CN district judge found dead
District Judge Bart Fite
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Longtime Cherokee Nation District Court Judge Bart Fite was found dead on April 19 at his home from an apparent suicide, officials say.
Officials said Muskogee Police were dispatched to the home of Fite, who was also a Muskogee municipal judge, at 10:30 p.m. in reference to a shooting. Fite was found dead from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Muskogee Police Officer Lincoln Anderson said.
Fite, who had served as a CN District Court judge for 17 years, had been accused of domestic assault and battery but not charged.
According to reports, Muskogee Police arrested the 57-year-old on April 14 after his wife gave a statement to officers about an earlier incident. Reports state that officers noted signs of physical abuse, which they believed were consistent with her statement. However, Fite and his wife said he did not hit her or cause her any injury, reports state.
He was booked into the Muskogee County/City Detention Facility and released on $2,500 bond.
According to a Muskogee Phoenix report, Fite’s wife never intended for her husband to be arrested and that she hoped going to police to file a temporary restraining order would allow her to stay in the couple’s home. The story states that in an earlier argument Fite had threatened to file for divorce and to try to evict her from the home.
Anderson, the police department’s spokesman, said further details would not be released while the investigation was ongoing.
Muskogee District Attorney Orvil Loge has requested to recuse himself from the potential case and that a district attorney outside of Muskogee handle the case “to avoid the appearance of impropriety.”
CN Courthouse officials released a statement on April 20 stating, “It is with great sadness that the Court announces the passing of District Judge Bart Fite. Judge Fite served as District Judge for the past 17 years. He had previously served as Tribal Prosecutor from 1995 to 1997. His invaluable service to the Cherokee Nation will certainly be missed. Please keep his family and the Court staff in your hearts and prayers at this most difficult time.”
Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the tribe’s legal community suffered a “tremendous loss” with Fite’s death.
“We are deeply saddened at the passing of District Judge Bart Fite. It is a tremendous loss for the Cherokee Nation’s legal community. As an attorney and judge, Bart was always fair and honest. Additionally, he was a good mentor to many young Cherokee legal scholars, willing to share his knowledge and expertise. He will be remembered as a kind and knowledgeable protector of the law. On behalf of Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and myself, we are keeping the Fite family in our thoughts and prayers in the coming days,” Baker said.