On March 1st, 2023 a young man was on the roads in Utah. He was pulled over by the police for an “illegitimate license” on his car. The young man considered himself a sovereign citizen and not subject to the laws of Utah or the United States. He was uncooperative with the police officer and the situation escalated. Unfortunately it escalated to the point of officers discharging their firearms, fatally injuring the young man.
I am not a firm believer that the media gives us the full or unvarnished story. So, I take the media reports with a whole block of salt. News outlets, in the rush to be first, often get the ‘facts’ of the story wrong. The story reported several things that set off warning flags for me.
First, they guy had a gun in the car and the incident was by a post office. Maybe he was driving by, maybe he was leaving the post office. If it was the latter he had broken a law.
The concept of sovereign citizen is something I have not looked at seriously. The one thing that I can say is that is is very weak ground. I have traveled all over the world in the military. When we were in a country other than the United States I knew I was subject to the laws of the land. I could not tell the law enforcement in that country that I am not subject to their laws since I am not a citizen of that nation. A sovereign citizen, living in the borders of the United States may believe that US law does not apply. However, Wikipedia says “Sovereign citizen arguments have no basis in law and have never been successful in court.” Like media reports, Wiki pages sometimes have errors but they at least have a couple of footnotes for sources.
When we conduct our Utah Concealed Firearms Permit (CFP) training we go through interacting with the police while armed. Had this young followed the principles we teach he would have been arrested but alive. He would have his day in court (which he doesn’t believe in, ironically) to justify his actions and present his case for why the police were wrong for pulling him over.
In case you not aware of or don’t want to look up the story, here is why the story said he was shot. He would not exit his vehicle as directed by the officers. When they tried to extract him he put up a fight. During the fight one of the officers saw that he was armed. That meant that they were in a deathly force incident and could respond in kind.
Anytime a person is in an incident of some sort, who has. The other party in the incident having knowledge of the firearm is not required. All that is needed is for a firearm to be present.
A police officer has only seconds to react when they are faced with an armed person. Those seconds are not for the officer to decide do I want to kill this person or not. Those seconds are for him to decide if he is going home that night. If the officer hesitates the armed person may have the ability to use deadly force.
This is a decision I hope to never have to make. The only way to guarantee surviving a gun fight is to never get in it to start with. This is just as true for law enforcement as it is for the average person.
I don’t know how the investigation will turn out. Will the officers get disciplined or charged for illegal use of force? They had body cameras on. The article mentioned that they were told to turn them off. Here is my cynicism. The reporter didn’t say why, just that they were told to turn them off. Was this to paint a picture of them trying to hide the remaining investigation? Or, was it to preserve the evidence already captured? I suspect it is the latter. Many of us have dash cams. We know they are on a 30 minute loop and if we have something we need to preserve we have to save the loop or turn them off. Could the body cameras have the same requirement?