Two antigovernment “sovereign citizens” who refused to get out of their truck – only to be surrounded by SWAT teams near Spokane, Wash. – ultimately were arrested Wednesday by the only authority they truly recognize: the county sheriff.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich told Hatewatch today that he excused himself from an afternoon meeting at the Public Safety Building after being informed of a potentially violent standoff involving his deputies and two self-proclaimed sovereign citizens.
The truck, stopped by detectives and uniformed deputies in Otis Orchards, had invalid license plates and “was covered in sovereign citizen signs, including one that said it was a ‘noncommercial private vehicle’ and ‘no trespassing,’” The Spokesman-Review reported in Thursday’s editions.
“I know they tend to only recognize the authority of the sheriff, so I figured it was my job to go out there and help peacefully defuse this situation,” Knezovich told Hatewatch.
When he arrived on the scene, an armored personnel carrier from the sheriff’s office was parked “nose-to-nose” with the suspects’ vehicle. Knezovich, who was a SWAT team commander before being elected sheriff, approached from the safety of the armored vehicle, not knowing if the two sovereign citizens were armed.
Standing two car lengths away from the suspects’ truck, Knezovich told its occupants he was, indeed, the sheriff of Spokane County who had arrived to facilitate their peaceful arrests. From behind the opened door of the bullet-proof SWAT vehicle, Knezovich said he shouted to the two men, “I am the sheriff. Let’s not do this the hard way.”
The sheriff said he didn’t draw his own handgun as he attempted to speak with the two men but tried to convince them they wouldn’t be harmed if they peacefully surrendered. “It’s sometimes easier to talk to somebody if you’re not holding a weapon,” he said.
But nearby, several members of the sheriff’s SWAT team had their tactical weapons pointed at the suspects in case they pulled firearms or things went sour, Knezovich said. The sheriff said he sensed the passenger in the vehicle was inclined to get out, but when no movement occurred for nearly three hours, his SWAT officers cautiously approached.
“They had to cut the seatbelts, and physically pulled these two guys out of the truck, but it all happened relatively peacefully and nobody got hurt,” the sheriff told Hatewatch.
Arrested on traffic and misdemeanor charges were Michael Francis Hicks, 55, and David Ray Galland, 58, jail records show.
Hicks was booked into the Spokane County Jail on charges of failure to provide information; driving with his license suspended; and obstructing a police officer. He was also cited for modified or altered license plates. Galland was booked into jail for obstructing and failure to provide information, said Deputy Craig Chamberlin, the public information officer for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
Meanwhile, Knezovich continued his day with three more meetings.
The sheriff told Hatewatch he stands ready to be called out again anytime “if we get into another situation like this. I’d rather do that than have somebody get hurt.”
There have been a number of violent encounters between sovereigns and police in the United States, typically beginning with traffic stops. Sovereigns generally believe they don’t have to pay taxes or follow laws, including those requiring valid driver’s license and vehicle registrations. The worst encounter in recent years came in May 2010, when a father-son team of sovereigns murdered two West Memphis, Ark., police officers during a traffic stop. They were later killed by police in a shopping center parking lot, but only after they wounded two more officers.
A recent FBI report labeled sovereign citizens a “domestic terrorist” threat, and a particularly dangerous one for law enforcement officials. “Law enforcement and judicial officials must understand the sovereign-citizen movement, be able to identify indicators, and know how to protect themselves from the group’s threatening tactics,” the report said.