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DOJ looks to join Muscogee Nation in lawsuit against Tulsa

Mick Haput

The United States Department of Justice looks to join a federal lawsuit accusing Tulsa of prosecuting Native people for traffic citations.

The Muscogee Nation in November sued the city, Mayor G.T. Bynum, Police Chief Wendell Franklin and City Attorney Jack Blair on accusations that the city was prosecuting and collecting money from traffic citations given to Muscogee citizens. The United States Supreme Court ruled earlier in 2023 that these actions violated tribal sovereignty.

The DOJ announced in a Monday news release that it filed a motion to intervene and proposed a complaint against Tulsa in the lawsuit.

“Tulsa’s assertion of jurisdiction violates fundamental principles of federal Indian law that are rooted in the Constitution ... the filings say that these principles bar states and their political subdivisions from exercising criminal jurisdiction over Indians in Indian country unless Congress expressly authorizes it, which it has not done in this instance," the release states.

The DOJ also said it supports the tribes’ ability to prosecute Native people for crimes committed on their reservations.

Muscogee Nation Attorney General Geri Wisner said her tribe is “grateful for the support” from the DOJ.

"We look forward to resolving this issue so that we can move forward with the city in a collaborative way that benefits the public safety," Wisner said.

The city declined to comment on the matter, citing pending litigation.

The Supreme Court’s mandate for Tulsa to stop processing traffic citations stemmed from Choctaw motorist Justin Hooper suing the city in 2018 over a speeding ticket. Hooper’s case was decided in his favor after the high court ruled in 2020 that eastern Oklahoma was never disestablished as a Native American reservation.

A federal judge in December upheld Hooper’s stance.

Bynum has proposed a tribal-municipal partnership with the Muscogee, Cherokee and Osage reservations that could settle legal issues outside the courtroom.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS.
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