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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Melvin Gibson
INTERVIEWER: Nanih Weiya Staff
DATE: May 15, 1977
I: Today's date is May 15, 1977, and we are interviewing Melvin Gibson,
a member of the Choctaw Law and Order. Could you tell us a little
about how long ago this got started and how it is now?
G: Back in 1967 or '68, there was a murder committed on the reservation
here. We knew that the state did not have jurisdiction in the Indian
reservation. I think federal had jurisdiction so they set up the
Law and Order program then. And in October of 1968, Mr. Richard
Brocken came down here from Minnesota and set up the Law and Order
program here on the reservation. We started out with him, I,and two
police officers. Then there was a couple of police officers detailed
from South Dakota for about a month or so, to help us on the reser-
vation. When we first started, there was no radios. We didn't
even have any pistols or any kind of weapon around. Just the ones
that were detailed down here from South Dakota had them. They would
be detailed down here for about a month, and they'd go back and
they'd send somebody else in their place. And that would only be
about '68. Then I guess Mr. Brocken and I were the only ones working
in this area until around March, I believe, when Glen and
Mr. Bobby Holton started. Then we had two police officers and
Mr. Brocken. There was a special investigator and as time went on
we picked up more police officers and now we have a total of six
uniformed officers with the special officer who's Harold Clark. He
took Mr. Brocken's place two or three years ago. Mr. Preston Isaac
is the Criminal Investigator/Juvenile. So with that staff, we patrol
the Choctaw reservation. And then one person quit. His name's
Johnson. We're supposed to have three judges--one chief judge and
two associates, but right now we only have the one chief judge who is
also commissioner of the county. Their time has expired and the
tribal council has not appointed anybody else.
I: What is the procedure for making an arrest?
G: It could be done with a warrant or without a warrant. For an arrest
to be made without a warrant, the offense has to be committed in the
officer's presence. Or, if the officer goes out there and makes an
investigation and determines that he has probable cause that this
certain person did commit that offense, he can make that arrest without
a warrant. Or he could have the victim sign an affidavit and a warrant
would be issued. Then the officer can use that one to make that arrest.
If the victim is not in a condition to sign the affidavit,then through
the officer's investigation, the officer himself can sign the affidavit
which would require the victim to come in and testify to back up the
officer's investigation and so forth. A warrant would be issued by
the person who is going to investigate.
I: Has the rate of the crimes or offenses been higher since it first
started or has it been the same?
G: I believe it's gone down. Most of the offenses are public drunk,
disorderly conduct. I believe the rate has gone down. When we
first started, just about every weekend you could see people staggering
down the road. Now you hardly see that anymore. So I believe the
Law and Order program has been a big help on the reservation decreasing
the people who used to stagger down the road and stuff like that. Most
of our calls today are family problems where usually the husband goes
out drinking, comes home, and starts fighting with his family. Then, the
family usually call the police. Most of our calls are of abandons or
I: Do y'all now have better facilities than you did back then? Y'all have
a new police station here, don't you?
G: Yes, when we first started we were operating out of a house on the
Choctaw Central campus there. As I said earlier, we didn't have any
radio and stuff like that when we first started. We did have a couple
of GSA EGeneral Services Administration] cars. We didn't have anybody
sitting in the office receiving complaints and so forth. A lot of the
calls we missed, I imagine, because we'd get a call and we'd be someplace
else when somebody probably would call. We started in that house, and
about six months later we got a trailer. And we moved into that, and we
finally got our radio. Then we finally got some new cars too, and we
installed the radios in the cars. We had a base station and trailers.
Then we hired some dispatchers. So from that we operated a little bit
better. Then we moved over here about two or three years ago. This new
facility over here can house at least forty prisoners. Then we have
the cells where we can keep juveniles. The only time we keep juveniles
is when they are too drunk to be really controllable. And if the parents
can't control them, we lock them up. When they sober up, they're re-
leased without bond. Then after that we try to keep up with the parents.
But as long as a child can be controlled by their parent, or there's some-
body at home, we don't lock them up; we just release them to the parents
because it's their responsibility.
I: Are there many juveniles in the community like that today?
G: Not that many. There's a few, but that's on the reservation. I imagine
there's a lot more off the reservation in Kemper County and Meridian
bars and taverns, but they are hanging out over here the times that
we come across them. There's not very many. I imagine they just go
straight home and go to bed.
I: Uh huh. What rank are you now?
G: I'm the captain of police.
I: Were you a policeman before you came down here?
G: No, I was working in a printing shop.
I: Could you tell us about your family background?
G: I went to school at Conehatta through the eighth grade. From there
I went to high school and graduated. Then I went one year as a post-
grad. I took printing. From there I went out to Denver to work out
there for about six years. Then I came down here and took the police-
man's job, and I've worked here since. In March of '69 I attended the
Indian police academy in Clarkville, New Mexico. It was there then,
but it's been moved to Brigham City, Utah now. Throughout the year I
attended some other classes back at the Brigham City Indian Police
Academy. I attended classes in police investigations. I went through
the FBI National Academy in April of '76--went out there for eleven
weeks and came back. I haven't gone anywhere ever since. Throughout
the years I've worked my way up from the ranks from patrolman to sergeant
to lieutenant to captain. I've been in this position for about three
I: Have you had any serious crimes committed? I mean like hanging or
anything like that?
G: On the average we get about, oh, one homicide a year or something like
this. You know, somebody killing another.
I: Uh huh.
G: As far as assaults and batteries--we have quite a few of them. But
we get a few family problems where somebody knocked each other down.
There's been a few stabbings, but other than that you don't have any
robberies or anything like that. Once in a while you get a burglary
or a theft, you know, and someone's been out together drinking and
they steal things from each other or stuff like that. But any violent
crimes or any of those-maybe on the average we get about one a year.
I: Do the working hours vary?
G: The patrolmen rotate shifts. They'll work local shift. This shift
runs from 4:00 p.m. to midnight and midnight to 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.
to 4:30. So they work one of those shifts for three weeks, then they
rotate. I work Monday through Friday 8:00 to 4:30, Mr. Clark the
same time, and Preston Isaac works from 2:00 p.m. to 10:30 in the evening
Monday through Friday.
I: Have you had any cases where y'all were involved with the state or
federal departments--any crimes committed like that?
G: Bootlegging was really going around here. Well, we're involved in that.
There's federal officers that did make some rounds at these bootleg
joints and left town--investigation with the state agency people. And
as far as federal, the only time we were involved with them was when
there was any major crime committed on the reservation. Then we do
the initial investigation and then work with the FBI agents and
during the further investigation if there is anything to present to
the district attorney in Jackson. But as far as little ones, we're
involved with them all the time. With the counties, but anytime they
need any help from us they call us. And anytime we need any help we
give them a call out here. We try to help each other out.
I: Like when y'all first started having the police force on this reservation
was there any resentment from the people?
G: From the Choctaw people?
G: No, I don't believe there's been any resentment; or if there is any
resentment, it's from the ones that are being arrested. But as far
as the ones that are trying to be law-abiding citizens, I think they are
glad that we are here. Even some of them that we've arrested said that
they're glad that we're here. They'd rather be arrested by us than by
the county and so forth. I imagine there's a little resentment, but
it's very rare, you know.
I: You can only arrest Choctaws?
G: We can only take Indians through our tribal court. We can arrest non-
I: But it can only be done through county court?
G: They have.to go through the county. You know, we can hold them there
and call up the county. And they can come out there and pick them up
and take them to the county jail.
I: What if a sheriff was chasing someone and if the person went on the
reservation roads, could the sheriff still chase them?
G: Uh huh. But see, they can start chasing them off the reservation. And
if they happen to get on a reservation, you got a "hot pursuit" law, and
they can do it on the reservation. But when they first see them, it's
on the reservation, well, they can stop them as long as there
But if the police start chasing them off the reservation, then they
can go ahead and take them to the county.
I: Do y'all go on your own every so often whenever something like that
to the other community?
G: Yes. We have a pretty good working relationship with the county people
I: Do you think the traffic violations like accidents or anything--are
they as high as you said drinking and all that were?
G: Is it as high--the fines?
I: I mean the rate.
G: The rate of traffic violations?
I: Uh huh.
G: No. Just maybe there are two traffic violations every week.
I: Uh huh.
G: As far as accidents, on the average I imagine there's only about three
or four a month.
I: Uh huh.
G: If that high. I think the most we brought in a month was about three or
I: Do the bonds that are set for these people who commit these offenses
depend on who it is or what?
G: It depends on what the charge is. Now those bonds were set up by the
first judges of the county about '68. The judges can change the bond
system if they want to. I think they did once because for disorderly
conduct I think the bond is five dollars. Sometimes they place ten
dollars on that, but they can be changed by the judges.
I: You have your own court here, don't you? Or do some of the cases go
through the state court?
G: No, anytime an offense is committed on the reservation, it has to go
through here. The court dates are on Mondays and Fridays at 1:00.
That's the criminal court. The civil courts are held at every first
and third Friday of the month at 9:00 in the morning.
I: What age do the police officers have to be if they go to academies or
G: I believe the minimum age is eighteen to go to the academy. And I
know that when you're hired it's adult age also. Welookf.or somebody that
is pretty emotionally stable--that's not hot-headed and pretty level-
headed and so forth.
I: Have y'all had many applicants?
G: Yes, we get them all the time.
I: Are these positions ever vacant?
G: Well, the positions are opened by the local agencies. And we put in
a request for a position. Then it has to be approved by a local agency.
Then it goes on to Washington, and it has to be approved by them also.
If somebody resigns or something like that then, like we have your name
for that fiscal year, then we replace that man. We can use one or two
more police officers.
I: Have you had any women trying out for...?
G: Police officer position?
G: I can't remember any women applicants for the police officer's position,
but we get quite a few applicants for dispatch positions.
I: What are the average salaries at the beginning?
G: The beginning salary is $2.40 and that's good till the end of the year.
I: Does it go up as the rank is higher?
G: It depends on the employment, as to the title of the appointment in the
civil service. If you get a firmer position then you get a step increase
every year. You know, if positions open up in high rank. Most ser-
geant positions are GS-5;patrolman, GS-4; and lieutenant is a GS-6.
I: How does that GS mean?
G: That's a civil service thing.
I: What about attorneys for the defendants?
G: The defendants--they have to get their own. They pay for it themselves.
We used to have a legal aid service here, but for some reason they were
terminated. Defendants have to get their own attorneys and pay for it
themselves. As far as prosecutions, we don't have any--you don't have
a prosecuting attorney. The officers have to take turns prosecuting
each other's case.
I: You said you had three judges here--can you name some of them?
G: We did have three judges. Two associate positions were fired. They
were Bradley Isaac and Louie Willis. Now the tribal council has not
reappointed them,and I doubt if they will be replacing them. Nick
Simon now is chief judge.
I: Is he on the terms seven for life or....
G: No, I think each term runs four years. And I don't know when this
expires, but when his term expires he can be reappointed by the tribal
council or he can be replaced.
I: How does the jury work?
G: The jury? They have to be registered to vote. Then the tribal council
sends in their names from their community to us. Then they're picked,
you know, from sort of a lottery. And thenames are put in a container
for the drawing.
I: Were they just ?
G: It depends on the defendant. The defendant has a right to a jury trial.
So if he asks for a jury trial, we have to give him a jury trial. If
he doesn't request it, we don't give him one.
I: How many jury members do you have at each case?
G: The jury consists of six people. I believe they usually pick about
twelve members. The defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney
picks out the jurors-six or so on the jury.
I: If some juveniles commit some crimes like breaking into buildings or
damaging federal property, do y'all have a trial for them;and if they
commit it again, do you request or have anything to do with sending
them to a training school?
G: The state institutions do not accept the tribal court convictions.
Where a tribal court is done as much as they could, such as placement
at the youth center and stuff like that, and you still have not cor-
rected the situation, then they can refer the child to the youth
I: Uh huh. Have y'all had many cases like that?
G: Not very many. I believe we had one or two a few years ago. Sometimes
we work with social service. If social service feels that sending
the juvenile someplace else, like a boarding school, would help the
juvenile out and would straighten him out, then they make their recom-
mendations through a tribal courtroom. If the tribal court is to go
along with it, then they send [the juvenile] to Phoenix or Tucson or
some other boarding school.
I: How about rapes or, at school or something they'd break in, or have
y'all had any of that?
G: Yeah, we did until that boy ran away. We haven't had any since.
I: Was he recommended by y'all?
G: Social service recommended that he be sent someplace--somebody squealed
I: Can I ask you a personal question? Do you like working on the police
G: Yeah, I quit once, then I came back. I guess I liked it.
I: How would you feel if a woman or someone applied for a police position,
like an officer?
G: How would I feel if a woman applied? If she was qualified, I'd say
give her the job. But I wouldn't hire a woman just to be hiring a
I: Tell us about your family.
G: My family? My wife's name's Melinda Ann. She's from Oklahoma. We've
been married, I think it's been fourteen years in August, and we have
three children--two boys and one girl.
I: What are the rules and regulations of a police officer, or do y'all
happen to have bylaws or something like that?
G: Qualify that?
I: I mean like if you went to the academy, do they tell you to do this
and not to do that or what?
G: They teach you what a policeman's supposed to do. They also give you
a code of ethics and stuff like that. And then we also are guided by
the civil service code of ethics.
I: What's the highest rank a person can get on this police force?
G: On a local level, it is either a supervisor or criminal investigator.
And you can go on up higher out of the local level, all the way up to
I: Do you have a device ?__
G: Yeah, we have a breathalizing machine. It's a little device. It's
fully automatic, so there can't be no human error. Everything's
gone automatic. Blow into this device and then wait, and then it
prints it out on a sheet of paper.
I: Do y'all have a device for fingerprinting?
G: Uh huh. We fingerprint all adults that come through criminal court.
We take their pictures and any personal information.
I: The badges?
G: Yeah. We get them from the central office in Washington, Whatever
your rank is, they'll have it on there.
I: Does the [sheriff, chief of police] keep in contact with y'all or do
you all work together, you know?
G: He works out of his office. He carries a walky-talky and so we can
I: Does he work for a certain agency, or is he under the Law and Order
G: He works under the plant management department. We have supervision
I: Are there any times in your activities where you [need] a few more
officers to help out, for instance, like the fair, or do all of you
G: Yeah, all of us do work and we put in a lot of overtime during those
days. And the officers [hire] about six extra people. And they have
to control the parking areas and the fairground. The regular officers
also patrol that area, but also they still have to serve the other
community. It depends a lot on the six extra people that we picked up.
I: Are there any improvements that you have made?
G: I think any department can stand some improvement, but I couldn't
tell you what right offhand.
I: If an officer wants to go up higher than he's expected, can he become
an FBI person?
G: Uh huh. He can, but it's all up to him. He's got to go to school.
I went part-time to junior college, and I got my associate's degree
over there. But anyhow, an officer can do that to improve himself.
He's got to continue going to school.
I: Has anybody locally ever tried that Cto become an FBI agent]?
G: Not to my knowledge. When I was up at the FBI Academy, there was
quite a few women.
I: Could you tell us a little in detail about the police academy?
G: You mean in Lucedale?
I: Uh huh.
G: You mean what they teach?
I: Yeah, and how long it takes and all that.
G: Well, it takes about two years. In that period, they teach you the
functions of the patrol, public relations, investigations, the kinds
of things to look for, self defense, to shoot firearms, how to handle
domestic situations, anything that the police would ever become in-
volved in, they try to cover everything. They teach you the rights of
I: So it mostly consists of, like, classroom work?
G: Uh huh.
I: Do you have to have a physical exam from your local area before you....
G: You have to pass a physical examination.
I: After you get out of the academy, can you be stationed anywhere or can
you request to be stationed where you want to work?
G: Yeah, you can. Dobber and I thought of towns throughout the reservation--
throughout the United States on the reservation, and we didn't apply
for any of those. Even after you come back to your own area, and your
position opens up at a certain time and it would mean a promotion for
you, you can even apply for that job. If you get it, you can transfer
around throughout the United States on that.
I: Have you had any other officers from different [areas] coming down here?
G: Well, Mr. Johnson was working at the Red Lake Reservation up in
Minnesota, and he transferred down here. Robert Youngood was working
somewhere in South Dakota,and he transferred down here. Harold Potter
was working somewhere in South Dakota,and he transferred down here,
and so, you know, we got about two or three of them. Then Mr. Johnson
left here. He transferred back to Red Lake. Nobody up here has ever
transferred to another reservation.
I: Do y'all only apply for reservations or can y'all apply for state...?
G: Oh, yeah. We can.
I: Is it hard to do it? Do you have the qualifications?
G: You just apply for the city or the state or whatever. About a year
ago, Pearl, Mississippi, a suburb of Jackson, kept sending us letters
and announcements that they would like an Indian applicant over there.
I thought we got the word out, but nobody applied. I don't know.
I: Uh huh. You said Utah is the place where the academy is. Is that the
only Indian academy?
G: Yeah, that's the only one.
I: Is there other police academies?
G: Oh, yeah, I imagine each state has one. And then larger cities have
their own academy. I believe the Navahos attend in New Mexico state
academy. You can always put in applications to those academies.
I: Could you have gone anywhere to school or...?
G: No, the basic police training--you only go once. But then they hold
different classes all the time, you know, specializing in certain
things. So if they hold classes that you're interested in, you just
take that course. Then you can put your application in, and if you're
accepted, then you can take that course. Like Preston just got back
last Friday from Cal course up there at the academy. And he went up
there to become an instructor on firearms range. So from now on, he's
the one that's going to be qualified.
I: Do you teach Explorers EScouts] how to handle guns and all that?
G: Yeah, we work with the Explorers' Council and try to teach them every
phase of police work. Then when they get out of high school, they
have a pretty good idea whether they would want to go on the police
force or not. So we try to go over every phase of police work including
I: Do the students seem interested?
G: Especially in firearms. Yeah, they show an interest. Preston is
in charge of that now. He handles Boy Scouts, and I believe they hold
a meeting every week.
I: In your opinion, would you like to see more people get involved with
police work and trying to enforce the laws?
G: We need any help we can get. In our work, we have to depend on public
support. Any information that they give us and so forth. So anything
that could help us right now, I'm for it.