A physician arrested on a first-degree murder complaint in Arkansas on Monday night had been charged with domestic assault and battery in January before the case was dismissed due to the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision.
Dr. Tyler Tait, 34, is accused of killing Moria Kinsey, 37, a nurse. But the earlier domestic charge against Tait, a Tahlequah physician who worked for Cherokee Nation Health Services, was dismissed and sent to federal prosecutors in April, according to District 27 District Attorney Jack Thorp, who serves Cherokee, Wagoner, Adair and Sequoyah counties. The victim in that case, Shelby Burris, is a member of the Muscogee Nation, while Tait is a non-Native.
The assault case was referred to the Cherokee Nation in April, according to the a statement issued by the tribe.
“That case was under review when this tragic event occurred,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “The Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation today filed charges [in the Burris assault case] and requested [Tait] be held without bond. We are also reviewing our internal policies to strengthen our abilities to better address domestic violence complaints.”
The McGirt ruling altered jurisdictional authority in Oklahoma, reverting criminal cases involving Native Americans to the tribes on whose reservations the crimes occurred.
Chicot County, Arkansas, Sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of a woman in need of medical assistance on Monday. Deputies found Kinsey lying outside a vehicle parked alongside U.S. 65, approximately two miles north of Lake Village near the McMillan Corner community. She was taken to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead. Tait, who also was found near the vehicle, was questioned that evening by special agents of the Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division. After consultation with Thomas Deen, 10th Judicial District prosecuting attorney, Tait was arrested.
Tait and Kinsey were reportedly traveling together and may have been attending a funeral. Special agents examined the vehicle they were driving and discovered evidence of a physical altercation inside.
According to the Cherokee Nation Communications team, Kinsey was a former tribal employee. She left her job with the tribe in August. Tait was hired as a full-time employee in February 2019. They confirmed Cherokee Nation policy requires background checks on employees and also does background checks every five years on medical professionals. Tait had no convictions on his record at the time of his hiring, only records of the dismissed cases.
“We are devastated and mourning the loss of Moria Kinsey, and on behalf of the entire Cherokee Nation, our thoughts and prayers are with Moria’s family and friends during this time,” Hoskin said. “Although not a Cherokee citizen, Moria is a former employee and member of our Cherokee Nation work family, dedicated to helping improve the lives of our citizens. Our traditional Cherokee lifeways teach us to revere our daughters, grandmothers, sisters and mothers and to respect the guidance and wisdom they offer.”
According to court records, Tait has a history of alleged domestic violence, including the domestic assault and battery case from January. In 2017, a protective order was filed against him by Burris. That was ultimately dismissed after Tait was charged with violating the order, but Burris filed another protective order against him in 2020. In May 2017, he also was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. That case, too, was dismissed. And in 2016, Tait was reportedly involved in a single-vehicle accident in Camden, Alabama, after engaging in a physical altercation with his mother at her home.
Laura Kuester, executive director of Help In Crisis, said the past 24 hours have been a stark reminder that domestic violence exists, is prevalent and does not discriminate. She pointed to a recent coroner’s report that ruled Gabby Petito, a woman who was found dead in Wyoming and her boyfriend missing, died by strangulation.
Kuester and other advocates had stepped up education efforts recently, as October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“I hope you are outraged and saddened by these two stories, but can I tell you something? In the four counties we serve for 2021, we have already seen 100 victims with stories much like Gabby and Moria,” she said. “I say this to you to bring the reality of the prevalence of domestic violence to your understanding of the issue. One in four women, and one in seven men, will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. With those statistics, there is someone you know right now suffering at the hands of an abuser. Remember, abuse can come in many forms, including emotional and psychological abuse.”
A candlelight vigil for Kinsey has been planned for 8:30 p.m. today at Norris Park. The public is invited.
Grant D. Crawford reports for the Tahlequah Daily Press.