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Cockfighting Tested in Indian Country

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A Kiowa Tribe member unsuccessfully challenged enforcement of Oklahoma’s anti-cockfighting statute on Indian country land when the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said June 19 that it lacked jurisdiction over the matter.

Michael C. Turner’s lawsuit was intended to be the third in a series of test cases challenging Oklahoma’s anti-cockfighting statute, according to the 10th Circuit, which termed Turner a “diehard cockfighting enthusiast.”

The two preceding test cases had found that federal courts lack jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indians charged with cockfighting in Indian country.

In this case, seeking to create precedent that state courts have no jurisdiction over Indians charged with cockfighting in Indian country, Turner had publicly announced he was organizing a cockfight and was arrested in Cotton County, Oklahoma. Turner was convicted in state court, which determined the cockfight was not on Indian country land.

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Turner, acting as a member and on behalf of the Kiowa Tribe, sued Ronald O. McGee, Appellate Judge in the [Secretary of the Interior-empowered] Court of Indian Offenses for the Kiowa Tribe and three other officials of that court for failing to find that the cockfight was on Indian country land and to halt state prosecution.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma dismissed the charges because it concluded the judges were entitled to sovereign immunity as tribal officials.

The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal, but on grounds that Turner could not establish a remedy through the court to undermine his conviction and as a result he lacked standing to pursue his lawsuit.

Further, the Court of Indian Offenses may not have had the power to affect his state court condition, because Oklahoma state courts accept tribal judgments only “where the tribal court that issued the judgment grants reciprocity to judgments of the state of Oklahoma” and there is no reciprocity agreement, the appeals court said.

“We recognize the interest that Turner and the Kiowa Tribe have in establishing precedent on the enforcement of the Oklahoma statute in Indian country,” the court said, but affirmed the district court’s lack of jurisdiction.