“Sovereign citizens” – people who believe they are not subject to government or law enforcement authority – are serious and troubling annoyances to the courts, which often become bogged down with mountains of fraudulent, pseudo-legal paperwork they are known to file. But a police shootout in Hurst, Texas, this week is a reminder that “sovereign” defiance is capable of turning violent.
Self-described “Moorish national” Joseph M. Tesi was shot twice by an as-yet unidentified officer of the Colleyville Police Department during an exchange of gunfire on a residential street Thursday morning. The officer, a 26-year veteran of the force, was uninjured. Tesi, also known as James Michael Joseph, is expected to recover from bullet wounds to his face and foot.
This extraordinary case began as a simple traffic stop in Arlington, Texas, in February 2010. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Tesi was cited for driving without a seat belt, and subsequently fined $244.15. He never paid the fine, causing a warrant for his arrest to be issued. When he was stopped again, allegedly for speeding in Colleyville in December, he did not produce a driver’s license, and was arrested on the Arlington warrant, the newspaper reported.
Tesi in April filed a petition asking a federal court to take possession of his case arguing that as a member of the “Moorish National Republic,” he was “free to travel,” and that he did not give his express consent to be detained by police, according to the Star-Telegram. He also argued that he should not have to pay court fees or “be compelled to fill out any ritualistic forms.”
“Persons and corporations have assets and I am neither,” he wrote in his petition, identifying himself as “I, Me, My, or Myself, also known as James Michael Joseph; house of Tesi El.” He continued: “I am not saying I do not have property, because I do have property, but the property I have is not an asset, and I have no income or expenses because I am not a U.S. citizen, 14th Amendment citizen, corporation, or other fictitious entity as defined by your current and FRAUDULENT Fourteenth Amendment.”
Tesi’s petition was unusual in two respects: Most self-identified sovereign citizens don’t recognize the authority of either state or federal government, yet Tesi was asking the federal court to intervene in his local case. Also, those claiming to be part of the “Moorish National Republic” say they are members of an indigenous black tribe independent of U.S. jurisdiction. Tesi is described by local police as white.
The Star-Telegram also reported that Tesi listed as a contact on his federal petition a person listed as the Robertson County “treasurer and notary” for the Republic of Texas, an antigovernment group that advocates Texas secession, and whose adherents have on occasion resorted to violence.
The officer who ultimately shot Tesi apparently recognized the suspect near the city line between Hurst and Colleyville and followed him to his home in Hurst, according to a Colleyville police spokeswoman, the Colleyville Courier reported. According to the police report, Tesi fired first at the officer, who returned fire.
The unique danger posed by this movement was made clear in May 2010 when two West Memphis, Ark., police officers met a father-son team of sovereigns, Jerry and Joe Kane, during a routine late-morning traffic stop. As officers Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans puzzled over the incomprehensible paperwork presented by father Jerry, son Joe, 16, emerged from the vehicle with his AK-47 and fatally shot both officers. The Kanes fled, but were tracked and killed in a shootout with police an hour later in a Wal-Mart parking lot after wounding two more officers.