By JOSH NEWTON
Prosecutors have filed charges against a Tahlequah man who has a lengthy criminal record in Cherokee County.
A warrant was issued last week for 27-year-old Steven Lee Ryals, who is charged with a felony count of unauthorized use of a vehicle.
Prosecutors allege Ryals in February was driving a 1999 Chevrolet truck, which belonged to the Cherokee Heritage Center, without permission.
The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service was contacted Feb. 9 when a tribal security officer, Michael Smoker, reported the theft of the truck from the Heritage Center. Smoker told investigators he was driving on South Keeler Drive, near the center, when he saw the truck driving away. Smoker tried to follow the vehicle, but lost sight of it when the truck turned onto a dirt road off Willis Road.
On Feb. 10, Tahlequah police spotted the truck in the parking lot of a convenience store, and thought it looked suspicious because it was damaged. Officers checked the registration and learned it belonged to the Cherokee Nation Historical Society. Ryals was then seen attempting to put air into one of the tires on the truck, but officers said he had no warrants and was cleared.
Tahlequah police left the convenience store, but were later told the truck was reported stolen. When they returned, Ryals was gone, but the truck was still in the parking lot.
Witnesses told investigators Ryals had pumped $3 in fuel, bought two $1 lottery tickets inside the store, then left. Officers were also given a description of the man, including that he had a large, visible tattoo on his neck.
Court records show Ryals was convicted of knowingly concealing stolen property in 2003 and was sentenced to five years deferred, but the sentence was revoked in 2008.
In 2004, Ryals was convicted of unlawful use of a police radio, false personation, and unlawful possession of marijuana, and was given a 10-year suspended sentence, which was also revoked in 2008. Ryals was then convicted in 2008 of larceny from the house and was given five years in prison.
Court records show Ryals has been arrested several times in 2013; and prosecutors say his previous convictions in Cherokee County could enhance his sentence.
Unauthorized use of a vehicle is punishable by one to five years in prison and a fine of $500 to $5,000.