Personal beliefs, public conflict
Officers' recent fatal shooting of Fruita man spotlights sovereign citizens, a growing movement against authority
It’s stamped with a blood-red seal.
Appointed to the office of “District Judge” for the “Colorado Free State,” Lewis Pollard signed and dated an oath of office and put a bloody-looking fingerprint — possibly red ink — next to his signature.
So arrived Judge Pollard, March 15, 2012.
Two months earlier, when he’d signed a summons issued by a Colorado State Patrol trooper for allegedly speeding in an unregistered vehicle and without a driver’s license, Pollard took care to note he was signing the document “without prejudice” to a section of the Uniform Commercial Code.
“In America,” Pollard later wrote in a motion challenging a Mesa County court’s authority to try him for the charges, “everyone generally has the right to move freely, to possess property.”
So, Fruita police had a sense of what they were dealing with when Pollard, on the morning of June 15, allegedly dealt in similar rhetoric while specifying he “would recognize the authority of the Sheriff only when the Sheriff began to recognize the Constitution.”
Soon after, Pollard, 61, was shot and killed after allegedly pulling a defective gun on officers.
His interaction with police was the highest-profile encounter between western Colorado’s judicial system and a loosely affiliated “sovereign citizen” movement that’s become increasingly vocal in Colorado courts, according to local and state officials. The presence of sovereigns at Colorado courthouses — they’re known to file voluminous documents packed with peculiar language while acting as their own lawyers — spurred an FBI-led training session during an annual meeting of Colorado court clerks last year.
“We felt it important our staff have a better understanding of where they’re coming from without things leading to volatile situations,” said Rob McCallum, spokesman for the Colorado State Judicial Branch. “It’s becoming more prevalent.”
Gold standard, and debt
The FBI, which declined comment to The Daily Sentinel on sovereign activities in western Colorado, describes on its website extremist elements of the movement as domestic terrorists and a growing threat to law enforcement.
While 21st Judicial District Administrator Sandy Casselberry said sovereigns have had a steady presence in Mesa County for years, her counterpart in Montrose said staff has come to know many similarly minded locals. Seventh Judicial District Administrator Ed Clayton said sovereign encounters have increased as court filings, particularly foreclosures, spiked in recent years.
“They seem to come in waves, the latest, I think, when the economy went south,” Clayton said. “People have a right to use the court and a right to disagree with the court, so we try to handle them as we do any other citizen and give them all the attention they require, which sometimes is a lot.”
Sometimes it’s more criminal than annoyance.
Flurries in court filings also can be chalked up to “redemption schemes,” which, according to the FBI, are rooted in the belief that when the U.S. removed itself from the gold standard it rendered U.S. currency worthless. A theory espoused by some in the movement holds each citizen has a monetary value, which is kept in a U.S. Treasury account. By filing legitimate documents, they believe they can compel the U.S. Treasury to pay individual debts, such as credit cards or mortgages, according to the FBI. Sovereigns have been prosecuted federally for crimes related to the scheme. Some travel the country charging fees for “how-to” training sessions, preying on the heavily indebted.
Delta County Undersheriff Mark Taylor said several residents in Delta County have been lured into such schemes. An FBI-led training in Grand Junction last year focused on law enforcement interactions with sovereign citizens, Taylor said.
Anger with the federal government may account for a more visible sovereign presence in Delta County, he said.
“They’re more apt to come out nowadays,” Taylor said.
‘I do not consent’
“We treat them (sovereigns) with respect and we take what they give us,” Clayton said, noting the bombardment of court filings also is seen in minor traffic cases.
“And their cases may take three times as long as every other case,” he said.
Basalt resident Raymond Hodges was cited on March 17, 2012, on suspicion of traffic infractions such as driving an uninsured vehicle and failure to display valid registration. Sixteen months later, the prosecution of the 46-year-old man is still pending at the Mesa County Justice Center. The case file is replete with pleadings from Hodges, including an “affidavit of specific truth” rejecting the need for a driver’s license or vehicle registration.
“Why don’t you come up and have a seat here, we are set for a trial,” County Judge Bruce Raaum told Hodges on June 13, according to a transcript.
“I do not want to enter the ship, sir,” Hodges replied.
“Are you going to participate in the trial today, Mr. Hodges?” the judge asked.
“I’m not Mr. Hodges, I’m Ray,” the defendant replied.
“Okay,” Raaum said.
“I’m reserving my rights.”
“All my rights under UCC Law (inaudible).”
“So are you declining to participate in the jury trial that is set today, Mr. Hodges?”
“I do not consent.”
Hodges was arrested on a contempt warrant after walking out of Raaum’s courtroom. A public defender has since been appointed to represent Hodges, now scheduled for trial yet again on Sept. 5.
Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said sovereigns are the subject of occasional law enforcement training bulletins.
“Contained within any kind of group you have extreme thinkers who may be a threat,” Hilkey said.
Promoted online is a sovereign-inspired rumor that the Mesa County Jail has constructed a railroad spur to the rear of the facility in order to “haul away FEMA prisoners,” the sheriff said.
“People have called asking about it,” Hilkey said. “I try and encourage people to do research and not believe everything they read on the internet.”
Several people associated with the “Colorado Free State” contacted The Daily Sentinel after one of their members, Pollard, was shot and killed by Fruita police. They declined to be named for an interview.
Instead, they gave a reporter a copy of Richard Mack’s book, “The County Sheriff, America’s Last Hope,” and documents including one with the “Great Seal for the Colorado Free State,” acknowledging Pollard’s appointment as “District Court Judge for Mesa County.”