The FBI posted a “story” online Thursday, July 8, regarding the growing case load within its Oklahoma City field office over the past year since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 5-4 McGirt v Oklahoma ruling July 9, 2020.
The McGirt v Oklahoma SCOTUS decision affirmed the Muscogee Nation as an Indian Country reservation as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1151a. Subsequent decisions from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals said the federal court ruling also applies to the Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation, Chickasaw Nation and Seminole Nation. This means only a tribe and the federal government — not the state — have criminal jurisdiction over major crimes that occur on reservation land involving tribal members.
Combined, roughly 45 percent of the land within Oklahoma’s borders has been affirmed to be Indian Country reservation land. Smaller tribes in Ottawa County hope upcoming court rulings will affirm what they believe are also reservations. The state of Oklahoma, meanwhile, is challenging the jurisdictional issues in both federal and state court.
‘The case volume is unprecedented’
Since the federal court ruling in the McGirt case, the FBI’s Oklahoma City field office has managed “thousands of cases,” according to the FBI’s online post, which lacks a byline. The post states that, prior to the ruling, the OKC office handled “about 50 criminal cases a year involving Native Americans.”
Under the Major Crimes Act, the FBI investigates the most serious crimes in Indian Country, like murders, rapes and child sexual abuse. In eastern Oklahoma, criminal cases involving tribal victims or suspects that previously would have been managed by state district courts and local law enforcement are now under federal jurisdiction. That case load not only includes new cases, but federal authorities are now handling cases that were already in the criminal process, those cases appealed by currently incarcerated persons and even closed cases that are being re-examined owing to the jurisdictional confusion surrounding the ruling.
According to a June story from The Oklahoman‘s Chris Casteel, President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking $82 million in additional funding for federal staff and resources — such as U.S. attorneys, FBI agents and marshals — in an effort to handle the spike in case loads across Indian Country.
“The case volume is unprecedented,” said Melissa Godbold, special agent in charge of the FBI Oklahoma City field office. “The challenge for us is that we must provide this basic level of policing in the eastern half of Oklahoma, but we also have to ensure we are still doing all the things the American public expects the FBI to do.”
The OKC field office has borrowed special agents, intelligence analysts, victim specialists, and other staff from across the bureau, according to the FBI post.
The FBI post features a section regarding the agency’s Victim Services Division, which has increased its services in Oklahoma in response to the case load spike.
“People are definitely experiencing a little bit of trauma response from having to relive their case or having to prepare themselves for the possibility of having to go through the prosecution process again,” said Kim Weems, a victim specialist in the OKC field office. “We have a lot of people in our homicide cases, families who are having to relive that grief and revisit things that they really thought that they had dealt with previously. So, it’s definitely tearing that scab off old wounds.”
You can read the FBI’s full post here.