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Federal judge dismisses Tulsa challenge to enforce Indigenous driver's speeding ticket

Matt Trotter

The federal courts have once again sided with tribes over whether Tulsa can prosecute Native drivers for traffic violations.

U.S. District Judge William Johnson dismissed the case of Hooper v. City of Tulsa Friday. Justin Hooper, a Choctaw citizen, sued the city after a Tulsa police officer gave him a speeding ticket in 2018.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that eastern Oklahoma is still an Indian reservation, meaning Native defendants must be prosecuted in tribal or federal courts. The judge ruled in his dismissal that the Curtis Act — a pre-statehood law used to dissolve tribal governments that the city was using to contest the lawsuit — no longer applies to Tulsa.

Johnson said in his dismissal that the part of the Curtis Act used to contest Hooper's case "no longer applies to Tulsa."

"Tulsa no longer has jurisdiction over municipal violations committed by its Indian inhabitants," the dismissal reads.

In an interview with KOSU, Hooper said he believed the ticket was processed in the wrong legal system, which led him to sue the city.

"Nobody’s getting away with anything, and I don’t even believe I should get away with speeding. I just believe that people need to be in the right jurisdiction," Hooper said.

Hooper's position contradicts that of Gov. Kevin Stitt, who's used the case to claim the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision and subsequent legal rulings will create lawlessness in eastern Oklahoma.

At a press luncheon Wednesday, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum argued the issues at the heart of the lawsuit were bigger than traffic enforcement.

"The issue is, who makes the laws in Tulsa that apply to everybody?" he said.

Bynum has argued a tribal-municipal framework of governance would solve legal issues related to city ordinances and tribal sovereignty. He believes legal issues would become irrelevant if the Muscogee, Cherokee and Osage tribes recognize Tulsa as a tribal city in their constitutions — something he says he's discussed with two of the principal chiefs.

A related lawsuit from the Muscogee Nation claiming the city continued to process tickets given to Native drivers after the federal courts ruled in Hooper’s favor over the summer remains in litigation.

Several cities in eastern Oklahoma have reached agreements with the tribes to split ticket revenue. Bynum says splitting ticket revenue wouldn't be an issue for Tulsa.
Muscogee Nation officials praised the ruling.

“We applaud the decision of the court to uphold the law and dismiss this frivolous case,” Principal Chief David Hill said in a written statement. “The parties behind these politically driven cases are working to make our state less safe.”

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS.
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