There are guys with guns outside!" shouted Marcella Cruz to
her husband as she looked out the kitchen window of their farmhouse
in Letha, Idaho.
the kitchen door, Marcella – a small, slender, middle-aged woman
– spied a large man carrying a gun and wearing a tactical vest.
go back into the house," the stranger ordered Marcella as the
woman instinctively retreated into the safety of her home.
the same time, another intruder armed with an assault rifle pounded
on the front door.
out!" he demanded.
tried to shut the kitchen door, the first intruder – who outweighed
her by at least 100 pounds – grabbed her by the left wrist and started
to pull the terrified woman from the house.
you dragging me out of my home?" asked the terrified woman.
"Why would you be pulling me out of my home?"
the door," insisted the assailant, using his weight advantage
and leverage to extract the woman, who had braced herself against
one side of the door while clinging desperately to the other with
her right hand. As she lost her grip, the left side of Marcella’s
body scraped painfully against the door frame before she was thrown
to the ground.
One of the
invaders finally identified himself.
Step out – Sheriff’s office!" bellowed the Berserker packing
an assault weapon.
the matter?" asked Michael Gibbons – known as "Bear"
to his friends – as the exasperated farmer opened the front door.
"What is the problem?"
is in the house?" demanded one of the invaders.
having a fight this morning?" inquired the armed man, his finger
still poised on the trigger.
an argument," Bear replied, his voice tinged with incredulity.
"What’s going on?"
let you know in a sec," the armed man replied in a dismissive
tone. "For right now, go to your knees for me. Face away from
words, the armed stranger – who had not established any legal justification
for invading the couple’s property – ordered Bear to assume the
coup de grace position.
At this point,
Bear – who had just seen his wife assaulted at gunpoint – had every
reason to think that he might be murdered, and no legitimate reason
to believe that the marauders were actual peace officers. After
all, anybody can buy weapons and body armor, and official-looking
party was composed of Gem
County Sheriff’s Deputies, but their behavior was that of a
home invasion gang, rather than a group of peace officers.
is this about?" Bear demanded from his knees as a deputy handcuffed
going to tell you – now’s the time to shut up!" sneered the
goon with the assault rifle.
A more honest
answer would have been, "Now’s the time to invent a justification
for the raid."
handcuffed behind his back, Bear was ordered to get up.
this happening?" Bear demanded to know.
get up!" answered one of his captors, who, with the
help of another, hoisted the tiny man off the ground – and then
promptly dropped him on his tailbone. Bear suffered a severe back
injury that has left him incapacitated.
With Bear in
handcuffs and Marcella being detained, a small group of officers,
led by Sheriff Chuck Rolland, conducted a warrantless search of
the home on the pretext of "clearing" it.
video record of the search illustrates, the officers were not
looking for a concealed threat to their safety. They made little
effort to clear the corners or to inspect potential hiding spots.
However, they were very interested in finding evidence of marijuana
use – lifting and sniffing ashtrays and going through personal effects.
After going upstairs they found what they believed to be a "grow
have to get a warrant for this," one of them remarked.
your grow room," Lt. Timony told Bear after the officers emerged
from the home a few minutes later.
our tomato plants!" Bear responded, pointing out that the supposedly
suspicious "grow room" was actually an aquaponics
system of the kind he had described to an indifferent Emmett City
Council just a few months earlier.
admitted that he does occasionally use marijuana to treat lingering
chronic injuries – the most serious of which he received, ironically,
as a police officer when he was stabbed by a shoplifter in 1982
– he hadn’t smoked any that morning.
Sheriff Rolland and a deputy in Bear and Marcella's kitchen
let him sleep in that morning, and Bear had gotten up just a short
time before the police materialized on his property. In that brief
period, however, he and Marcella had one short, inconsequential
verbal spat of the kind every couple occasionally experiences.
was overheard by a neighbor who – displaying a sense of civic responsibility
more appropriate to East Germany than western Idaho – called the
Bear and Marcella
have lived in Letha,
an unincorporated town near Emmett, Idaho, for about two years.
They are organic farmers, like most of their neighbors. Unlike at
least one of their neighbors, the couple is determined to mind their
On the morning
of August 16, a neighbor who identified herself as "April"
overheard the couple’s argument and called 911 to report that she
thought Bear was "beating" his wife.
neighborhood is located near the county line, the cell phone call
was originally directed to the dispatcher for the Payette
County Sheriff’s Office, who relayed the information to her
counterpart in Gem County.
In making the
handoff, however, both dispatchers clearly understood one critical
fact: There was no indication that weapons were involved in the
alleged domestic dispute, or even to be found in the household.
This meant that the proper response to the report, according to
established policy, was a low-key "welfare check."
did the Gem County Sheriff’s Office choose to mount a SWAT-style
raid against Bear and Marcella? The short answer is that the couple
was the victim of "political profiling": They were identified
as a threat to "officer safety" on account of their perceived
familiar with these guys?"
asked a deputy identified in the 911 recordings as "Officer
another deputy designated "Officer 56."
and it’s affirmative, there is [sic] weapons," continued
Officer 57. "He is – or at least was – anti-law enforcement.
We’ve had issues with him. He’s a Constitutionalist."
Idaho is one
of the few states in the Union where most people would consider
the term "Constitutionalist" to be a plaudit rather than
– which Officer 57 spat out in audible disgust – was the reason
why Bear would soon find himself on his knees with his back to a
deputy whose finger was caressing the trigger of an assault rifle.
search of the couple’s home yielded no evidence of drug dealing,
so the raiding party had to be satisfied with writing a misdemeanor
citation for possession of drug paraphernalia. Before they left,
however, Detective Rich Perecz couldn’t resist the opportunity to
upbraid the victims for displaying insufficient docility.
knelt down next to me, showed me his badge and said, What is this?’"
Bear related to me during an interview in his living room. "I
said, It’s your badge.’ He said, Can you tell me why your wife
wouldn’t come out of the house when I told her to?’ Those guys didn’t
identify themselves as the Sheriff’s Office until after they
had dragged Marcella out of our house. All we knew was what she
said when she saw them coming through our corn field – they were
men with guns."
attempted to preserve the pretense that an act of domestic violence
had occurred at the couple’s home.
me, Why are your wife’s knuckles all scraped up?’" Bear recounts.
"He was trying to get me to admit that I had beat my wife.
He apparently knows nothing about living and working on a farm.
Of course Marcella’s hands get scraped from time to time; we work
for a living, after all."
police report notes that Marcella Cruz showed "no evidence
of battery" at the end of the incident. (Interestingly, Marcella
was not identified as a "victim" in that report.) Photographs
taken two days later showed that her left arm and side were disfigured
with large bruises that had been inflicted by Detective Perecz when
the officer yanked her out of her kitchen doorway.
husband had been responsible for those bruises, he would be facing
felony domestic violence charges. Under Idaho law (Chapter 9, 18-903
and 18-905[b]), Perecz’s actions constitute aggravated assault.
In an e-mail,
I asked Perecz this question:
seizing a small, unarmed, terrified woman who was not a criminal
suspect, and injuring her in the process, didn’t you commit an act
that can be fairly characterized as criminal battery, as defined
in Idaho law?"
requests, Perecz has declined to answer that question, or provide
any other information about the incident.
injuries. (Credit: Michael Gibbons)
In his official
report, Lt. Dave Timony states that the officers were advised that
Bear and Marcella were "possibly armed and may be extremely confrontational
By way of e-mail,
I asked Lt. Timony to elaborate on that claim:
was the basis of that characterization? Is it the policy of your
department to compile political or ideological profiles’ of people
who have had encounters with law enforcement in Gem County? Has
your department undergone training/indoctrination regarding supposed
threats posed by people characterized as constitutionalists’?"
Perecz, Lt. Timony has refused to reply to my inquiries.
It is true
that Bear and Marcella had previously had unpleasant dealings with
the Gem County Sheriff’s Office – and with Detective Perecz, in
More than a
year ago, Marcella contacted the Sheriff’s Office to report that
a man calling himself "Greg Hall," who had lived with
them for an extended period, had stolen money and jewelry from them.
Marcella provided me with copies of e-mail messages in which she
and Detective Perecz had discussed the theft – including the suspect’s
specific location, which at the time was just across the Snake River
in Ontario, Oregon.
me that he couldn’t help us, because the suspect had fled the jurisdiction,"
Marcella related to me. "But it’s not as if he couldn’t pick
up a telephone and inform the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office, or
the Ontario Police. The bogus domestic violence’ report that led
to the raid on our home was originally received by Payette County
and relayed to Gem County. It’s not as if these people can’t talk
to each other."
pointing out as well that inter-state law enforcement cooperation
in the Treasure Valley – an area encompassing towns on both sides
of the Idaho/Oregon border – is quite commonplace. This is especially
true of narcotics enforcement, which is a far more profitable racket
than legitimate efforts to protect persons and property from criminal
you know we didn’t have a fight, why don’t you pack up and go away?"
asked Bear following the illegal search of his home.
can’t do that," lied one of the deputies in reply. "We’re
here now, and we have probable cause."
What they had
– or, at least, thought they had – was an opportunity to seize Bear
and Marcella’s home and farm through "civil asset forfeiture."
That tantalizing prospect evaporated when it became clear that the
couple was cultivating organic tomatoes, rather than marijuana.
Gem County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t at all interested in helping
us when we were victims of a crime," Marcella summarizes. "But
they were ready and eager to attack our home when they were given
imagination of a hostile neighbor transmuted a brief and trivial
marital argument into evidence of "domestic violence."
The vicious opportunism of the Gem County Sheriff’s Office magnified
the incident into a pretext for a paramilitary raid that resulted
in an act of felonious battery against Marcella.
In a country
where gratuitous SWAT raids frequently result in state-sanctioned
murder, this is a potentially fatal combination – especially
when the subject of the raid is designated a "Constitutionalist"
and thus regarded as an Enemy of the State.