Federal prosecutors from as far away as New York and Florida are helping the U.S. attorney in Tulsa, Oklahoma, deal with what he described Tuesday as a “tidal wave” of new cases resulting from a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Trent Shores said the number of criminal indictments more than doubled in the last month as a result of the ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which determined that a large swath of eastern Oklahoma remains a Muscogee (Creek) Nation Indian reservation. As a result, either the federal government or the tribal nation has jurisdiction over crimes committed by or against Native Americans, not the state.
“Our prosecution responsibilities have increased substantially,” Shores said during a roundtable discussion in Tulsa with Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Assistant Attorney General Kyle Haskins and Tulsa Police Department Deputy Chief Eric Dalgleish.
“It’s a lot of work. We’re standing up and taking it on our shoulders right now. We’re also looking forward to reinforcements.”
The Creek Nation’s territory, alone, encompassed more than 3 million acres, including most of what became the state’s second-largest city, Tulsa.
Shores said the U.S. attorney’s office in Muskogee is seeing a similar increase in the number of cases it is prosecuting.
Shores said about 20 federal prosecutors and support staff from U.S. attorney offices in Florida, New York and Pennsylvania have agreed to help the office with an overflow of cases.
Kunzweiler said he is working to get some of his assistant district attorneys cross-appointed to work with prosecutors in Shores’ office on various cases.
While protocols and procedures may have changed for Tulsa police, Dalgleish said nothing has changed for citizens who call 911.
“We’re sending an officer there to handle that call, and they will make those decisions (on jurisdiction) when they show up,” Dalgleish said, adding that his officers are cross-deputized with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and are able to handle cases involving Native American suspects or victims.
Meanwhile, Kunzweiler said his office is also experiencing a significant increase in the number of criminal defendants who are seeking post-conviction relief as a result of the court’s ruling.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter estimated last week that as many as 2,000 inmates could seek to have their convictions overturned as a result of the ruling, including several who are on death row.