October 30, 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015 - , No comments

District Judge Robert Shelby Hears Statements on "Disproportionate" and "Excessive" Force in Artifacts Trafficking Sting

Thursday October 29, 2015 U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby heard statements in a court hearing to decide whether a United States Bureau of Land Management agent, Dan Love, had violated a Blanding doctor's rights when arresting him during an artifact trafficking sting operation into the sale of looted Native American objects.  In an earlier ruling, the judge dismissed four of the five claims alleged by the family of Dr. James Redd, but had indicated there were sufficient facts to warrant a formal hearing to review the evidence on the final accusation before determining if the suspect's Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. 

This case garnered the general public's attention last year when the event was highlighted in a LA Times long-form article by award-winning journalist Joe Mozingo.  In his news report, Mozingo retold the story of the prominent physician, who had been charged in 2009 with one felony count of unlawful receipt of property stolen from an Indian tribal organization (18 U.S.C. 1163) during Operation Cerberus Action, named after the three-headed dog in Greek mythology.

James Redd, the town of Blanding's only doctor for almost 30 years and his wife Jeanne were two of the 24 suspects in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico charged with felonies for allegedly trafficking in archaeological artifacts from the Four Corners area of the American Southwest.  On the day after his arrest, Dr. Redd was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Apparently distraught over the charges against him and the members of his family, Redd had asphyxiated himself by rigging a garden hose to the exhaust pipe of his Jeep.  A week after Redd's death, a second defendant indicted in the case, Steven L. Shrader, of Santa Fe, N.M., also killed himself, dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on the same day he was scheduled to appear in federal court in Salt Lake City.

After his death, Redd's wife Jeanne plead guilty to three felony counts of unlawful receipt of property stolen from an Indian tribal organization (18 U.S.C. 1163), two felony counts of violation of ARPA (16 U.S.C.470ee (b)) and theft of Government property (18 U.S.C. 641) admitting that she owned and sold valuable Native American seed jars, pottery and jewelry. The couple's daughter, Jericca Redd, also plead guilty, admitting to one felony count of unlawful receipt of property stolen from an Indian tribal organization (18 U.S.C. 1163) and two felony counts of violation of ARPA (one count each of 16 U.S.C.470ee (a) and (b)).

On September 16, 2009, citing consequences suffered and the seriousness of the crime that had impacts felt by her and the community, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups bypassed federal sentencing guidelines and sentenced Redd's wife to to a lighter sentence of 36 months of probation. Redd's daughter received 24 months probation. In addition, the family members were ordered to pay a fine and forfeit 812 archaeological objects, including human remains, they had once had in their possession. 

In May 2011 Jeanne Redd filed an excessive force lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, claiming that the Bureau of Land Management and the FBI had pushed her husband, James Redd, to suicide through “"excessive, overreaching and abusive treatment"” at the time of his arrest. Approximately eighty federal agents were reportedly deployed in the city of Blanding on June 10, 2009 as part of Operation Cerberus Action, tasked with executing warrants on the Redds and 14 other individuals.  

As arrest warrants were being served, a large but disputed number of officers, some wearing flak jackets and some carrying assault rifles arrived at the Redd’s home just after sunrise.  They detained Mr. Redd for several hours after he had returned home following early morning rounds at the health clinic, questioning him extensively in his garage. 

Family members have reported that a BLM special agent interrogated Redd for four hours before taking him into custody,  During the questioning one agent reportedly taunted him by pointing to garden tools in the garage and asking him “Which shovel do you like to dig bodies with?”  The family also indicated that officers had hinted that Dr. Redd might lose his medical license for illegally removing native american artefacts from Navajo territory. 

The constitutionality of an officer’s use of force depends on whether the officer’s conduct was “objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances,” which must be assessed “from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” United States Supreme Court GRAHAM v. CONNOR, (1989) No. 87-6571 Argued: February 21, 1989   Decided: May 15, 1989.

During yesterday’s hearing U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby told an attorney for the Redd family that he didn’t see sufficient evidence to suggest that the action taken by federal Bureau of Land Management agents necessarily violated Redd's constitutional right but he did comment on the the number of officers deployed.  He ended the hearing by saying he would take the matter under advisement before issuing a prompt ruling.

While many feel the leniency shown to the Redd family during their sentencing sends the message that heritage looting in the American Southwest is unimportant and not worth stiff sentences but the case also illustrates that a disproportionate amount of law enforcement manpower may have been deployed to a home were suspects were not actively resisting, not attempting to flee, and not posing any imminent danger to law enforcement officials. 

In total, two suspects charged in this case committed suicide, as did case's informant Ted Gardiner. Gardiner shot himself in his Salt Lake City home during a confrontation with local police officers who had been summoned for the second time in three days because of concerns about his mental health.