OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – On Friday, Dec 22, 2023 Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed Executive Order 2023-32 that created the One Oklahoma Task Force. The task force will advise state leadership on jurisdictional issues between state, local, and tribal authorities.
Per the language in the order, the task force creates a 13-person panel that is responsible for submitting a report addressing “the McGirt decision’s negative effects.”
As detailed in the EO, “The purpose of the Task Force shall be to provide the Governor, the Legislature, Tribal leaders, and the state’s congressional delegation with substantive legislative and regulatory recommendations, including but not limited to updated uniform cross-deputization agreements, uniform jail agreements, and state and federal legislative proposals.”
The Task Force will be made of appointees from various state agencies and non-governmental organizations the EO defines as stakeholders. These include the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, the Oklahoma Secretary of Public Safety, the Oklahoma state Bureau of Investigation, the Council of Law Enforcement Training, and the Oklahoma State Fraternal Order of Police among others.
Of the 13-person panel, only two members will specifically represent Oklahoma’s tribal governments: one member representing the Five Tribes and one member representing the other 33 federally-recognized Oklahoma tribal governments. The EO does not state how these members will be chosen or appointed.
The first meeting of the Task Force will be no later than 60 days after the EO’s signing, which is on or before Feb. 20. Per the EO, the meeting will be in accordance with the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act.
The EO comes days after a dispute at the Okmulgee County Jail between jail employees and Muscogee (Creek) Nation Lighthorse Police. The dispute led to a physical altercation and an MCN District Court (District Court) arrest warrant for OCJ employee Matthew Douglas on Dec. 20 for felony assault of Lighthorse Deputy Chief Northcross. The warrant was recalled on Dec 21., yet according to District Court records the charges still stand. Douglas has a pending arraignment scheduled on Jan 17.
The Okmulgee County Jail Authority, the entity responsible for jail operations, was recently found to be under state investigation in 2022. From a Frontier report, the OCJA violated policies and procedures in housing juvenile prisoners in federal custody. The OCJA was specifically found violating visual site safety checks for juveniles on increased observation and the segregation of juvenile prisoners from adults.
While the jail is not certified to hold state juvenile offenders, it has contracts with tribal and federal agencies to do so. Citing jurisdictional issues, state inspectors were only able to observe juvenile inmates and had no access to incident reports or documents, per the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
During remarks on Dec. 21, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General Geri Wisner referred to the recent OCJA investigation. Wisner said, “The assault of a Lighthorse Police Officer at the Okmulgee County Jail is the direct result of policies set by Okmulgee County officials that disregard state law. This facility is already facing an ongoing investigation by the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Office of Juvenile Affairs for the mistreatment of juveniles in their custody, including purposefully housing juveniles with adult inmates.”
In a statement on his website, Stitt wrote, “The primary function of government is to protect public safety, and the McGirt decision has created confusion and tension among those that work to serve that function. By gathering stakeholders from every corner of our state, we can address the real jurisdictional challenges left by McGirt and usher in lasting change. The State of Oklahoma, Tribal governments, and our citizens deserve clarity.”
In response to the EO, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill issued the following statement to Mvskoke Media:
“We welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with Governor Stitt. In fact, we’ve been asking for that for over three years. Given the failure of the Governor’s first taskforce, we’d like to offer some suggestions to make this one serious and substantial: Focus on promoting cooperation, not inflaming division. Engage tribes honestly. There are 39 unique tribes in Oklahoma, not just two. Eleven state agencies will be represented to speak for themselves. Tribes should be afforded the same opportunity. Focus on requiring state and local agencies to follow the law. We believe that if he does these simple things, he will find that there is no crisis of law or ‘patchwork’ gaps to solve- only a crisis of political will being fueled by the Governor’s own political campaign to have fewer police, fewer courts and fewer prosecutions by overturning tribal jurisdiction.”
To view the full EO go here, One Oklahoma Task Force.