District of New York; from Pittsburgh, in the Western District of Pennsylvania; from Miami, in the Southern District of Florida, and frankly, from offices all over the country."

"They're going to come help us with this tidal wave of cases we are seeing to ensure that our citizens here in Oklahoma don't see any kind of a dropoff in the law enforcement and public safety services that they have come to expect, and, frankly, that they deserve," Shores said.

Tulsa Police Department Deputy Chief Eric Dalgleish said that the process of preparing officers to understand how to proceed in various situations pertaining to the new jurisdictional issues is underway.

"It is a challenge for the officers to work through it, but they do have the information with them" in the form of a laminated "guidance document," Dalgleish said. "We don't have a written policy that addresses it in our policies and procedures manual -- it's been just weeks since it went into effect -- but we do have a guidance document that contains those emails, those phone numbers, that they can access."

"Anecdotally, yes, we have seen side-of-the-road claims of tribal membership," Dalgleish said. "The officer does their very best to determine if that's valid, and that would include phone calls, requests for I.D., and if they exhaust means to identify or prove tribal membership, then they would continue on as if they were not members of a tribe, and then it would be determined after the fact in the court system."

Kunzweiler had harsh words for individuals who would lie about tribal membership.

"Shame on you," Kunzweiler said, "for somehow trying to pretend to be somebody that you're not. You know, at the end of the day what you're doing is you're only affecting your credibility. If you're going to tell a law enforcement officer, to try to get out of trouble, that you're a member of a federally recognized tribe and you're not entitled to that membership, you've just lied to a law enforcement officer. You're obstructing that officer in his or her performance of their duties, and that's going to be an additional crime you may have to face consequences for."

Ultimately, Haskins said the tribe's criminal justice system is ready for any ramifications of the McGirt decision.

"The Muscogee (Creek) Nation has a judicial system, a court system, that's 50 years older than the state of Oklahoma," Haskins said. "We can handle it. Our court system is prepared for it. If we need to build and expand, whether it's courtrooms or more personnel, we'll do so."