Johnston County sheriff offers unique insight into cross-deputation agreements

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Sheriff Gary Dodd

Law enforcement in Johnston County has been a shared responsibility between its sheriff’s department and Chickasaw Nation Lighthorse Police since 2006, making their cross-deputation agreement one of the first in the 13-county tribal territory.

Sheriff Gary Dodd says the cooperative effort is critical for the protection of Johnston County residents and deputies alike. 

Dodd, a former Chickasaw Nation Lighthorse Police investigator, has witnessed first-hand how mutually beneficial the arrangement is from the tribal and non-tribal sides, giving him a different vantage point than most.

“I’m talking to you with a unique perspective that I don’t know any other sheriff in the state has,” Dodd says. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think cross-deputization agreements are beneficial; I think they’re essential, especially after McGirt takes effect. I don’t think you’ll be able to operate effectively without it.”

“McGirt” refers to last year’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing with a Muskogee-Creek citizen who argued that the Muskogee-Creek reservation had never been disestablished. This in turn meant his case had been wrongly tried in state court with no jurisdiction since reservations are considered to be federal land.

Dodd says it is important to the success of cross-deputation agreements that officers on both sides of the equation be allowed to work uninhibited.

“Law enforcement officers should not be disrupted or interfered with while conducting their duties and investigations,” he said. “I cannot stress enough how important it is for these agreements to be of mutual respect and understanding on both sides.”

Dodd noted that cross-deputations allow sheriffs to serve native citizens of their respective counties. They also allow tribal law enforcement the ability to deal with non-natives off of tribal property.

Chickasaw Nation Police Chief Mike Manning says working without such an arrangement can make life extremely difficult for all parties.

“Ultimately, our goal every day is to make sure the citizens that we have been charged with protecting receive that protection,” Manning said. “Without a cross-deputation agreement in place, it’s like trying to change a flat while the car is moving. There’s a constant struggle. 

“Cross-deputation agreements are a partnership between us and the other agency," he said. "When we go out to work, we are law enforcement brothers and sisters working side-by-side to provide the safety and security our citizens deserve.”  

Dodd, a Choctaw citizen whose law enforcement career began in 1999, was elected sheriff of Johnston County in 2020. Much of his experience with cross-deputation is from his days with Lighthorse Police.

“Johnston County is a rural county and doesn’t have the resources or personnel that some other counties do in the Chickasaw Nation,” he said. “The help (Lighthorse provided) was always appreciated by the sheriff. My predecessor called me pretty often when I was still with the tribe and asked for me to assist his deputies with different situations.”

Dodd said the agreements give a significant advantage in perilous circumstances that wouldn’t be possible without them.

“Cross-deputizations allow myself and my deputies to act without hesitation. It allows Chief Manning and his Lighthorse Police officers to act without hesitation. When an officer is in a situation and hesitates, it could literally mean their life,” Dodd said.

Dodd said such agreements also protect law enforcement after the fact in a worst-case scenario when an officer is forced to take a life.

“If you have a cooperative agreement like we do, then you’re protected,” he said.

“Looking back in history, we had sheriffs and deputies here in Tishomingo before statehood. The history of sheriffs goes back to before statehood here and has a direct tie with the tribes.”

“Sheriff Dodd has a very unique perspective, coming from Lighthorse and now being sheriff,” Manning said. “He is going to be a real ally to us, especially when it comes to explaining how cross-deputations work, explaining how Lighthorse will work and interact with the sheriff departments in our territory.

“I appreciate Sheriff Dodd and his willingness to help us out and to help out the people in the county who elected him.”