Saturday 14 August 2010
by: J.J. MacNab | The Southern Poverty Law Center | Report
When it was discovered that the truck and car was nothing more sinister than a grandmother moving her family, the good-natured ribbing began.
After all, the chief of police was not just the officers' boss; he was Brandon Paudert's father.
"I told them to get off their butts and get back on the interstate," Chief Bob Paudert recounted later. "They were really laughing."
Chagrined, Paudert and Evans returned to I-40, watching for signs of drugs on the move through their jurisdiction. When Evans spied a white minivan with unusual Ohio license plates, he pulled the van over at the exit near Mile Marker 275, and called his partner for backup. Safety came first, and in the dangerous world of drug trafficking, there is no such thing as a routine stop.
Inside the white minivan, a 16-year-old boy named Joseph Kane remained in the passenger seat, while his father, Jerry, age 45, stood in front of the police SUV and argued with the officers. There was a tussle, and Jerry Kane pushed Officer Evans into a roadside ditch. The boy quickly emerged from the minivan with a loaded AK-47 and aimed at Evans. The officer put one hand on his pistol, and held the other up to the boy as if to signal "Stop." The boy shot Evans several times and turned his attention to Paudert, who took cover behind the police vehicle.
A package delivery man, exiting the highway at Marker 275, stopped his truck to witness the horrific scene. He called 911, and the alert went out: "Officer down!"
While Paudert was able to fire his pistol seven times, he was outgunned and the police vehicle offered little protection from Joe Kane's assault rifle. The boy chased Paudert around the police SUV, shooting him several times in the back of the head before returning to Evans in the ditch. There, he fired again. The Kanes then rushed to the minivan and pulled away, while Joe continued to shoot at the downed officers.
Another alert went out: "Two officers down!"
According to a preliminary investigation report, Brandon Paudert was struck 11 times and died at the scene; Evans was hit by 14 rounds and died at the hospital.
In the next 90 minutes, there was a frenzy of activity around West Memphis. The highways were closed, law enforcement from various agencies converged on the area looking for the white minivan with odd Ohio plates, and calls started coming in from alert citizens. The van was spotted at a local country club, a commercial truck terminal, and an apartment building. One witness claimed that Jerry Kane had asked for directions to the nearest Walmart. As seen in Walmart security videotapes of the parking lot, Joe Kane walked into the store and made a purchase, while his father removed the license plates from the vehicle.
The first to spot the van was an Arkansas wildlife officer who rammed into the Kanes' vehicle to prevent it from leaving. The Kanes fired more than a dozen rounds at the officer's truck, but he wasn't hit. As police converged on the scene, two more officers were wounded in a frenzied shootout before the Kanes were both killed. Crittenden County Sheriff Dick Busby was shot once in the shoulder, and W.A. Wren, West Memphis' chief of enforcement, was hit multiple times in the abdomen. Both men survived.
Over the next few days, West Memphis mourned the loss of its officers. At the same time, the department, other law enforcement officials, and the public at large began to question exactly what had provoked the violence.
Who are the "Sovereigns"?
It would be tempting to dismiss the violence that took place that day as an isolated event — an unstable father and son who exploded in a moment of vicious, unexplained fury. The truth, however, is more frightening. Jerry Kane and his young son were active participants in the sprawling subculture of "sovereign citizens" in America: hundreds of thousands of far-right extremists who believe that they — not judges, juries, law enforcement or elected officials — get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore, and who don't think they should have to pay taxes. While law enforcement officers may disagree on how to deal with or even label this extremist subculture, one thing is certain: it's trouble. The sovereign movement is growing fast, and its partisans are clogging up the courts with their indecipherable filings. When cornered, many of them lash out in rage, frustration and, in the most extreme cases, acts of deadly violence.
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