One of two antigovernment “sovereign citizens” tied to last week’s fatal shootings of two sheriff’s deputies and the wounding of two others near New Orleans had applied for a federal license to sell firearms, authorities now confirm.
The man, Terry Lyn Smith, 44, appears to be the leader of a loose-knit group of seven people that includes two of his sons. Members of the group have been linked to the apparently unprovoked shooting of a Desoto Parish sheriff’s deputy, who survived, as well as the subsequent murder of two sheriff’s deputies who tracked them to a trailer park in nearby LaPlace, La., based on a citizen’s tip.
Members of the group appear to have worked as itinerant laborers, living in travel trailers, while displaying a fondness for assault weapons and extreme antigovernment views, authorities said.
In addition to Terry Smith, the others now in custody include Smith’s wife, Chanel Skains, 37, charged with accessory to first-degree murder; his son Derrick Smith, 22, charged with accessory to first-degree murder, and a second son Brian Lyn Smith, 24, charged with attempted first-degree murder; and Brian Smith’s girlfriend, Britney Keith, 23, charged with accessory to first-degree murder. They all shared the same address in a travel trailer park in LaPlace, according to the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.
Also under arrest are Kyle David Joekel, 28, an associate of the Smiths who was recently a fugitive wanted on charges in Nebraska and Kansas, and his girlfriend, Teniecha Bright, 21, authorities say. Joekel and Bright lived in a trailer park not far from the Smiths’ own trailer park, where the deadly “ambush style” killings of the deputies occurred.
While the investigation continues this week, the community and other law enforcement officers will attend funerals for the slain deputies.
Deputy Jeremy Triche, 27, who was married and the father of a 2-year-old son, will be buried following funeral services today in LaPlace. Funeral services for his partner, Deputy Brandon Nielsen, 34, of Destrehan, La., the married father of five, are set for Wednesday.
Even before the murders, at least some of the suspects were known to law enforcement to have extreme antigovernment views. They were also believed to be heavily armed. Some of these suspects also had been under surveillance by law enforcement for more than two months, according to various reports.
Guns and ammunition, along with antigovernment documents, were found in the searches of two trailers last November in Robertson County, Tenn., where Terry Smith and Joekel lived before fleeing to Louisiana, various authorities confirmed to Hatewatch.
Both Terry Smith and Joekel, investigators say, have documentable ties to the sovereign citizens movement – people who distrust the government and refuse to acknowledge its legal authority over them, posing a unique and increasingly deadly threat to law enforcement. Sovereigns have been involved in angry encounters with many law enforcement officials in recent years, particularly during traffic stops. (Sovereigns generally believe that they are not required to use driver’s licenses or register or insure their vehicles.) On May 20, 2010, a father-son sovereign team murdered two police officers who pulled them over in West Memphis, Ark., before being shot to death themselves less than an hour later.
Terry Smith recently filed sovereign-citizen paperwork – bogus legal papers used to harass enemies and frequently referred to as “paper terrorism” – against Nicholas Silvesteri, a police officer in St. John the Baptist Parish, Hatewatch learned from law enforcement sources. Details of that paperwork couldn’t be obtained immediately.
Details are still being sorted out, but from various media accounts, this appears to be the scenario:
Both Terry Smith and his son, Derrick Smith, were working at Valero Refinery in LaPlace. Authorities have since placed all three Smiths, Joekel and Bright in a car that drove into the plant’s parking lot around 4 a.m. last Thursday. Unprovoked shots from an assault weaspon were allegedly fired from the car at Boyington, who was off duty and moonlighting as a security guard. An hour later, a citizen's tip led police to a nearby mobile home park.
There, St. John deputies Brandon Nielsen, Jeremy Triche and Jason Triche started to question a man in a trailer when they noticed a second man inside, fully dressed but under a blanket. Both men agreed to walk outside with the officers. A third man then emerged from the trailer and opened fire on the officers.
Deputies Nielsen and Jeremy Triche were killed. Jason Triche was wounded. Authorities called it an “ambush” and an “assassination.”
Terry Smith applied for the firearms license after fleeing Robertson County, Tenn., The Shreveport Times reports.
But Smith never followed through with the application and may have become spooked when one his sons, Brian Lyn Smith, 24, and his friend, fugitive Kyle David Joekel, 28, became suspects in a burglary at a self-service Laundromat in a travel trailer park in Desoto Parish, La., where they moved.
Undercover sheriff’s investigators moved into the trailer park and were conducting surveillance on the pair and their associates, but no arrests had been made before last Thursday’s deadly shooting in LaPlace, about 25 miles west of New Orleans, the Shreveport newspaper reports.
When DeSoto Parish sheriff’s deputies questioned Terry Smith’s son-in-law about the burglary, he told investigators “that the group of men and women living in the trailer park were armed with AK-47s,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
“He told me, ‘They’ve got a lot of ammunition and firearms and they don’t like the law,’” Ewing said in an interview with The Times. He described his family members as “a hostile, maybe militant group that is looking for any reason to start a fight.”
Detective Angela Looney of the Robertson County, Tenn., Sheriff’s Office, told Hatewatch that she served a search warrant on Nov. 9, 2011, at the Red River Camp Ground at Adams, Tenn. The warrant was based on allegations that Terry Lyn Smith was involved in child sexual abuse, the detective told Hatewatch. No charges have been issued in that investigation, Looney said.
Joekel took off running and eluded her as she and other deputies approached the trailers to serve the warrant, Looney said. At the time, he was wanted on state charges in Kansas and Nebraska and apparently had been entered on the watch list at the Terrorism Screening Center in Washington, D.C.
The detective said she saw no license plates on either trailer – perhaps now significant because sovereign citizens frequently refuse to buy and use state-issued license plates and driver’s licenses. Terry Smith was paying for the rental spaces for both trailers, Looney said.
Recovered near the trailers was a white 2000 Buick that had been reported stolen in Beatrice, Neb., where Joekel is wanted on state felony charges. Guns and ammunition also were reportedly recovered from the trailers, but Looney wouldn’t confirm that detail.
“I found some concerning paperwork in both trailers, and there was other evidence seized,” she said, declining to elaborate.