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Jett files lawsuit after being fired; alleges free speech violation

By Vicky O. Misa | Vicky.misa@news-star.com | (405) 214-3962 | Twitter: @Vicky_NewsStar
The Shawnee News-Star

This week, Shane Jett, candidate for state senate district 17, filed a lawsuit in response to being fired from his position as CEO of the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation (CPCDC).

He alleges the termination was due to voicing his opposition to a recent local COVID-19 mask mandate.

On Aug. 10, Jett filed an emergency injunction in the District Court of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation against John “Rocky” Barrett in his official capacity as Chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation for illegally trying to fire Jett for exercising his constitutional rights of free speech.

“Last month, I attended a meeting of the Shawnee City Commission to express my opposition to a proposed mask ordinance for the City of Shawnee,” Jett said. “This massive government overreach was opposed by most citizens and I wanted to be sure that their voice was heard at the meeting. Therefore, as a private citizen on my private time, I exercised my Constitutional right to free speech and spoke in opposition to the mask mandate.”

He said Barrett, who also serves on the board of his employer, the CPCDC, took offense to his comments.

“The Chairman is a well-known partisan Democrat and attacked me for speaking out,” he said. “He attempted to fire me without proper protocol. Therefore, I filed an action in tribal court seeking to stop his unlawful actions.”

“I had not willfully violated the mask mandate at my job or on CPN land,” Jett said. “I have been respectful of the municipal and posted mask ordinances and have been very conscientious about both the health risk and anxieties of others.”

Jett said after numerous attempts to reason with Barrett and other elected CPN officials, it became clear to him a lawsuit was the only way to protect him and his family.

“Chairman Barrett was determined to silence and punish me for my views which do not align with his liberal, democrat positions,” Jett said. “This behavior is something everyone of all political stripes should stand against.”

Barrett said CPN has more than 2,400 employees of all political persuasions and many of them have worked for the tribe for more than 20 years under his leadership.

Barrett said he knew Jett was an ultra-conservative Republican when he hired him 10 years ago.

“In addition, he worked here before, during and after his run for the 5th Congressional District in 2014 as a Republican,” he said. “Why would I wait more than seven years to fire him over his politics?”

Obviously, Barrett said, the reason was something else altogether.

“I'm proud of the low turnover we have at the executive level,” he said. “We do not fire people without cause.”

Barrett did not share details of or a reason behind the termination.

“The Chairman violated my right to free speech guaranteed by both the Constitution of the United States and the Potawatomi Nation,” Jett said.

He said his fight is not with CPN or its employees.

“My conflict is with the dishonest, punitive and illegal actions of Chairman Barrett,” he said. “In this month’s CPN Newspaper, Chairman Barrett misrepresented my position on the mandate and then said I am not telling the truth.”

In an opinion piece published in the August 2020 edition of CPN's Hownikan, Barrett did not directly mention Jett by name, but instead referred to him as “a local state senate candidate.”

In Barrett's piece he said the candidate “is fishing for votes while ignoring 1,714 new Oklahoma COVID-19 victims on July 21.”

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects free speech, but not when it harms others, Barrett said in the article.

“Remember the Supreme Court ruling on free speech that prohibited 'crying fire in a crowded building?'” he said. “That's what is going on, my friends.”

Clearly Barrett and Jett do not see eye-to-eye when it comes to free speech, but according to Jett, the matter has escalated way beyond a simple difference in viewpoints.

“Due to his incredibly hostile partisan text messages to me, I felt it prudent that there be a record of our encounter,” Jett said. “He not only berated me for speaking at the Shawnee City Commission, but also railed against attendees at President Trump’s Rally in Tulsa. Further he threatened to spread lies to the public to try to injure my campaign for Oklahoma State Senate.”

Barrett behaved as a bully unbecoming to his position as Chairman of the Potawatomi Nation, Jett said.

“I will not be intimidated into silence in the face of petty tyranny,” he said.

In Jett's emergency injunction he cites a 23-minute 18-second audio recording to back up his allegations of being firing without due process or protocol, as well as verbal abuse and threats against him.

“You can see for yourself in (Barrett's) own recorded words his dishonesty and willingness to lie to the public for political vengeance,” Jett said.

Jett said Barrett’s action violated his own constitution.

Barrett has been the chief elected official of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation for over 35 years.

“Our financial growth and success in helping our people has led to an annual operating budget over $350,000,000,” Barrett said.

He said Jett can engage in petty name-calling all he wants, but the proof is in the numbers.

“We are a success and over 35,000 Tribal citizens continue to elect me,” he said. “This would not be true if I was all of the nasty things young Mr. Jett is calling me.”