Sheriff's Office: Resisting authority of deputies lands man in jail in St. Johns County

Deputies say his actions reminiscent of 'sovereign citizen' movement

By Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - One local man is behind bars this week after refusing to cooperate with St. Johns County law enforcement, the Sheriff's Office said.

Ronny Wayne Stephens was arrested after the Sheriff's Office responded to a complaint of suspicious activity and found Stephens and another man sitting in a car in a St. Johns County neighborhood.

"They asked him to step out several times, and he refused to do that as well," Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan said. "When we get those confrontations, we don't know what we're dealing with.

"At some point in time, as they were talking to him, he began moving around in the vehicle and made the deputy very nervous," Mulligan said. "Unfortunately that situation ended up with two officers drawing handguns at the individual, and (they) forced him out of the truck."

Stephens hasn't claimed affiliation with the "sovereign citizen" movement, but his actions reminded deputies of that group, which believes that almost all existing government in the United States is illegitimate.

"Certainly law enforcement, for (a) number of years, have been dealing with individuals of differing beliefs, (who) believe government only has so much control," Mulligan said.

Channel 4 asked Florida Coastal School of Law assistant professor Jeffrey Schmitt about Stephens' refusal to cooperate.

"It's not a valid legal response," Schmitt said. "The courts have found that that type of response really has no basis in law."

Schmitt said members of the "sovereign citizen" movement who don't recognize government likely are drawing on the 10th Amendment, which states that any powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution belong to the states or the people.

"Some of them don't have that strict technical reading of their theory," Schmitt said. "So I don't think there's any sort of unified set of beliefs.

"Some of them are concerned with the federal government exclusively and some of them just oppose all law enforcement."

Last summer Prince Sanders, accused of murdering his girlfriend, disrupted court proceedings in Jacksonville to assert that he didn't recognize the authority of the government or the courts.

While Stephens didn't use the same words in his incident Thursday, his objection sounded familiar to Mulligan – and others.

"If you were in someone's house in the middle of the night and we came up and asked you for ID, is that resistance, or is that their right not to tell us who they are?" Mulligan said. "At some point, we have laws. We are a nation of laws, and we are a nation that is born under the Constitution of the United States. We respect that.

"At the same time, when we are investigating something that may be criminal, we have to know who we're dealing with to know who we're going to arrest or not going to arrest."

Mark Pitt Cavage, director of Investigative Research with the Anti-Defamation League in Ohio, said his organization is very concerned with the 'sovereign citizen' movement and is actively training law enforcement, judges, court clerks and county officials on the group.

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