A court decision from last week changed everything for several counties in the region, including Garvin County, in the way law enforcement and local district courts conduct business.
It's now all about jurisdiction as the ruling from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the murder convictions and death sentence for Shaun Bosse, 38, who was convicted of killing a woman and her two young children a decade ago in neighboring McClain County.
The court's ruling was based on the crime occurring on land still legally recognized as within the Chickasaw Nation's reservation and the victims were Native Americans.
It comes a year after the Supreme Court ruled prosecutors in Oklahoma didn't have the authority to pursue criminal charges for crimes committed on tribal reservations or when the defendants or victims are tribal citizens.
Garvin County Sheriff Jim Mullett said this week his office is among the many now working to make some major adjustments.
“This is going to change the way we do business here in Garvin County,” Mullett said while addressing Garvin County's commissioners during a meeting Monday.
“This is going to change the way we handle calls out in the county. That's for us and all 13 counties in the Chickasaw region.
“Garvin County is considered tribal land. If they're Native American I don't have jurisdiction. With this decision I don't have jurisdiction for Native Americans or even if they're eligible as Native American. They can't even house here,” he said, referring to inmates incarcerated in Garvin County jail.
Garvin County's emergency management director, Dave Johnson, calls the court decision a “game-changer” as he also is working to make changes for dispatchers with the county's 911 system.
“The court case last week cleared up the issue of tribal jurisdiction,” Johnson said.
“Because of that decision basically if you're affiliated with a Native American tribe then our sheriff doesn't have jurisdiction.
“For all calls we're going to have to ask them if their affiliated with a Native American tribe. We're going to have to add this question to every contact.
“We'll still dispatch to the closest first responder every time,” he said, adding the plan is to contact the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department to check on an individual's possible affiliation with the tribe.
“You're going to be hearing a lot about the impact and implication of this decision, not just with this but things like water rights.”
What it all means is the Lighthorse police force now has jurisdiction in all 13 counties of the Chickasaw area when it comes to criminal suspects and victims who are of tribal descent.
Along with criminal matters, it could also include civil cases and even divorces, which all will now move into Chickasaw tribal courts if there's a Native American connection.
Despite this new major shift Mullett says his office will continue to respond to all calls in Garvin County.
“Even when we may not have jurisdiction we will go ahead and respond to calls,” Mullett said
“We're not going to sit back and not respond. We will hold down a scene if we have to and turn it over to Lighthorse. We are going to protect our citizens whether their Native American or not.”
Mullett says he plans to meet with other sheriffs in the region as he's still considering the possibility of cross-deputizing Lighthorse officers. This is something that's already been done in 10 of the 13 counties.
Providing an example of things to come, Mullett said right after last week's court decision a stolen vehicle was reported in Garvin County.
After the vehicle was recovered county deputies learned there was a Native American affiliation for the suspect in the case. After the sheriff's office here worked the case it was handed over to Lighthorse police for possible prosecution.
“Lighthorse is going to get busy,” Mullett said as Lighthorse is now needing dozens more officers, which means some could be recruited away from county sheriff's offices and local police departments.
“I can't compete. They've already contacted one of my deputies. They've got the money. We're going to have to boost up my guys to keep them here. They're going to take ours after we've trained them.”
The sheriff did add one positive is the Chickasaw tribe could be willing to help pay for a new regional jail to be shared by Garvin and McClain counties.
He says this is a possibility as the tribe's court system will soon have some increased need for places to house inmates.
“They have got to have a place to put these people. They're going to want to do something,” Mullett said, adding an agreement could allow for tribal inmates to be housed in the county jail here.
Johnson said the first allocation is expected to arrive in a few weeks as Garvin County is set to receive more than $5.3 million from a national COVID relief bill passed last week.
The money is to “protect the continuity of operations from this pandemic and any possible one later.”
“I think we need to look at ways to protect our jailers and inmates from an exposure during a pandemic,” Johnson said. “We can spend this money to protect ourselves.”
He adds the county has recovered just about “everything we've spent on the pandemic.”