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News > Press Releases > Press Release

Press Release

Release Date: March 11, 2022
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

On July 9, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court held in McGirt v. Oklahoma that the Muscogee reservation remains Indian Country for purposes of criminal jurisdiction. On March 11, 2021, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals applied that ruling to the Chickasaw Nation.

As a result of these rulings, the Chickasaw Nation and federal governments have jurisdiction over crimes involving Indians throughout the whole Chickasaw Nation, and Oklahoma has jurisdiction over crimes only involving non-Indians in that same area. Put another way, the ruling expanded the geographic reach of the Chickasaw Nation criminal jurisdiction from about 280 square miles to the entire 7,648 square miles of Chickasaw Nation treaty territory.

The same day the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruling came down, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby issued an executive proclamation affirming the recognition of the Nation’s reservation and setting forth policy direction for our criminal justice system and other operations. The events of that day were long in the making.

Governor Anoatubby shares that the tribe began preparing to meet this expected expansion of its law enforcement responsibilities long before the case had finished making its way through the courts. "We formed a task force to analyze the situation and developed a comprehensive plan to meet these important new responsibilities," said Governor Anoatubby. “The Chickasaw Nation executive, legislative and judicial departments have worked diligently to enhance our internal capabilities to meet our expanded responsibilities. As we have worked to enhance collaboration among federal, state and criminal justice agencies to serve residents of our area since the ruling, we have seen the level of cooperation rise to new levels in many instances.”

One example of that cooperation is seen in criminal prosecution referrals by tribal, state and federal agencies. Reviewing data from March 11, 2021, through Feb. 27, 2022, the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police made 2,097 arrests, and approximately one-fourth (24%) of the charges Chickasaw Lighthorse has developed have been referred to the Chickasaw Nation Office of Tribal Justice Administration (OTJA) for prosecution in Chickasaw Nation District Court. Lighthorse has referred the remaining approximately three-fourths (76%) of the charges to local District Attorneys or U.S. Attorneys for prosecution. Similarly, approximately two-thirds (63%) of cases filed by the OTJA in Chickasaw Nation District Court were based on charges referred by another law enforcement agency, typically a local police department or sheriff’s office. These numbers demonstrate the substantive cross-jurisdictional collaboration that is both necessary for effective law enforcement and is happening every day within the Chickasaw Nation. Meanwhile, the Chickasaw Nation District Court has gone from handling approximately 75 criminal cases each year to more than 2,000. During the same period of March 11, 2021, through Feb. 27, 2022, the OTJA filed 2,284 criminal matters with the Tribal court, 528 of which were traffic offenses. Of those criminal matters filed, 864 have already been fully adjudicated, with no appeals filed.

Law enforcement

Relationships with local law enforcement agencies established long before the Supreme Court ruling paved the way for a transition to this understanding of treaty territory and criminal jurisdiction.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, the Chickasaw Nation has worked with other agencies to establish cooperative jurisdiction agreements with 72 other jurisdictions. Those agreements include cross-deputation agreements, which authorize state and local police to obtain federal law enforcement credentials, and commission agreements, which authorize those same police to obtain Chickasaw law enforcement credentials. Meanwhile, pursuant to Oklahoma statute, federally commissioned Chickasaw Lighthorse are already authorized to act as Oklahoma peace officers throughout the Chickasaw Nation. To facilitate implementation of these cross-jurisdictional agreements, OTJA has offered numerous trainings and support materials to partnered law enforcement agencies. In May 21, 2021, the OTJA, Chickasaw Nation of Governmental Affairs, and our Office of Senior Counsel hosted a public safety summit at the Artesian Hotel in Sulphur, which was attended by the Oklahoma Attorney General and all District Attorneys and U.S. Attorneys exercising law enforcement jurisdiction within the Chickasaw Nation. Chickasaw Nation officials provided a substantive overview of justice system and procedures, and attendees engaged in a constructive and encouraging discussion of shared concerns and opportunities.

Chickasaw Lighthorse Police have hired more than 30 personnel and staff, including eight criminal investigators, to fulfill public safety responsibilities in Chickasaw Nation treaty territory. It has also operationalized a third dispatch station to support our response to community needs.

Criminal justice – courts and detention

The Chickasaw Nation has also worked with area counties, municipalities, and other organizations to ensure cases are fairly and effectively handled.

To meet an expanding caseload, the OTJA hired five new criminal prosecutors, five new legal support staff, one criminal investigator and one supervisory probation officer.

Supported by a U.S. Department of Justice grant, a the OTJA was able to hire a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney to prosecute federal cases in the U.S. District Court as well as tribal cases in the Chickasaw Nation District Court.

To manage persons in our custody, both pre-trial and post-conviction, the Chickasaw Nation has established the Office of Detention Administration, which works with the 11 counties with whom the Nation has agreements to authorize our use of their jail facilities.

Likewise, the tribe has established a juvenile detention agreement with the Sac and Fox Juvenile Detention Facility, which allows us to properly house and address the needs of younger detainees.

Commitment to working together for public safety

“We all live and work in diverse communities and what affects one of us tends to affect all of us,” said Governor Anoatubby. “We have long believed what is good for the Chickasaw Nation is good for the state of Oklahoma and what is good for Oklahoma is good for the Chickasaw Nation.

“We have deepened our intergovernmental partnerships to protect public safety and ensure proper administration of justice. We will continue to do this work with the commitment to service we bring to all our efforts.

“Working together and focusing on solutions, we can continue protecting and serving our families, friends and neighbors today while building a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.”

Chickasaw Nation criminal justice data
(for the period March 11, 2021, through Feb. 27, 2022)

The Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department

  • 2,097 arrests
  • Increased sworn personnel from 77 to 98
  • Increased non-sworn staff from 14 to 20
  • Added eight criminal investigators
The Chickasaw Nation Office of Tribal Justice Administration (OTJA)
  • Filed 2,284 criminal matters in Chickasaw Nation District Court, 528 of which were traffic offenses
  • Hired five new criminal prosecutors in addition to the current staff of four assigned to the prosecution team
  • Hired five new legal support staff
  • Hired one criminal investigator
  • Hired one supervisory probation officer
  • Established a new Office of Detention Administration to serve as a central contact point for county jail facilities that have detention agreements with the Chickasaw Nation
  • Received a three-year grant award from the U.S. Department of Justice for the Office on Violence Against Women Tribal Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Program
    • As part of this program, the Chickasaw Nation has partnered with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District in Oklahoma City
  • Received a grant award from the U.S. Department of Justice for the Office on Violence Against Women Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction Program
    • As part of this program, the OTJA will hire a victim-witness coordinator position to serve as the primary point of contact for victims in cases prosecuted in Chickasaw Nation District Court
    • Grant funds will be used to pay for detention and medical care costs associated with non-Indian defendants in Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction cases
Chickasaw Nation Judicial Department
  • Completed adjudications: 864 cases
    • 615 adult
    • 29 domestic violence special jurisdiction (i.e., non-Indian defendant)
    • 213 traffic
    • 7 juvenile
Working with area agencies
  • Lighthorse has referred 24% of the charges it has developed to OTJA for prosecution and the other 76% to local District Attorneys or U.S. Attorneys.
  • Of the cases OTJA filed in Chickasaw Nation District Court, 37% were based on charges referred by Lighthorse and 63% were based on charges referred by another law enforcement agency, typically a local police department or sheriff’s office.
  • The Chickasaw Nation has at least one cooperative jurisdictional agreement (e.g., a cross-deputation or commission agreement) with 72 law enforcement agencies
  • The Chickasaw Nation has 11 county detention agreements, including Jefferson, Johnston, Pittsburg, Marshall, Murray, Love, Coal, Grady, Carter, Garvin and Bryan counties, along with one juvenile detention agreement with the Sac and Fox Juvenile Detention Facility
  • The Chickasaw Nation OTJA has presented six sessions of “Tribal Prosecution Protocols” training to cross-commissioned law enforcement agencies in Sulphur, Pauls Valley, Tishomingo and Newcastle
  • The Chickasaw Nation hosted the first Public Safety Summit May 21, 2021, at the Artesian Hotel in Sulphur in order to provide an overview of the Chickasaw Nation tribal justice system and encourage ongoing dialogue between the respective offices
    • Attended by 45, including all five district attorneys and their staff, both acting U.S. Attorneys and their staff, and the Oklahoma Attorney General