Byline: Kaylea Berry/Reporter
DUSTIN, Oklahoma – Muscogee (Creek) Nation Lighthorse officers, Attorney General, and Tukvpvtce Representative Thomasene Yahola-Osborn met with members of the Dustin community on Aug. 5 at the Dustin Indian Community Center. They went to hear the community’s legal and law enforcement concerns and provide answers. The need for the meeting between Lighthorse and the Dustin community arose when questions were raised during the previous community meeting, and no one could answer them.
Lighthorse Chief of Police Richard Phillips updated the community members on what Lighthorse is currently doing and the department’s plans. He also explained the difficulties that they are facing due to staff shortages.
“Right now, we’re getting a special operations team together… our drone program off the ground,” Chief Phillips said. The department is looking at getting roughly six drones to aid in looking for missing people or fleeing suspects.
“We’re looking at rebuilding the K-9 department to get more out on the road and to have one on each shift,” Chief Phillips said. Lighthorse now has a swift water rescue team and a dive team with hopes of getting cold water certified.
A new office location is being set up in Wetumka, and they are waiting for the internet and computers to start using it. This will be a new location where officers can go to fill out paperwork. The goal is to have officers in the area as the department grows.
The department’s most significant difficulty is building the force with new officers, radios for those officers, obtaining vehicles, keeping vehicles on the road, and competitive pay. These are issues across the country, and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is no different.
“We do our best … we’re hiring, but we’ve got to vet those people,” Captain LJ Bear said. “They’ve got to be trustworthy and show a level of maturity to be able to do the job on their own.”
The department is getting people to fill the vacancies. However, some of them do not have any law enforcement experience.
Getting an officer certified and prepared to patrol alone can take a few months to over a year. New hires go to the Indian Police Academy in New Mexico for a 14-week training to get certified and then start field training with a seasoned officer. Field training is complete when the new officer has shown they are capable of patrolling on their own.
The area Lighthorse patrols are divided into two districts, North and South. The North District includes Creek, Tulsa, Wagoner, Rogers and Mayes counties. The South District covers Hughes, McIntosh, Okfuskee, Tukvpvtce, Okmulgee and part of Seminole counties. The North and South districts share Muskogee County. Typically there are seven officers per shift, three shifts a day, and three to four officers for each district.
Chief Phillips said Lighthorse and other cross-deputized agencies work well together and help each other out. Checotah, Eufaula, Holdenville, McIntosh County, Wetumka, and Weleetka are some of the cross-deputized agencies. However, Dustin is located within Hughes County, which is no longer cross-deputized because Hughes County Sheriff Marcia Maxwell no longer honors the agreement.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General, Geri Wisner, brought attention to the struggles that the Muscogee Nation is currently fighting.
The most common questions from the attendees were related to who to call in an emergency. The biggest frustrations are that one agency says it is not their jurisdiction and the response times for an officer to show up.
Dustin residents and business owners have tried to get help with theft and drug issues from the Hughes County Sheriff’s Office and Lighthorse. Though they have not had much luck, response times are long, officers do not show up, or suspects are let go because officers did not see the crime take place.
One resident said he had had roughly $18,000 worth of property stolen or damaged. One suspect is on camera using a four-wheeler to remove his gun safe inside his home, destroying his flooring and door. He has caught two individuals trying to hotwire his four-wheeler, called Hughes County. They showed up and were told nothing could be done because they did not see the crime happening.
This individual has also taken it upon himself to follow a suspect to a location and call 911 requesting officers. The suspect was a Native American male with a Native American woman, both of which had warrants. The resident waited two hours for Hughes County to arrest the individual because of warrants, but the woman he was with was not arrested. He said Hughes County did not arrest her because “she wasn’t a big enough fish.” Hughes County Sheriff’s officers tell him that they are backed up.
Residents are frustrated that Hughes County Sheriff’s Office is not working with Lighthorse. They pointed out that the Sheriff is not running for re-election, officers are leaving, and there are only a couple officers left at the Hughes County Sheriff’s Office. They have lost hope in the Sheriff’s Office.
Residents in the area complained that gas tanks are being drilled to steal gas, and then the hole is plugged so the suspects can return to get more. Citizens have resorted to buying cameras to get some sense of security because of the high crime activity. One resident said, “you can go to bed at night and come the next morning you have stuff missing .”
Another resident spoke about her violated protective order and not getting anyone to enforce it. She said she had to obtain an attorney because Hughes County would not take an informational report considering her children and husband are Native, even though she is not. She has tried to get Hughes County, Okmulgee County and Lighthorse to help. Lighthorse has been the only agency to show up and take an informational report.
Wisner told attendees about the Victim Compensation Fund to help alleviate some of the hardships brought forth by the criminal activity in the area. The Victim Compensation Fund is money for victims that are included in court and ticket costs. The VCF is through the Domestic Violence Program and more information is available by calling 918-732-7979.
“Article 4 Section 1 of the United States Constitution … is the Full Faith and Credit. Under the Violence Against Women Act, any court order or protective order from … wherever you get your protective order, it is enforceable in every 50 states, within every Tribal territory, and every other territorial area such as Guam and Puerto Rico,” Wisner said.
She said Law Enforcement Officers have a legal responsibility to enforce protective orders, and where the violation occurs, they have prosecutorial authority. If legal obligations are not carried out, then officers and departments can be and have been sued and held responsible for their negligence.
Citizens interested in attending the next Dustin Indian Community Center meeting, call Muscogee (Creek) Nation Community Research & Development at (918) 732-7963.
Anyone interested can apply for Lighthorse or other job opportunities online.