Marshals probe pair of homicides as caseload spikes

Darrell James Hummingbird

STILWELL – The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service is investigating two separate Stilwell homicides that led to one arrest on April 27, according to the CNMS.

Taken into custody on murder charges was CN citizen Darrell James Hummingbird, 37, of Stilwell.

“Hummingbird was allegedly involved in an altercation with another male, and is accused of killing the victim at Skywood Apartments in Stilwell,” a CN news release states. “Hummingbird was arrested without incident and is being held at the Cherokee County Detention Center on a tribal warrant. The case is still under investigation.”

In a separate incident, an alleged burglar was shot and killed by a homeowner in Stilwell.

“A homeowner reportedly discharged a firearm at an intruder, killing the intruder,” the CN release states. “Neither the shooter nor the alleged intruder’s names, both Cherokee citizens, are being released at this time. The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service and FBI are investigating the case.”

CNMS Director Shannon Buhl said both homicides, along with an incident of aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, occurred within hours of each other. The investigations are part of an expanding list of criminal cases that have recently landed in the CN’s lap.

“Last Tuesday … my investigators hand signed for over 200 criminal cases that the eastern federal district declined to prosecute, that’s now coming to the tribe to prosecute,” Buhl told Tribal Councilors during an April 29 Rules Committee meeting. “These are staggering numbers of criminal cases across our 14 counties.”

Since mid-2020, the tribe has been actively planning for what Buhl has described as a “tidal wave of cases” following historic court rulings that affirm tribal jurisdiction over certain crimes within Oklahoma-based reservations.

A July 2020 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in McGirt v. Oklahoma affirmed Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation status when the court agreed with a convicted child molester and Seminole Nation citizen who claimed that he should have been tried in federal court, not Oklahoma, for a crime committed on reservation land.

Similar rulings as recent as April 29 have affirmed reservation status for the CN, tribal leaders said.

“The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals found in every single case that the Cherokee reservation was established and had never been disestablished,” CN Attorney General Sara Hill said.

Buhl said that since the McGirt ruling, “We’ve had a busy time.”

“So the past 11 days we’ve been assigned to two homicides, assault and battery with a deadly weapon, shooting with intent, a home invasion, a standoff, a drive-by shooting, two child abuse cases, one child neglect case, a stolen vehicle with a county officer-involved shooting, assault and battery on a security officer, a prisoner escape and assault on a police officer, and a child sexual abuse,” he said. “That is our new life at the Marshal Service.”

Workload in the attorney general’s office has also spiked. 

“When I was here for my last report (March 25), we had filed just over 375 cases,” Hill said April 29. “Today, that number exceeds 660 cases. That’s not a mathematical doubling of the total number of cases, but it’s getting close. That’s the level of increase that we’re seeing.”

Buhl stressed the importance of cross-deputization agreements with other tribal, city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“There’s no way we could do the job that you need us to do out there if it was only my 29 officers,” Buhl said. “The two homicides and the aggravated assault and battery with a deadly weapon all happened within two hours one day. That stretches my resources beyond imagine. It’s our partnership with Stilwell Police Department and Adair County Sheriff’s Office, along with the FBI on these cases that allow us to be able to prosecute these cases, whether it’s in tribal court or in federal court.”