OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A woman just north of Enid was pulled over by an Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper and ticketed for having up-to-date tribal tags Tuesday because the state deemed hers “improper.”
Crystal DeRoin told KFOR she was initially pulled over for speeding.
“I was ready to receive my ticket,” said DeRoin as she admitted to the traffic violation.
But then she received two tickets – one for speeding and one for her tribal tags that expire in September 2024.
“I’ve had it for forever, for years and years on all my vehicles,” she stated.
DeRoin told KFOR the Trooper said he couldn’t run her Otoe Missouria tags through the system to locate her insurance and registration. She also claimed he mentioned the ticket had something to do with the Governor, but News 4 has not been able to confirm that.
DeRoin was then provided with a $249 ticket.
“I kind of went blank,” said DeRoin. “I honestly thought he made it up because he kind of seemed upset.”
She wasn’t sure about the misdemeanor citation, so she said she took the ticket and went on her way.
According to an Oklahoma Department of Public Safety memorandum provided to News 4 Thursday morning, there are two circumstances in which a tribal member living in Oklahoma may use a tribal tag in lieu of a state issued tag:
- Pursuant to the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Okla. Tax Comm’n v. Sac & Fox Nation, 508 U.S. 114 (1993), Indians may use a tribal tag if they have registered their vehicles through the tribe and reside and principally garage their vehicle in the tribe’s Indian Country.
- For tribes with a valid compact with the state, members of those tribes may lawfully use a tribal tag no matter where the person lives.
“Other than these two circumstances, all Oklahomans must register their vehicles with an Oklahoma tag and registration. Oklahomans who fail to do so are subject to enforcement under the Oklahoma Vehicle License and Registration Act, which may include a misdemeanor citation and/or impoundment of the vehicle,” the memorandum stated.
The only three tribes who are compacted with Oklahoma regarding car tags are Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation, and Chickasaw Nation.
The federal case DPS is referring to was decided on in 1993.
In summary, a federal judge decided the state cannot impose “vehicle excise tax and registration fees on tribal members who live and garage their cars principally on tribal land and register those cars with the Tribe.” Outside of tribal boundaries though, it’s free game.
News 4 requested an interview with DPS, but the agency declined.
Governor Kevin Stitt’s Communications Director, Abegail Cave told KFOR the Governor, as an elected official who took an oath to uphold the laws and ensure they are executed, simply expects DPS to enforce Oklahoma laws.
“This is addressing a significant public safety issue that puts law enforcement and others at risk. If tribal governments won’t share vehicle registration information with DPS, we can’t keep our officers and our streets safe. Members of tribes with valid compacts that provide needed car registration information will not be ticketed. Oklahoma Highway Patrol is simply enforcing the law and following U.S. Supreme Court precedent,” said Gov. Stitt.
Cave said for those tribal members who do not meet the criteria for tribal tags must be registered with Oklahoma.
Tribal attorney Robert Gifford said despite this federal law going into effect 30 years ago, it didn’t seem to be enforced until now.
“[It] goes hand in hand with the issues that have been going on between the state of Oklahoma and every Native American tribe in Oklahoma. And really, when I say the state of Oklahoma, it really goes back to the governor’s office, unfortunately,” said Gifford.
Gifford confirmed there is no state law in Oklahoma allowing DPS to enforce such ticketing.
However, a former attorney who argued on behalf of the 1993 case, Gregory Bigler, told KFOR because it’s federal law, it takes precedent over state law.
He said it would be “extraordinarily difficult to overturn this case.”
News 4 asked Bigler if the McGirt case impacts this 1993 case at all. He said it further solidifies and affirms the case.
Although the federal law is 30 years old, multiple tribes, such as Seminole Nation and Osage Nation, claim to have been kept out of the loop.
A Seminole Nation tag agent told a News 4 employee, who is a tribal member, they were made aware of the situation Wednesday.
“We are working with other tribes so we are aware of the situation, but we don’t know how it’s affecting our tribal members outside of Seminole Nation,” the Seminole Nation tag agent said.
“After over 20 years of cooperation between the State and Tribes regarding vehicle tag registration, it appears the State has altered its position of understanding concerning tribal tags. This change was made without notice or consultation with all Tribes that operate vehicle tag registration. We are concerned about this change and are reviewing all legal options to address this issue. Once again, consultation and/or diplomacy with the tribal governments prior to this policy implementation would have been helpful to avoid this difficult situation.”Otoe-Missouria Chairman John Shotton.
The Osage Nation also released a statement Wednesday saying they are “aware of the vehicle registration inquiries. This appears to be a change in cooperation by the State of Oklahoma over all tribal license plates. Please know this change was made without any consultation with the Osage Nation and without notice. The Osage Nation is working on multiple fronts to address the issue. Your safety and well-being is our top priority. Please do not put yourself or others in danger at any time when driving or otherwise. We will continue to update you as this situation progresses.”
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DeRoin said she feels stuck because no one is able to provide her answers.
“Why is this happening to us?” she asked.
DeRoin said she has asked her tribe if she were to pay the fine and be done with it, if she’d be reimbursed.
News 4 asked the Governor’s office about reimbursements for those who have already renewed their tribal tags.
“They’ll have to consult their tribal governments about reimbursement,” said Cave.
“[Otoe Missouria] told me they weren’t sure,” she added. “I’m going to have to get an Oklahoma tag because I can’t afford the $249 ticket. [Otoe Missouria] told me not to switch, to keep my Otoe tag and to fight for it.”
She has three vehicles registered with Otoe Missouria. She said she has already switched over to Oklahoma tags on her work vehicle as of Wednesday to ensure zero disruptions in her work day.
“It’s a waiting game. I am going to go to court and hopefully I have all the documents I need from the tag agency that is helping me. There’s some people in the community that want to show up with me and be like, ‘Hey, you know, this isn’t fair,'” explained DeRoin.
Her court date is set for January 8, 2024, at 1 p.m.
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s office told KFOR, “The Attorney General’s highest priority is public safety, and he believes the compacting process is the ideal avenue to address these concerns.”
News 4 has filed an open records request with DPS for the number of similar tickets issued to tribal tag holders since 1993.