May 2010, West Memphis, Ark. — Jerry Kane and his son Joe are stopped by West Memphis officers. The stop ends in tragedy when Joe exits the pickup truck and opens fire with an AK-47 on the two officers, killing them both. Joe is 16 years old. The Kanes’ get back in their truck and leave the scene, ultimately meeting their own demise a short while later in a shootout with police in a Walmart parking lot.
I’m sure you’ve heard about this incident a time or two. Perhaps you’ve seen the dashcam footage, or maybe you’ve even heard the term “Sovereign Citizen” mentioned in conjunction with the Kanes and this incident. Do you know what they excel at? Sleight-of-hand and legal sounding mumbo-jumbo. Who are Sovereign Citizens and how can you spot ’em?
The FBI considers them extremists and as “comprising a domestic terrorist movement.” They’re a loose network of people who believe the government (federal, state and local) operates illegally, and they have been around for decades. Terry Nichols, one of the Oklahoma City bombing suspects, is a Sovereign Citizen. Their movement is believed to be gaining numbers due in part to the poor economy, the internet and seminars teaching the fringe of society how they can gather wealth and erase debt through fraud.
I’m not a SWAT operator or a K9. I’m also not a supervisor or administrator, but I am an expert on traffic stops. Having conducted thousands of them, I’ve picked up a few things, but I haven’t learned them all …
Last year, I made a stop I knew was hinky, but I didn’t exactly know why. I was working traffic enforcement for some overtime when I stopped a car for running a stop sign. Upon contacting the driver he asked to see my “oath of office,” to which I replied, “My what now?” He went on to lay this spiel on me about how I was required to show him my oath of office as a law enforcement officer. I pointed to both my badge and gun and said something to the effect of, “This is all I got for you, sir.”
He gave me the usual static about signing the citation, but he eventually did and went on his way. The whole time we were talking, I knew something was off about him, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know a Sovereign Citizen from an onion ring.
You know those jailhouse lawyers that love to debate their case with you? Sovereigns are similar insofar as they’ll keep you talking, but different in that the things they’re saying are completely nonsensical. Did you know the vehicle you pulled over isn’t a vehicle? Did you know the driver wasn’t driving? Sovereigns “travel” in their “conveyance” therefore, you have no right to stop them because they haven’t entered into a contract with you. Also, they may later attempt to bill you thousands of dollars for their time. I’m serious — it’s called paper terrorism and is a topic all unto itself.
Months after I had this strange encounter I received a thick envelope in the mail from this Sovereign Citizen. By this time, I had done my research and knew what was coming. The letter was many pages long and, at first, it appeared to be an informal discovery request; however, after looking through it, nothing was asked for. It wasn’t a complaint or a lawsuit; it was just pages and pages of nonsensical BS.
When on a traffic stop, pay attention to some key words: Conveyance, Traveling, Oath of Office, Strawman, Contract and Under Duress. Often times, they won’t fully roll down their window and will seem to be extremely passive-aggressive. Other key indicators are fraudulent license plates (we’re talking plates even your lieutenant would realize are fake), ID from nonexistent places or fraudulent diplomatic plates/identification.
They may try to hand you all kinds of documents that are, in reality, designed to frustrate, confuse and most dangerously, distract you. You know what your state’s driver’s license and registration looks like. I’ll bet you could even glance at an insurance card and know if it’s legit or not.
When I’m on a traffic stop and someone tries to hand me anything other than the license, registration and insurance, I don’t take it — simple as that. I’m not on a traffic stop to have a lengthy debate about whether or not the violator agrees with my reason for the stop. I don’t let people out of the car, unless I ask them out for a vehicle search. It’s not my responsibility to sift through piles of paperwork looking for current registration.
Don’t let a situation you’re unfamiliar with throw you, or worse yet, distract you to the point where your focus is off the situation at hand. You own that stop, and the driver and/or occupants are yours until you make the decision to cut them loose.
We get so caught up in this job with doing things fast. There’s much to be gained by slowing down, taking a breath, waiting for backup and doing one thing at a time. Remember the shooting axiom: Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
By Jason Hoschouer