Shootout in Ohio: A Case Study of the "Patriot" Movement and Traffic Stops
A Militia Watchdog Special Report
Last Modified March 5, 1997.
Where do people actually confront members of extremist groups? During their infrequent rallies? Sure. As victims of hate crimes? Unfortunately, yes. On the Internet? Certainly so. But one of the most common points of confrontation comes not between the general public and members of such groups, but between law enforcement officers and extremists. The confrontations occur one-on-one, and frequently end in violence. These incidents stem from one of the most routine and common law enforcement activities: the traffic stop.
Violence or confrontations stemming from traffic stops are common enough in law enforcement. But in recent years a new breed of confrontation, unrelated to illegal drugs, alcohol-impaired drivers, stolen vehicles or other traditional sources of conflict, has developed into a serious threat to law enforcement and specifically to officer safety. This phenomenon stems from the so-called "patriot movement," a term used to refer to the disorganized groups of militias, common law courts, sovereign citizens, tax protesters and white supremacists that adhere to an extremely anti-authoritarian ideology.
Although traffic stop incidents involving members of the patriot movement can be traced back over fifteen years, the resurgence of this movement in the aftermath of the controversial incidents at Ruby Ridge and Waco has greatly increased the number of such traffic stop confrontations. Two incidents from Ohio suggest the dangers involved. In the summer of 1995 an officer pulled over a car on a rural road for sporting homemade license plates that read "Militia Chaplain." The driver was involved in the Ohio militia, the Ohio common law court, and the white supremacist religion Christian Identity. He fled the scene in his vehicle, chased by the officer. The driver finally pulled over again and got out of his car, wielding a handgun. The officer shot and killed the driver. A grand jury cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. Several months later, a friend and associate of the slain man, also involved in the militia and common law courts, was pulled over for a violation by a state trooper. Fearing arrest, the extremist assaulted the state trooper, trying to wrest his gun away. The extremist was subdued, arrested, and convicted.
These are simply two examples out of many. Although the previous examples come from 1995, a recent chilling incident, also from Ohio, indicates that the phenomenon is by no means over. This incident, involving a gun battle near Wilmington, Ohio, about 45 miles northeast of Cincinnati, is notable because much of the confrontation was recorded on videotape.
The confrontation began in the early afternoon of February 15, 1997, when an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper stopped a light blue Chevrolet Suburban sporting Washington license plates on a state road. The reason was simplethe license plates had expired.
The trooper walked up to the vehicle and asked to see the drivers drivers license. "To be honest with you, I aint got it on me right now, sir," replied the driver. Nor did the driver have any other identification or registration for the vehicle, which he said he borrowed from a friend in Washington state.
The trooper asked the driver to come back to the police cruiser with him. The driver got out of the vehicle, but when the trooper said that he wanted to search the man for weapons, the driver protested. "I dont want to be violated like this," he said.
"All right, sir," replied the trooper. "Then Ill arrest you for not having a drivers license, and then Ill search you and then Ill put you in jail. How do you want to play it? You tell me. Im not trying to make problems. We have two options If you sit in my car, Im going to search your person to make sure you have no dangerous or deadly weapons. Or I can arrest you for not having a drivers license. Then I can search you, then I can put you in jail Those are the options you have, sir. Which would you like to exercise?"
The driver asked the trooper how long it would take to make an out-of-state check on a valid drivers license, then after the troopers response, began to run back to the vehicle. The trooper followed, as did a Clinton County sheriffs deputy who had come to assist.
A passenger in the vehicle got out and fired several rounds at the deputy. Later analysis of the videotape suggested that the passenger put on a bulletproof vest before existing the vehicle. He then ran away on foot. Neither the trooper nor the deputy was hit, and they returned fire. The driver pleaded with the officers not to shoot, but ignored orders to stop and got back in the car. Instead, the driver fled the scene in the Suburban, dragging the trooper a few feet as he held on to the open door on the drivers side.
A short time later, a Wilmington police officer spotted the vehicle in a parking lot. "Ive got him comin out of Clinton Electric," he said on the radio. When the officer pulled into the lot, the driver shot at him. "Shots fired at Clinton Electric!" shouted the policeman. "Shots fired at me by an AR-15 rifle!" The officer was not hit, but a Wilmington citizen, 56-year old Frank Marsden, who was driving past the parking lot in a car that also contained his wife and son, was shot in the left shoulder. The shooter fled the scene on foot. Authorites later found 26 rifle shell casings left by the shooter in the parking lot.
The vehicle, left behind by the extremists, was registered to a known white supremacist from Washington state, Jacob Myron Settle, 39. Settle was a former police officer from Winthrop, Washington, and a member of the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations. When police were able to obtain a search warrant to search the Suburban, they found six guns and more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as bulletproof vests, FBI clothing, U.S. Marshal badges, gas masks, a CS gas grenade, a body bag/stretcher, and other items.
State police defended the state troopers decision not to fire at the driver of the Suburban because it did not seem that he was armed and agency policy forbids troopers from shooting at anyone except in a life-threatening situation. The police had been criticized by the wounded civilian, Marsden, who said after viewing the videotape of the initial confrontation, "That really made me mad. I wondered how come he [the trooper] didnt shoot him [the driver] the first time. If he got him, then I wouldnt have got shot."
Authorities were soon able to trace the identities of the two men in the Suburban. Originally the two were thought to be Settle and a friend of his, Chevie OBrien Kehoe, 24. Later, it was discovered that Settle was not involved and that the passenger was Cheyne Kehoe, 20, Chevies brother, also from the Spokane area. Settle claimed later to have traded the Suburban in the summer of 1996 to the Kehoes parents, but that the Kehoes never transferred the title.
Both of the Kehoe brothers are members of Aryan Nations, located in Hayden Lake, Idaho, not far from Spokane, and adherents to the Christian Identity religion, which their father (Kirby Kehoe) had raised them on. Chevie Kehoe is a polygamist who has had multiple wives, including one married to him at a ceremony at Aryan Nations during which his other, pregnant wife was in attendance (this earned him a guest spot on the television show Hard Copy). Chevie Kehoe has traveled to white supremacist meetings and sites across the country, buying and selling guns to make ends meet, reputedly staying for a time at the Christian Identity survivalist compound called Elohim City, in eastern Oklahoma. According to a friend, he does not have a license to buy or sell weapons, but does it anyway. He has had ties with skinheads and other white supremacists in the Spokane area. In a letter written to a Washington paper in 1992, Chevie Kehoe stated, "We have Yahweh, and we are not afraid to die."
Until about six weeks before the shootout, the Kehoes had been living in northwestern Montana. For some time they and their father had been living in the Kaniksu National Forest in Idaho, but left during the summer of 1996 and moved to Montana, where Kirby, Chevie, Cheyne, and an unknown number of other relatives lived in a rented house in Lincoln County, Montana. Authorities were not clear why the Kehoes were in Ohio. Ray Redfairn, the Ohio representative of Aryan Nations (who himself was arrested for shooting at a Dayton police officer during a traffic stop in 1979), denied all knowledge of the Kehoes, and all connections on their part with Aryan Nations. However, Aryan Nations was going to hold a rally in Columbus, Ohio, that Sunday, and some thought that the Kehoes might have been planning to attend it. However, the Kehoes had been in Ohio for several weeks before either the rally or shootout. They had been staying at a campground in Ross County, about forty miles away from Wilmington, along with their families.
In fact, Chevie Kehoe had told the state trooper who stopped him that he had been working at a campground near Chillicothe, Ohio. However, state authorities did not notify the Ross County sheriffs office of this fact until Tuesday. Ross County sheriff Ron Nichols confirmed that his department had discovered an abandoned black 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass in a parking lot near the campground. The owner of the Cutlass was dead, and the vehicle had been stored in a barn by a relative just a few miles outside of Wilmington. The relative did not discover that the car was missing until Tuesday. The keys were in the abandoned car. The RV used by the Kehoe brothers was apparently not driven away until Sunday evening or Monday morning, suggesting that the Kehoes had returned there after the shootout to pick up their families.
On Thursday, February 20, a country grand jury issued a 16-count indictment on assault, attempted murder and other charges. That night, federal warrants were isued on charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Based on reports from the campground, authorities said the brothers were believed to be traveling in a white Dodge Executive motor home with green trim, with Montana plates, registered to Karena Gumm, the wife of Chevie Kehoe (who was apparently down to one at the time). The FBI has said that the Kehoes were believed to be traveling with two women and four small children. Gumm, who used the alias Mary Thrasher to register at the campground, has three children. Cheynes wife, Tanna Kehoe, has one child.
In a mysterious side story, Karena Gumm, according to the Washington Department of Licensing, was the previous owner of a Chevrolet Suburban owned by an Aryan Nations member named Sean Michael Haines, who was arrested in South Dakota in December. Haines Suburbannot the one involved in the Wilmington incidentcontained one of several guns stolen from a gun dealer, William Mueller,from Arkansas, who was killed along with his wife and eight-year old daughter, and deposited in a bayou in 1996, their heads wrapped in plastic bags and their hands handcuffed. Sheriff Jay Winters of Pope County, Arkansas, has said that William Mueller met Chevie Kehoes father, Kirby Kehoe, at least once at a gun show.. A federal grand jury in Spokane indicted Chevie Kehoe in late February on three firearms violations, including possessing a pistol that had been stolen from Mueller in October 1995 and a .223 caliber rifle stolen from him upon his disappearance (the third charge involved possession of an unregistered machine gun in 1994). Said Winters, "At this point our concern with Chevie Kehoe is how he came into possesion of those guns." The Muellers were tied up with duct tape when they were found; coincidentally, a roll of duct tape was found in the Chevy Suburban.
Authorities were not calling Chevie Kehoe a suspect in the killings, but there is evidence that they had suspected some sort of connection for some time. Haines claimed on February 24 that the previous December law enforcement officers had questioned him about photographs they had taken of him and Kehoe trading guns in Spokane. Bonner County, Idaho, law enforcement officials have announced they want to talk to Chevie in connection with a 1995 slaying of a white supremacist named Jeremy Scott. Another individual, Faron Lovelace, has been charged with the murder, and Kehoe and Lovelace once lived together. The Dayton Daily News revealed in early March that the Kehoes, their father (Kirby Kehoe), and several associates were the target of investigations of a number of wide-ranging crimes, including the Mueller murders, the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, and the Spokane-area bombings and robberies (since attributed to other men, currently on trial). Seattle homicide detective E. M. Davis said there was nothing to connect them to the Olympic Park bombing, but that Kirby Kehoe was an early suspect in the Mueller murders because of the two guns that ended up in the possession of Chevie and his father. A Bellingham, Washington, resident purchased one of the guns at a gun show from Kirby in February 1996. Moreover, said Davis, the Kehoes were in Arkansas during the time of the Mueller murders.
While authorities across the Northwest searched for the Kehoe brothers, friends and associates of the two young Aryan Nations members voiced their support of the pair to curious reporters. "Many Americans believe the cops have no right subjecting people to searches of their bodies and vehicles," said Mark Reynolds, a friend to the Kehoes. "Its not like these guys are criminals or something," he added.
Even though the shootout was shown on national television, and authorities received more than a hundred tips, the case went cold quickly. In early March, authorities finally found the Kehoes motor homehidden alongside I-25 some twenty miles north of Casper, Wyoming. The vehicle sat there for almost a week, according to a local rancher, before highway patrol officers checked it out. There was no sign of where the Kehoes had gone. Authorities brought in bomb experts on March 4 to search the motor home. They found some unspecified bomb-making components but no bombs. David Lundahl, a spokesman for the Casper Fire Department, stated that they also found other evidence, but refused to be specific.
At this point, authorities are still unsure of where the Kehoes and their families could be. They are presumed to be armed and dangerous.