Budget & Tax , Law & Principles

Millions diverted from law enforcement due to McGirt ruling

Ray Carter | January 17, 2024

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its 2020 McGirt v. Oklahoma decision that the historic reservation of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation was never formally disestablished, the ruling did more than create jurisdictional chaos for law enforcement throughout most of eastern Oklahoma.

The ripple effect of the ruling has also defunded law-enforcement activities throughout the state, diverting millions of dollars, agency leaders told lawmakers during recent budget hearings.

The Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) trains police and troopers across the state, including those who are cross-deputized with tribal governments. The cost of CLEET training, which averages $6,000 per person, is covered by a $10 charge included on most citations.

But the agency doesn’t get that $10 from tickets written by tribal officers—even though CLEET must still pay to cover the cost of those cross-deputized tribal officers’ training.

“The state of Oklahoma pays for that,” said Darry Stacy, executive director of CLEET. “It’s by statute. If they are cross-deputized with another agency, law-enforcement agency within the state, then we cover the training of that officer.”

When tribal police write speeding tickets in areas impacted by McGirt, that money does not always go to the state. Instead, the money typically goes to tribal entities.

“In those counties that are under the McGirt ruling, we are not receiving any of those funds,” Stacy said. “So out of every citation that’s written, we would typically get $10 that would be allocated to CLEET, and if it is a tribal citation, we are not receiving that.”

He said the situation has cost CLEET $1.6 million annually.

That’s a major hit for CLEET, which received $8.2 million in state appropriations and had a total budget of $10.5 million when revolving fund money, which includes ticket revenue, is included.

“That is a huge impact on us,” Stacy said.

Although the agency was supposed to use revolving-fund dollars to pay off a bond for CLEET’s Ada facility, Stacy said the agency has not been able to cover bond payments with those dollars because of the diversion of funds caused by the McGirt ruling. Instead, agency officials have had to divert state funds from other agency accounts to cover bond payments.

CLEET officials are asking lawmakers to increase the agency’s state appropriation by $1.6 million per year to make up for funding lost to the McGirt decision.

That information caught lawmakers’ attention.

“If the tribal police pull me over, write me a ticket for speeding, CLEET does not get any of that $10–even though we pay to cross-train these law-enforcement officers? Is that correct,” asked state Rep. Rick West, R-Heavener.

“Yes sir,” Stacy responded.

West asked if that was the case even when the person receiving the citation from tribal police is non-Indian. Stacy answered in the affirmative.

Stacy said officials at each tribe “make their own decision”—based on whether the tribe has a compact or agreement with a local municipality or local county or the state—on whether any funds from tribal-police citations go to those entities, including CLEET and local law enforcement.

State Rep. David Hardin, a Stilwell Republican who is a former sheriff, said most officers who are cross-deputized “are carrying two ticket books.”

“And we’re talking tribal tickets you (CLEET) don’t get anything if they’re written on a tribal ticket, but if they’re written on a state ticket, then you’ll get $10 of that proceed,” Hardin said.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) told lawmakers the agency has also lost funding due to McGirt.

OSBI’s budget request included a list of “non-reimbursed costs associated with McGirt,” including the total cost for lab analysis for McGirt cases processed in FY22 (approximately $239,296) and FY2023 (approximately $258,250), and the total cost for investigative services in FY 22 and FY23 (approximately $846,514, not including equipment, training, specialized technology, or other expenses required to outfit and develop an agent).

OSBI reported that its average fee revenue for the four years pre-McGirt was approximately $21.5 million, while the average in the four years post-McGirt was approximately $20.8 million.

“These are all costs that, pre-McGirt, you were getting because of the way that they were working through the court system. You were getting a fee, a reimbursement fee of some sort, and now with the way that it is—and I’m assuming similar to CLEET—that’s it’s going through a tribal court, so now you’re not getting any of those fees?” asked state Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore.

“Tribal or federal courts for us,” responded Aungela Spurlock, director of the OSBI,

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling declared that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Oklahoma reservation was never formally disestablished for purposes of federal major-crimes law.

Lower courts have cited McGirt to declare the reservations of several other tribes were never properly disestablished at Oklahoma statehood, including the historic reservations of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole, and Quapaw.

The areas impacted by McGirt now cover about 42 percent of the state of Oklahoma.

As a result of McGirt, crimes committed by American Indians against non-Indians in those areas cannot be prosecuted by the state of Oklahoma, nor can they be prosecuted by tribal officials. Instead, those cases are handled by federal law enforcement officials.

However, Oklahoma law-enforcement officials have said that many lower-tier crimes impacted by McGirt go unprosecuted.

And one lawmaker said he has received reports indicating that federal officials are not particularly helpful even when major crimes occur.

“I know, firsthand, that there is some agencies telling me that if they have a rape that involves—or sexual assault—that involves a Native American, when those agencies are referring it to the FBI, the FBI are saying, ‘We’re not coming out to pick up that sexual assault kit,’” said state Rep. Ross Ford, a Broken Arrow Republican and former police officer who chairs the House appropriation subcommittee on public safety. “So it’s causing kind of a burden on some of our agencies.”

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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