USFS Tasers and gold don’t mix
By: Mr. Shannon Poe
President, AMRA, American Mining Rights Association
It was a beautiful January morning, sunny but a little chilly in the south mother lode of CA when two AMRA members decided to head to AMRA’s Ratchilla’s Ravine claim for a day of sluicing and small mining. They had found good gold here in the past and wanted to go in and see if they could finish the hole they started a few weeks prior. One man whom we’ll call Jim brought along his wife and the other man came by himself. They met early that morning and carried all their gear down to the creek and proceeded to mine on this validly held, well-marked mining claim. They parked legally alongside the gravel road and had current tags on their vehicles.
After several hours of mining about 100 feet from each other, they were approached by two armed USFS Law Enforcement Officers (LEO’s) walking up the creek towards them, one male and one female. Neither of the two USFS LEO’s identified themselves, but immediately demanded all three produce ID. There was no casual greeting, no formalities, just a demand for ID. When Jim (a military veteran) asked “why do we need to produce ID”, the male LEO stated “we need to know who is in OUR forest and need to check to see if you have any outstanding warrants”. The man and his wife attempted to produce their CA driver’s licenses but the wife did not have hers handy, it was in the truck. She did however, have her AMRA membership card and produced that to the officers. The officer stated the card was expired and the ID was invalid. The officers stated “we need to make sure nobody is claim jumping”. Our female member stated she had her new card in the truck and was escorted to her vehicle by this LEO who told her “keep your hands in plain view and make no sudden movements”. Once at the vehicle, she produced her new card as they had just renewed their membership to AMRA. Satisfied that the man and his wife were now identified, they turned their attention to the other AMRA member running his small sluice about 100 feet downstream.
“Bring us your ID” the female LEO boomed. Bob, also a military veteran, declined and stated to the USFS LEO’s “I haven’t done anything wrong, I am on a valid mining claim and you are interfering with my mining operation. I do not need to produce any ID to you”. As he was seated in the creek still mining with a small scoop and feeding his sluice box, the female LEO stormed down the creek right at him and demanded he produce his ID. The male LEO also proceeded down the creek to our member, obviously agitated that someone would not obey their commands. “Give me your ID or I’ll call the Sheriff” the male LEO demanded. “Call the Sheriff” responded Bob. At this point, the female LEO pulled out her lethal weapon, a Taser, and pointed it directly at Bob and demanded he produce his ID.
As you read this we hope this touches a nerve as it should. This is a truthful and accurate accounting of an incident which happened in late January of this year. Some very descriptive words come to mind, reprehensible, civil rights violations, dangerous and outrageous to name a few. We would also like to say we have friends and mining partners which work for the USFS who are great people who care about the forest, the public lands and the people who own and use them, the public. We’ve known several USFS LEO’s over the years and have had a pretty good relationship with them but we see some stark differences in just the past few years, not just in CA, but all across America. Many of these new LEO’s do not seem to know the Constitution, what the limits on their authority is, and operate outside of the scope and course of their employment.
So let’s dissect this and talk about rights. First, the USFS does not have any authority to enforce or administer any “claim jumping” laws, period. They do not have any authority to enforce who mines on AMRA claims. Secondly, they do not have the ability to determine whose claim is who’s, who has a right to mine there and check ID’s to determine this. Mining claim issues are a civil matter, meaning if I own a claim called the Lucky Nugget, it is my responsibility to enforce who mines there and who doesn’t. If I find someone who is mining on my claim illegally, I give them a warning and kick them off or I contact the local Sheriff, provide him/her with the documents (mining claim paperwork) establishing my ownership and let him make the determination if the person should be cited. Even BLM, who administers mining claims does not enforce who mines the claims.
Now let’s talk about illegal and unlawful search and seizures, the 4th Amendment, probable cause and Terry v Ohio, a Supreme Court case. Can these USFS LEO’s just walk up on anyone at any time, not identify themselves and demand to see your ID without cause and if you decline, pull a lethal weapon and force you to produce it? Absolutely not. In Terry v Ohio, this question came up before the Supreme Court back in 1968 and it is a case where the court ruled the person who was stopped and searched was not protected by the 4th Amendment. Sounds pretty alarming, but there is a condition to this case and it is with the word “if”. The ruling states clearly “if the police officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person “may be armed and presently dangerous.” About to commit, has committed or is committing a crime. In Terry v Ohio, the man was “casing” a store and was about to rob it, the officer performed a cursory pat down because he believed he was in danger and found a concealed weapon. Let’s compare the two AMRA people in their 60’s sitting in a creek with a mini-scoop putting dirt into a sluice box on a valid claim, parked legally, with current tags on their truck, minding their own business and another in his 50’s doing the same thing 100 feet downstream. This does not justify, nor authorize this outrageous behavior under any interpretation of the law. Were they committing a crime? No. Were they about to commit a crime? No. Was a crime already committed? No. Did they pose any kind of threat to the LEO’s? No. You have to get to point A before you can get to point B, with point B demanding to see identification. Was there probable cause that a crime was being committed? No. If this answer is no, ID cannot be required.
Since this incident just a week ago, our investigation into the behavior of these LEO’s in the Stanislaus National Forest has turned up multiple, multiple instances of this type of behavior which we have obtained statements on. One example is where 4 trucks were following one another with hound dogs in it, they were going out to public lands to run their dogs. One of the USFS LEO’s which was present in the above incident was driving down the public gravel road towards these men and turned his truck sideways in the road blocking it. He got out, demanded to know where there were going and what they were doing, demanded ID, then searched the vehicle to see if he could find anything illegal. Another incident involves a man driving out to his private property with his very young child with a rifle in his gun rack and was stopped and cited for hunting in a closed area. This case was dismissed and we are learning a lot about these LEO’s from this case.
Again, we want to clearly state that not all USFS LEO’s behave this way and we are confident most don’t. They are good people and have to deal with a litany of serious issue’s such as illegal pot grow operations, people dumping trash on public lands, poachers and just bad people in general. Our concern is how these particular people are trained since they obviously believe they can operate outside the law and have complete disregard for the public’s civil rights.
So what do you do if confronted with a situation like this? First, be polite. Ask them what the reason for the ID request is. Ask them, “Am I being detained”? If they answer yes, ask for what crime. Document their name and badge number. Ask for a Sheriff to be present if the situation escalates. Don’t break any laws. Pretty simple really.
This is an extreme incident and we are confident 99% of those reading this will not have an incident like this, will not be harassed and won’t even be asked for ID for running a small sluice box or just mining their claims. AMRA is actively pursuing this case and will not stop until these people are held accountable for their egregious actions.
AMRA President Shannon Poe can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org