TAHLEQUAH – Officials with the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service and attorney general’s office reported to the Rules Committee on July 13 that their offices are still dealing with fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling.
During his report to the committee, Marshal Service Director Shannon Buhl said his 41-officer force conducted 83 prisoner transports in June alone.
“If you can imagine going to 13 jails throughout our 14 counties picking up one or two prisoners, getting them to court,” he said. “It has pretty much taken up a lion’s share of the marshals’ time. Between that and special operations, high-risk warrant services, chasing really, really bad men and women, we’ve been busy.”
Responding to a previous question regarding firearms training that came out of the committee, Buhl noted that in nine officer-involved shootings over the past 15 years, “we have had zero bullets not hit exactly what the marshal was aiming at.”
“So that is not the norm for police in the United States,” he added. “I chalk that up to the training my officers have and the time they spend on the range. We spend approximately $250,000 a year just on ammunition costs so we don’t have those issues.”
Council Speaker Joe Byrd expressed appreciation for “what you guys do” in the Marshal Service.
“Here as a tribe, we’ve taken the lead in a lot of ways on training,” he said. “There’s really not too many places we can go to learn from another tribe because we are the leaders. We’ve set the bar real high.”
Also reporting to the committee, Attorney General Sara Hill said that since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling in 2020, her office has taken on more than 1,265 additional criminal cases.
“So we continue to be quite busy at the AG’s office,” Hill said. “We have also been continuing to push out the municipal MOAs.”
The memorandum of agreements donate revenue from traffic and misdemeanor citations back to municipalities within the reservation.
“We had the city of Vian signing ceremony,” Hill said. “Since then we’ve also picked up West Siloam, Watts, Westville and Kansas. I believe Muskogee has it on an upcoming city council agenda.”
She noted that certain municipalities “are under the mistaken belief that they have authority under the Curtis Act.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be a winning legal argument for those municipalities,” Hill said. “But the way it works is there has to be a case that goes in front of a court. To do that, you sort of have to let the facts develop on the ground. We are carefully watching that situation.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision in 2020 acknowledged that much of eastern Oklahoma remains tribal territory, as it was never disestablished by Congress, as part of the Oklahoma Enabling Act of 1906.
In August 2020 the Tribal Council passed the Reservation, Judicial Expansion and Sovereignty Protection Act to expand the tribe’s judiciary, prosecution staff and Marshal Service.
“We have been working diligently to take on our responsibilities under McGirt,” Principal Chief Hoskin Jr. said. “The state of Oklahoma has had more than a century to develop a criminal justice system. We’re developing the largest criminal justice system in the state of Oklahoma other than the state of Oklahoma’s in the Cherokee Nation. That means we’ve hired more marshals. That means our attorney general is hiring more prosecutors. That means we’re expanding staff in other areas that deal with public safety, victim protection.”