By Ken Childers
Governor Kevin Stitt, Okfuskee/Creek County District Attorney Max Cook and the City of Okemah are among the 47 defendants named in a class action lawsuit filed by four members of the Cherokee Nation who claim they were unlawfully prosecuted by the state.
The lawsuit was filed in Okmulgee County District Court on July 13 by attorneys William B. Federman, John M. Dunn and Kevin Adams on behalf of Jason Nicholson, Justin Hooper, Cael Burgess and Kevin Hair. All four plaintiffs live in Tulsa County, within the boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
The suit stems from the recent Supreme Court recent ruling that Congress never disestablished the Creek Nation Reservation it created in 1866; thus much of eastern Oklahoma is an Indian Reservation. Under the ruling, state prosecutors lack the authority to pursue criminal charges against Native Americans for crimes committed within the boundaries of the reservation.
The plaintiffs allege that for more than a century, the State of Oklahoma and its political subdivisions have “investigated, detained, charged arrested, imprisoned, fined and otherwise taken large sums of money from Native Americans without the authority of law.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim that the state and other entities have been “unjustly enriched through their unlawful actions” and the suit was filed to “disgorge” the defendants of “ill-gotten gains.”
In addition to Stitt and Cook, individual defendants in the suit include Steven Kuzweiler, Tulsa County District Attorney; Carol Iski, McIntosh/Okmulgee County District Attorney; Jack Thorp, Wagoner County District Attorney; Orvil Lodge, Muskogee County District Attorney; Paul Smith, Hughes/Seminole County District Attorney and Matthew Ballard, Mayes/Rogers County District Attorney.
The plaintiffs accuse the offices of the district attorneys named in the suit of prosecuting Native Americans within the boundaries of the Muscogee Creek Nation (MCN) without jurisdiction, and the counties they serve have been “unjustly enriched” by the collection of fines, costs, assesments, probationary fees and other monies taken from Native people without legal authority.
Cities and towns named as defendants include Beggs, Bixby, Boley, Boynton, Bristow, Broken Arrow, Catoosa, Checotah, Coweta, Cromwell, Depew, Dewar, Drumright, Eufaula, Glenpool, Haskell. Henryetta, Holdenville, Inola, Jenks, Kellyville, Kiefer, Mannford, Morris, Mounds, Muskogee, Oilton, Okemah, Okmulgee, Oktaha, Porter, Sand Springs, Sapupla, Summit, Tulsa, Wagoner, Weleetka, Wetumka and Wewoka.
The cities and towns listed are located, at least partially within MCN boundaries, and the plaintiffs say they are also without jurisdiction over crimes committed by or against an Indian in Indian Country.
According to the filing document, the class members represented in the lawsuit include all Native Americans who were members of a federally recognized tribe and had been issued a CDIB card from the Department of Indian Affairs at the time they were prosecuted by the state or one of its political subdivisions. The prosecution must have taken place for actions that were alleged to have occurred within the boundaries of the Muscogee Creek Reservation within the applicable statute of limitations as allowed by law for this action.