Illegal firing, free-speech violation alleged in tribal suit

Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | August 13, 2020

Illegal firing, free-speech violation alleged in tribal suit

Ray Carter

Shane Jett, a Republican former state lawmaker, has sued the chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in tribal court, alleging the chairman illegally fired Jett from his position as CEO of the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation.

Jett’s lawsuit claims the firing occurred without due-process rights guaranteed by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s constitution and was the result of Jett exercising “his freedom of speech, on his own time at the City of Shawnee public meeting, outside of the tribe’s jurisdiction, on a topic that had nothing to do with the tribal business.”

The lawsuit was filed in the district court of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

Jett, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, said his firing occurred because of his opposition, publicly voiced on July 20, to imposing a mandatory mask-wearing order in Shawnee. Jett’s lawsuit indicates his opposition was driven in part by concerns about the challenges that masks present for asthmatic children.

Notably, Jett says he has an audio recording of an Aug. 3 conversation with John “Rocky” Barrett, chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and Richard Brown, the human resources director for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, in which Barrett demanded that Jett resign from his position. The recording lasts 23 minutes, 18 seconds, according to Jett’s filing, which includes numerous quotes from the audio.

According to the filing and the quoted portions of the recording, when Jett said he was within his “right as a citizen of Shawnee” to speak at the public meeting, Barrett interrupted to say that he “wasn’t interested in hearing this crap. I’m not interested in hearing what your rights are and aren’t.”

The filing says Barrett demanded that Jett resign from the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s First National Bank & Trust, declaring, “I’ve got the votes either way.”

“Notably, these boards had not met at that point,” Jett’s filing states.

Jett’s lawsuit claims Barrett explicitly linked the firing to Jett’s opposition to a mask mandate, quoting Barrett as saying he was “not going to give you a bully pulpit.” When Jett responded that Barrett could not take away someone’s free-speech rights, the filing says Barrett responded, “You wanna bet?”

Jett previously served six years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The firing comes as Jett is running for a state Senate seat in the Shawnee area and will face voters in the Aug. 25 runoff election.

The lawsuit may highlight the types of disputes and legal complexities that may soon arise across much of eastern Oklahoma after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively reestablished the tribal reservation of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and, by implication, the reservations of four other tribes— the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole nations. The cumulative effect of the ruling could impact nearly half the state of Oklahoma, where 1.8 million people reside, including the city of Tulsa.

A wide range of legal experts have warned the court’s ruling may place tribal governments in regulatory control of many aspects of daily life in the affected areas, although additional court challenges are anticipated. In situations where Oklahomans find themselves under the jurisdiction of tribal governments, the rights they are afforded can vary from tribe to tribe and may differ significantly from the rights citizens enjoy elsewhere in Oklahoma.

“We have to step back and understand what this all means,” Andrew Spiropoulos, professor of constitutional law at Oklahoma City University and the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said at a recent public forum. “What this all means is that eastern Oklahoma—1.8 million people—the five tribes are the central locus of sovereignty in those areas, period, unless the federal government says otherwise.”

Officials with the Citizen Potawatomi Nation did not respond to a request for comment about Jett’s lawsuit.

In his filing, Jett says he raised $45 million for the tribe during his nine years of employment.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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