When Police Shoot Tribal Citizens On Muscogee Nation Land, Families Ask 'Who's Held Accountable?'
Tribal Nations are being asked to take on more responsibility when it comes to policing, prosecution and when families experience something tragic like one of their loved ones getting shot by police. Allison Herrera reports on the potential for information to fall through the cracks when multiple jurisdictions are involved.
This story is a partnership between KOSU and The Frontier.
Allison Griffin remembers her 28-year-old son on the day he died. He was worried and upset—a departure from his usual good nature.
Julian Rose had been struggling to get his driver's license back after it had been suspended. He hadn’t seen his 5-year-old son Julius for nearly a year and was upset after a relative had recently died of a drug overdose in Oklahoma City.
Julian’s stepdad was urging him to get his life back together so he could see his son and get on his feet again.
Allison remembered her last exchange with Julian as she grabbed her keys and purse to head to work that Tuesday morning. He gave her a little kiss on the forehead.
"He said, 'I love you mom,'" Allison recalled. "That was the last thing he ever said to me."
Julian died that evening, after Glenpool police shot him while responding to a 911 call at his grandmother’s house.
It would be almost five months before federal officials told Julian's family the details about what happened the night he died.
Law enforcement initially did not release any information about the shooting due to the nature of jurisdictional responsibility in cases like Julian's and lack of agency coordination between Muscogee Nation's Lighthorse Police, The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Glenpool Police Department and the U.S. Attorney's office, which ultimately cleared the officers who shot and killed Julian. Glenpool officials have waited months to release even the most basic public records about the shooting, including a recording of the 911 call or a police report.
Julian's death also represents a pattern in Oklahoma. While police shootings in the state dropped in 2020, shootings involving Indigenous people represented a higher percentage in previous years, according to The Frontier, which tracks shootings in the state.
Julian was the sixth Indigenous person shot during an encounter with law enforcement in Oklahoma in 2020, all of which were fatal. Indigenous people in Oklahoma represented more than 20 percent of all fatal police shootings in the state last year, according to Frontier records.
In the three years The Frontier has been collecting data on police shootings across Oklahoma, Indigenous people have represented 10.2 percent of all police shootings and 13.7 percent of fatal police shootings.
Glenpool Police and Muscogee Nation Lighthorse Police have what's known as a cross-deputization agreement. The agreement allows both agencies to make arrests within the reservation and respond to emergencies. Cross-deputization agreements have existed in Oklahoma for decades, but have taken on new importance since the recent Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma.
Alex Pearl is a Chickasaw citizen and a law professor at Oklahoma University who specializes in Indian law. He says these agreements are there to solve problems of uncertainty as to which law enforcement agency can respond to calls or enforce the law when citizens are in crisis.
"If there's a cross deputization agreement in place, such that the state or the county law enforcement officer is covered and is acting under tribal authority, they're in essence a tribal police officer," said Pearl about agreements between state and tribal authorities.
The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling has changed who can prosecute crimes, which is why the investigation into the officer involved shooting of Julian falls to federal authorities.
A non-Indian who commits crimes against non-Indians falls under state jurisdiction.
A family’s worst nightmare, followed by unanswered questions
Around 7:45 p.m. on Dec.15, Julian’s aunt Martha Tilley placed a 911 call from Julian’s grandmother’s house. Julian had been in a fight with his aunt’s boyfriend Chester Jones and Jones was unconscious. According to the meeting between the family and the U.S. Attorney's Office, officers at the scene told Julain not to, "step up on me." Fourteen minutes after the call, Julian was pronounced dead after Glenpool police shot him multiple times. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tulsa, which investigated the shooting, 12 shell casings were found near Julian's body.
Martha Tilley didn't witness the shooting, but said she heard shots and a scream.
Soon after Allison arrived on the scene, she saw her son laying in the middle of the street.
His lifeless body lay exposed to the snow and cold as police canvassed the area and told neighbors to get back inside their homes.
"I just screamed, 'you killed my baby,’" she said through tears remembering when she and her younger son Oscar Rose Jr. arrived in Glenpool at her mother's house.
"They were telling me to calm down," she said. But she couldn't.
Glenpool police wouldn’t tell Julian’s family about what happened leading up to the shooting. They said that since Julian was a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, the FBI was handling the case.
Pearl says that the lack of communication that happens between federal authorities and the Rose family is nothing new. Oftentimes, he says there is a vacuum where communication with families slips through the cracks as cases churn through a federal process that is backed up and lacking resources.
Sometimes that communication is dependent on the specific people who work at federal agencies and their priorities, Pearl says.
"When you have turnover in the U.S. Attorney's Office, somebody that was the head U.S. attorney, they say my priorities are X, Y and Z. If Indian country is not one of those priorities, then all of the work of the prior US attorney is sort of lost," said Pearl.
Julian and his family are Muscogee Nation citizens. According to the Supreme Court ruling, any alleged felony committed against an Indigenous person committed by a non-Indian on the Muscogee Nation reservation falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Julian's sister, Autumn Rose, said she received one voice message from the FBI on Jan. 6, from agent Josh Martin, who told her that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had cleared the officers of the shooting. But Martin didn't tell her why or what happened during his encounter with Glenpool police, she said.
She said she and her family are still in shock and remain angry and upset that it took federal agencies so long to tell her and her family what happened to her brother.
After last summer's racial reckoning and protests around police shootings and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Autumn Rose, who is mixed race-Muscogee and Black, recalled going to a protest at OU Medical school where she is studying in the pharmacy schoolIt was called White Coats for Black lives.
"We kneeled for eight minutes and 46 seconds," she said.
"And then to be there in December and think about how this happened to my family too," said Autumn.
The family had to wait until April 30 to meet with federal officials at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tulsa, where they learned that, according to police, firefighters and emergency medical workers on the scene, Julian stabbed one of the officers in the shoulder with a butcher knife he pulled from his pocket. Police tased Julian twice and then shot him multiple times in the legs and the chest after one officer said he lunged at them with the knife.
Allison says officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office gave differing accounts of how far Julian was from the officers when he lunged and was shot. According to one account, Julian was six feet from the officers, while a firefighter on the scene said Julian was 15 to 20 feet away. Another person said Julian was 25 feet away. The Glenpool Police Department does not equip its officers with body cameras, so investigators had to rely on accounts from police and emergency responders of what happened. Glenpool officials declined an interview request and did not respond to written questions about the shooting.
It wasn’t until May 6, almost five months after the shooting, that Glenpool police finally released a statement about the night Julian died.
The statement said only that the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officers after reviewing evidence in the case and that the shooting fell under federal jurisdiction because Julian was a tribal citizen and the incident happened on Muscogee Nation land.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Oklahoma has informed the family and their attorney of this decision,” the statement said.
Allison and Oscar Jr. say they are frustrated that The U.S. Attorney's Office did not wait to review Julian’s medical examiner’s report before making a decision on the case. The report, which is still not complete, would contain more information about how Julian died and his injuries.
In early April, Autumn launched an online petition demanding that all the records pertaining to her brother's case be released.
"The City of Glenpool and their police department are responsible for the death of a citizen and father who grew up in Glenpool and graduated from Glenpool High School," read the petition, which has gathered more than 600 signatures.
"Help us demand the accountability of Glenpool's police department; beginning with a strong and clear call for the release of all records, reports and recordings about and related to the night … when Julian Rose was killed by Glenpool police officers.”
Trent Shores, who is a Choctaw citizen, was the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma when Julian's case landed at that office. He decided not to pursue charges against the officers involved in Julian's death. Allen Litchfield from the U.S. Attorney's for the Northern District of Oklahoma told the Rose family that because Julian had assaulted someone and had a knife, they felt he was a threat to the community, therefore the officer's actions were justified.
KOSU and The Frontier filed a records request for the 911 call and the police report in early April with the Glenpool Police Department but were told that since the case is under federal jurisdiction, all records requests come under the Freedom of Information Act, which can make the process to obtain documents longer and more complicated..
That's troubling for KatieBeth Gardner, who eventually worked with KOSU and The Frontier to obtain records in this case. Gardner works for Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and helps media organizations obtain important information for their reporting.
She sent a letter to the Glenpool city attorney's office reminding them of their duty under Oklahoma's Open Records Act. Gardner said that it is the responsibility of the municipal agency that shoots a person to turn over records—even if another agency is investigating.
"So it's especially concerning to me to see a law enforcement authority come in and claim exclusive jurisdiction over a case where we have a citizen who has been killed allegedly at the hands of the police," said Gardner. "And, we're not being given any answers about how or why that happened. And it's very important for authorities to be transparent about what happened and how somebody came to be killed at the hands allegedly of the government."
Gardner also said it's important that reporters rely on independent documents and accounts other than statements law enforcement puts out. She pointed to the example of the official statement the Minneapolis Police Department put out after the death of George Floyd.
"The official statement of that governing body was that Mr. Floyd suffered from a medical incident," said Gardner of the initial press release.
"And that's not what the jury found. The jury found that in that case, there was a murder that took place. And so I think it's so important to think critically about these official statements."
The Glenpool Police Department has since complied with the records request and said they are in the process of sending all the material to KOSU and The Frontier.
The U.S. Attorney's Office also acknowledged that their office needs a better and more transparent process of informing families like the Roses when an officer shoots and kills a citizen. Shores said that questions KOSU, The Frontier and the family asked highlighted that need for more structure and process.
Family grieves as it still looks for answers
Allison said she doesn't understand what drove her son to assault Chester and stab an officer. She says it was unlike her son, who was outgoing and played football at Haskell University, loved animals and the outdoors.
"Julian wasn't perfect," said Allison about her son. "He had his flaws. Like I said, the system isn't perfect and the people that shot him aren't perfect either."
Julian was not typically a violent or aggressive person, family members told KOSU and The Frontier.
"All he wanted to do was help people," Allison remembers of her son. Autumn said he started getting more interested in Muscogee Nation traditions because he wanted to learn more about his heritage.
"He was a kind, loving father, and that is what we want his son to know," said Autumn.
The family is still angry and feels there is more to the story about what happened to Julian that night.
"We want to see the police report," said Allison. "We want to hear the 911 call. We want to hear what happened. Not just from what the officers said.”
Allison, Autumn, Oscar Jr. and Oscar Rose Sr. said their house feels quiet without Julian.
Oscar Jr. recalled staying up late, watching videos on YouTube or shows on the family's television when their mother would come out and ask them to quiet down.
"We would just be talking, having a good time and we'd get so loud she thought we were fighting," laughed Oscar Jr.
"He'd give you the shirt off his back," said Allison. She recalled a time when she and other family members were on a cookout and Julian was grilling steaks.
"He was giving away the steaks," she laughed. A man who was experiencing homelessness walked by. Julian gave away part of the family dinner because the man looked hungry.
The Rose family says they are still waiting for Julian’s medical examiner’s report, the police report and they want to hear from more neighbors about what happened that night.
Allison says one question keeps her up at night:
"How does a domestic call go from somebody walking down the street to being shot?"
This story is a partnership between KOSU and The Frontier.