Self-proclaimed ‘Sovereign Citizen’ burglarizes, sets fire inside courthouse

Tuesday night, June 26, 2018, Missouri's West Plains Police Department and Howell County Sheriff’s Department responded to the Howell County Courthouse for a suspicious activity call to dispatch just before 7 p.m.

 A concerned citizen notified police about a white male who allegedly broke an exterior glass door to the courthouse and entered the building.

As authorities arrived on scene, officers verified the broken glass door and began searching the courthouse. As they entered the building, police immediately smelled smoke. As they climbed the stairs to the third floor, the smoke was clearly visible in the hallway leading up to the county prosecutor’s office.

As they peered into the assistant prosecutor’s office (assigned to attorney Rizwan Ahad), which is adjacent to the county prosecutor, two officers saw the suspicious white male burning documents on a desk inside the office. One of the officer’s began to dowse the fire with an extinguisher as the other attempted to take the suspect into custody.

The suspect, later identified as Jason Wayne Gargione, 37, did not respond to the officer’s commands and put up a struggle when the officer reached for him. The struggle escalated to the point that one of the officers was forced to deploy his Taser twice to get Gargione to submit. He was then taken into custody and escorted out of the building to receive medical attention.

Firefighters arriving on scene found “a light haze of smoke coming out of the building” and deployed fans to clear the remaining smoke from the courthouse.

A sheriff’s deputy assigned to watch Gargione as he was being evaluated by emergency medical services (EMS) personnel reportedly overheard him stating, “I’m a sovereign citizen and they will be going to prison for that.”

“I was getting my evidence from Rizwan and they should have helped me,” Gargione supposedly said to EMS. “They stole all my money. I had 500 million that they took.”

After receiving brief medical treatment, Gargione was released into police custody. He was ultimately charged with first-degree burglary, knowingly burning or exploding, first-degree property damage, and resisting arrest.

In addition to the fire, investigators discovered several work and personal items, such as computers, office equipment, furniture, and legal documents, were also damaged. Authorities estimated the property destruction at approximately $1,500.

Gargione had also been previously arrested twice in West Plains during May. Criminal charges against him ranged from domestic assault and possession of controlled substances to receiving stolen property. These charges stem from an incident in which Gargione “allegedly attacked a family member with a board, threatened to kill her and threatened to fight officers who arrived at the scene of the assault,” according to the West Plains Daily Quill newspaper. These arrests, along with his pending prosecution, appear to have motivated Gargione to burglarize the courthouse, set fire, and conduct other property damage inside the assistant prosecutor’s office.

Gargione’s bond is set at $50,000.