Suspects in deputy killings linked to extremists
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — At least some of the seven people arrested in a fatal shootout with Louisiana deputies have been linked to violent anarchists on the FBI's domestic terrorism watch lists, a sheriff said Saturday.
Detectives had been monitoring the group before Thursday's shootout in Laplace in which two deputies were killed and two more wounded, said DeSoto Parish Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle. His detectives and other law enforcement discovered the suspects were heavily armed adherents to an ideology known as the "sovereign citizens" movement.
The FBI has classified "sovereign citizens" as people who believe they are free from all duties of a U.S. citizen, like paying taxes. The FBI considers the group's members a danger for making threats to judges and law enforcement, using fake currency and impersonating police officers.
The seven suspects have been charged in the shooting of Deputy Michael Scott Boyington, who survived. But authorities have said murder charges are pending.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was investigating the killings but declined to comment Saturday and referred questions to the Louisiana State Police, the lead investigating agency.
Arrested were the group's apparent leader, 44-year-old Terry Smith, his wife, Chanel Skains, 37, and his two sons, Derrick Smith, 22, and Brian Lyn Smith, 24. Also arrested were Brittney Keith, the girlfriend of Brian Smith; Kyle David Joekel, 28, and a woman living with him, 21-year-old Teniecha Bright.
Brian Smith was charged with attempted first-degree murder and the others with related charges.
Detectives in Tennessee, Nebraska and Louisiana have sketched a portrait of an outlaw gang led by a 44-year-old accused molester named Terry Smith, who has a criminal record dating to 1984 in Morehouse Parish, the Times-Picayune reported Saturday.
Morehouse Parish Sheriff Mike Stubbs said the Smith family was notorious. He said they lived for a long time in a house on the outskirts of Bastrop.
"We had a good bit of dealings with them," he said. He said the Smith brothers had been involved in theft and drugs.
Arbuckle, reached by telephone by The Associated Press, said his deputies had the group under surveillance and considered them armed and dangerous before they suddenly left his parish about two months ago. He said they had set up camp at a mobile home park while they working at an International Paper plant.
The sheriff said deputies became suspicious after they investigated a reported burglary in May at the park's laundry. The detectives discovered members wanted under warrants issued in Tennessee, Nebraska and Louisiana.
"Once we had them on our radar we started doing research on them," he said. Arbuckle said his detectives monitored the group until they left in November.
Sovereign citizens are a loosely organized movement founded in the 1970s and more fully developed in the 1980s, according to the Anti-Defamation League website. Sovereign citizens believe that all levels of government have no jurisdiction over them and resist — sometimes with violence — authority including police, the website said.
They also like to use what is dubbed "paper terrorism." It involves using frivolous lawsuits and fake documents and of using genuine documents such as IRS forms to intimidate, harass and coerce public officials, law enforcement officers and private citizens.
Arbuckle said his detectives could easily have been the victims instead of the St. John the Baptist Parish deputies killed and wounded. Deputies Brandon Nielsen and Jeremy Triche were killed and along with Boyington, Jason Triche was wounded. The Triches were somehow related, authorities said.
"We understand they had some pretty good firepower," Arbuckle said. "This very well could have been us" in the gunfight, he said.
He said the group traveled the country in trailers doing construction work and possessed a stockpile of weapons.
They were arrested after an early morning assault on Boyington led to the deadly shootout in the mobile home park in Laplace, a suburb west of New Orleans. Boyington was shot at the entrance of a parking lot used by contract workers on a job at a nearby oil refinery. He was working off-duty on a security detail at the lot.
Shortly thereafter, the other deputies were shot at the trailer park where a car involved in the first shooting was spotted.
Joekel and Brian Smith were hospitalized with gunshot wounds and will be jailed once they are out of the hospital. The others were jailed with bonds ranging from $350,000 to $750,000.
The Gage County, Neb., Sheriff's Office website listed Joekel among its most wanted fugitives, saying he is accused of making "terroristic threats" to patrons of a Nebraska bar and law enforcement officials.
Sgt. Len Marie, a state police spokesman, said investigators were amassing evidence. He said the agency had received the reports from the DeSoto sheriff and other law enforcement agencies in other states. He said the FBI and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was involved.
He said it was too early to verify links to the extremist groups associated with the sovereign citizen movement.
"We are confident that we have the people responsible for this in custody," Marie said.