Tribal pact good for sheriff

Garvin County’s sheriff believes a recent agreement with the Chickasaw Nation’s tribal police is helping both deal with a court ruling last year on Native American jurisdiction.

What Sheriff Jim Mullett was considering was to cross-deputize Lighthorse officers or find another solution.

Not that long ago he decided the best way to go is come up with an agreement that essentially gives his deputies the authority to serve as Lighthorse officers in Garvin County.

“It's going good,” Mullett said about the agreement with Lighthorse over the last few months.

“We have a good relationship with them, so it's going good.”

Taking it one step further Mullett says a proposed agreement is now being reviewed by the tribe, which calls for the Garvin County jail to have the authority to house Native American inmates.

Mullett and all sheriffs throughout much of Oklahoma have been responding to a 2020 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court simply referred to as the McGirt ruling.

The high court ruled in a 5-4 vote that much of Oklahoma is still legally considered Native American lands because tribal reservations were never formally disestablished.

The ruling resulted in both sides searching for answers since it meant the state of Oklahoma through the district courts in each county did not have the authority to prosecute crimes when there was a Native American connection.

The connection was where the alleged crime occurred, which in Garvin County’s case is all Chickasaw Nation lands, and if a defendant or victim was a member of a federally recognized tribe.

This past summer the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals did determine the McGirt ruling was not retroactive for cases before July 2020.

Mullett says the McGirt decision made his decision an easy one.

“If we had cross-deputized it would have given Lighthorse officers their commission cards and the authority to work in the county,” Mullett said.

“They would have had the commission of the sheriff in the county. Before McGirt that would have been the practice to give them the commission.”

In this post McGirt landscape the sheriff says the court ruling means Lighthorse officers already have the jurisdiction they need to follow up on any calls or conduct investigations in any part of this county or the area considered Chickasaw lands.

“They already have the authority so there’s no sense in doing the cross-deputization,” he said.

With that in mind Mullett turned his attention to working with the tribe’s legal department to come up with an agreement that commissions the county deputies here as Lighthorse officers.

“I requested an agreement with Lighthorse and they commissioned us. We have to have their commission to have the authority to work these cases with a Native American connection,” Mullett said.

“My county deputies now have the authority to work as a Lighthorse officer; work on all aspects of a case,” he said, adding that means deputies don’t have to stop when there’s a tribal connection and contact the Lighthorse department.

“This allows us to continue business as usual like before McGirt. We’re still taking calls and providing a service to our citizens. We have the authority to proceed with investigations or any calls.

“This bridges the gap and allows us to take care of our citizens. That’s really what this is all about – taking care of the citizens.”

He believes this is a good model for other sheriffs to follow for their counties. It came after a number of those sheriffs banded together to meet with the governor to find out more about the best course of action.

“The consensus was to send that up to the state attorney general; on whether or not they have state jurisdiction,” Mullett said, referring to Lighthorse.

The AG’s opinion was the tribal police did have state jurisdiction in the Chickasaw Nation’s area.

A similar arrangement also now exists with some of Garvin County’s deputies, who are commissioned with a Federal Bureau of Investigations task force.

In much the same way as the Lighthorse commission, this allows deputies to keep working a case even when it falls into more of a federal jurisdiction.

“We have a good working relationship with Lighthorse,” he said, adding the counties and tribal police force must work together effectively to make it all work.

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