BEHIND THE BADGE

Grant D. Crawford | Daily Press

Cherokee Nation Marshal Kyle Shambaugh uses a radio inside his patrol unit.

Boasting more than 370,000 citizens across the country, with at least 141,000 living within the tribe's 14-county jurisdiction in northeastern Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation's Marshal Service has a long list of responsibilities. Protecting its citizens tops the list.

Last weekend's Cherokee National Holiday gave the Marshal Service multiple locations to police, and thousands of Cherokees and non-natives to protect. CN Marshal Service Director Shannon Buhl said this year was "one of the most peaceful holidays we've had in years."

"I can remember several years where you'd arrest 20, 30, 35 people in a weekend," he said. "I think we arrested three, so I'll take it."

The marshals once had to work all day Friday and all day and night Saturday during the Holiday. But the number of emergencies and problem situations has declined enough to where they can work on shifts. They conduct dignitary protection, such as shadowing Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. If there are active threats to Tribal Council members, they will also receive dignitary protection, but there were none this year.

Buhl said the Holiday shifts help with the marshals' temperament. He believes that, plus the community's self-awareness and the relationship with other local law enforcement agencies, contributed the more harmonious atmosphere of the 2019 Holiday.

"A lot of this reduction in marshals on the weekend is directly related to the relationship we've built with Cherokee County [Sheriff's Office] and Tahlequah Police Department," Buhl said. "Knowing that these two agencies are cross-deputized with us and have the qualities and training that they're going to make the right choices - it relieves some of that pressure."

If anyone calls 911, the Cherokee County 911 Center will receive the call and send whomever is closest to the scene, no matter the agency. The agencies will figure out whose jurisdiction it is after the situation has been de-escalated, and the Marshal Service will either take over the case or let the county handle it.

"There's a lot tribal property - especially in Cherokee County - that is tribally owned, but is state land," said Buhl. "So the tribe owns the property, but they've not placed that property in trust."

Property that is tribally owned and in trust under federal protection status, such as the new casino, is primarily the CN Marshal Service's responsibility. For pieces of property owned by the tribe, but not in trust, the responsibility falls more on the TPD and CCSO. The entire Cherokee County area is checkered with both trust and non-trust land.

"There are gaps and pockets," said Buhl. "That's why cross [deputization] is so important; that the individual officer at 2 o'clock in the morning doesn't have to know what he or she is standing on. We'll figure that out in prosecution later, as far as what court they go to and what the sentence would be."

Including Buhl, the CN has 31 marshals. When the agency loses a marshal, it's not easy to replace that spot with another marshal. All officers have to go to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico, for four months, when they'll undertake military-style training.

"They're locked down," said Buhl. "They do pushups, marching, press their uniforms, clean their rooms, have rooms inspections. They have all the stuff that military has. It's pretty grueling."

One they finish their fourth months of FLETC training, marshals then must go through the Field Training Officer Program. If everything goes well, they can become certified marshals.

"Once he starts working, it takes about three years for that marshal to understand Indian Country, the variables - what federal jurisdiction this arrest is going to be held in," said Buhl. "There are all of these nuances that a local or a county officer just doesn't need to know. My officers present federal cases in federal court."

Kyle Shambaugh, son of District 9 Tribal Councilor Mike Shambaugh, has been reading the CN Marshal Service policy book and performing miscellaneous tasks since he was hired earlier this summer. He'll begin FLETC training next week.

"I heard it's going to be tough," Shambaugh said. "I'm excited, because I can't do a whole lot right now. I ride around with the sergeant or I sit here and read policy, so I'm ready to get out there and do stuff and learn more about my job."

A former baseball player at Northeastern State University, Shambaugh remembers Buhl visiting his criminal justice class to talk about the Marshal Service. After working a couple of years doing pipeline construction, he started looking into law enforcement options.

"I started reading up on the marshals, and they get to go to the best training, have the coolest toys, and are well-respected," he said. "So it was kind of an easy choice for me."

Faron Pritchett has been with the Marshal Service for 18 years. He has served on patrol, headed the narcotics unit in Adair County, and now works with the Conservation Department, "basically as a game warden." He said the MS is pretty similar to any big family.

"Everybody gets along pretty well, for the most part," he said. "It's a big family. We suffer with ups and downs and we have good times, just like every other family."

The MS has started a new initiative to get more involved with the community, working on an archery program to engage with students at Sequoyah High School. There's a special emphasis on units like a DARE officer, narcotics, and special operations teams.

"We bring a lot to the table," said Pritchett. "Everybody knows that if they need a helping hand, they can contact us for additional help. When it comes to equipment, some of these other agencies can't get everything. We provide SWAT teams, dive teams, swift-water rescue teams, and a lot of additional services for our people, friends, and neighbors."

The Cherokee Nation has its own laws and codes. Being able to enforce laws on its citizens is the "most visual representation of a sovereign entity," said Buhl.

"I think when the marshal puts his badge on, not only does he represent the tribe - every police officer represents a community - but what we do is represent the fact that Cherokee Nation is still alive; it's still a sovereign entity," he said.

Not just anyone can become a CN marshal. Buhl said it's very important that folks know they're "not here to beat people up," because although a Cherokee citizen might commit a crime, it doesn't necessarily cast the individual out of the community.

"When that prison sentence is done, they're going to have to reintegrate back into the community," he said. "We see that on the front. We want the integration back to us and the tribe to start at the moment I put handcuffs on. So the way we treat that suspect adds up over time, and it adds up definitely in the spirit of the community."

Marshals are often answering calls by themselves, which can lead to tense situations. Backup is not always readily available, so Buhl said he wants his deputy marshals comfortable working alone, but also comfortable at reducing volatility in dangerous situations.

"There's nothing on the planet more dangerous than a scared police officer," he said. "I think a police officer that is scared is very, very dangerous. I think that's why we look for a certain mentality to become a marshal."

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