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Young Man Shot by Utah Police Was Tied to ‘Sovereign’ Movement

Farmington Police Department
Farmington Police Department

A Utah man killed by police during a traffic stop last month was associated with fringe movements that have often led to dangerous interactions with law enforcement.

Newly released body camera footage shows Chase Allan, 25, arguing with police over whether he was legally obligated to show identification. He had been pulled over after police spotted his false license plates. Footage from the traffic stop reveals that Allan had a holster on his hip. Though police shouted “gun” before opening fire, it is not clear from the video whether Allan reached for the weapon.

But while investigators review the fatal shooting, Allan’s acquaintances have painted a clearer picture of his beliefs, including ties to a right-wing activist network and participation in a pseudolegal theory that has contributed to previous police shootings.

Jan. Sixers Are Using Sovereign Citizen Defenses to Try and Get Out of Prison

On Sunday, mourners gathered in Farmington, Utah, to denounce Allan’s death and release balloons inscribed with his name. That vigil had been promoted by the People’s Rights movement, a far-right network helmed by right-wing activist Ammon Bundy.

The group’s advertisement of the vigil likened Allan’s death to that of LaVoy Finicum, a Bundy ally who was shot dead by law enforcement during Bundy’s 2016 occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. FBI agents say Finicum was reaching for a gun at the time of the shooting, a claim Finicum’s family has thus far unsuccessfully contested in court.

Several speakers at the vigil had previously been listed as People’s Rights movement associates.

“He [Allan] was doing the best he could to love everyone and to help us keep those freedoms alive,” speaker June Reese told the mourners, according to Utah’s Fox13. An October 2021 People’s Rights memo lists her as a point person for an effort to pack a controversial county commission meeting about limits on comments during public meetings.

Victoria Dortzbach, who told vigil-goers that she had known Allan for several years, described him as a gentle person. “It’s beyond fathomable what just happened,” Dortzbach said. A report from the group Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights lists Dortzbach as a People’s Rights organizer in its Utah 3 district.

In multiple videos after Allan’s death, Dortzbach voiced concerns that some of Allan’s political beliefs may have escalated the interaction with police.

“I did feel like he was going to resist the whole thing [the arrest], based on the con man teachers he was following in the sovereign world, I really do,” Dortzbach said in a video after body camera footage of Allan’s death was released. “My heart breaks that he didn’t have better examples.”

Reached for comment, Dortzbach declined to elaborate, citing fear of retaliation from what she described as leaders of the “state national movement.”

“State nationals” are the latest rebrand of the long-running, constantly debunked sovereign citizen theory, says Christine Sarteschi, a Chatham University professor who studies the movement. A loosely organized group, sovereign citizens believe themselves immune from many or all laws, occasionally claiming that the United States is a defunct entity or operating under maritime law. Self-proclaimed state nationals employ many of the same pseudolegal logic, but sometimes declare themselves nationals only of the state in which they reside.

The theory, in all its incarnations, can land followers in trouble at traffic stops “because sovereign citizens often do not believe they have to follow even basic traffic laws like having a driver’s license, even giving their name to police,” Sarteschi told The Daily Beast. “They have license plates that often alert police that there may be a sovereign citizen or someone who won’t follow the law. So immediately this can become confrontational.”

In an email, Dortzbach, who said she had previously been involved with the state national movement, pointed to an article on a police news site that called sovereign citizens “the bane of many police officers.”

Police “have preconceived notions they [sovereign citizens] are a threat,” Dortzbach said.

The traffic stop that led to Allan’s death began when police noticed his car’s unofficial license plates, which read “Utah, American State Citizen” and “Notice, Private Automobile Not For Hire.”

Body camera footage shows an officer asking Allan to present a license and registration. “I don’t need registration and I don’t answer questions,” Allan said. After a few minutes of back-and-forth, Allan eventually handed over his passport, but immediately claimed that the person in the passport (Chase Allan) was not him. Subscribers to sovereign citizen beliefs sometimes claim that they are separate legal entities from the people named in official documents like passports and birth certificates.

“That is not me. That is a piece of plastic paper,” Allan told the officer.

“So you have a fraudulent passport?” the officer asked. He asked Allan to get out of the car. Allan refused, telling police they would “have an issue” if they tried to remove him from the car. A second police officer opened the car door, an escalation Farmington Police Chief Eric Johnsen defended as appropriate.

“That escalation of force, from verbal to hands-on, in my opinion was absolutely reasonable and appropriate,” Johnson said in a Wednesday press conference.

Far-Right Activist Ammon Bundy Threatens ‘Shotgun’ Standoff Over Hospital Lawsuit

But what happened next is unclear from the available body camera footage. Allan had a holster on his right hip, and had been filming police on his phone through a crack in the car window. When police opened the door, Allan transferred his phone from one hand to the other and reached his free hand toward his hip—where his seatbelt and the gun holster were located. The available body camera footage does not reveal whether there was a gun in the holster or whether Allan reached for it, but a police officer shouted “gun, gun,” setting off a volley of gunshots into Allan’s car.

When they stopped firing Allan was unresponsive, appearing to have been shot in the chest multiple times.

“Did he shoot?” one officer asked.

“I don’t have any fucking idea,” another replied. A gun was recovered from the passenger-side floor of Allan’s front seat.

After Allan’s death, acquaintances like Dortzbach said Allan and his family were previously suspicious of police, after Allan’s mother offered sovereign citizen-like arguments during a 2022 traffic stop. The stop began when an officer noticed Diane Killian-Allan’s car registration was expired, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Killian-Allan, who was driving an uninsured car with an expired license, claimed the officer had no legal right to stop her.

Killian-Allan, who did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment, later filed a federal lawsuit against Farmington Police over the traffic stop. The suit, which is ongoing, is full of references to the sovereign citizen movement. At points, Killian-Allan refers to herself as a “Private Citizen of Utah ‘state’” and spells her name as “Diane;. Killian-Allan.” (Followers of sovereign citizen teachings sometimes add extra punctuation into their names in the mistaken belief that it will distinguish them from the person named in their legal documents.)

Like her son last month, Killian-Allan offered a police officer her passport during the 2022 traffic stop. In her lawsuit, she explains that she did so because she believed she did not need a license while “traveling,” which some sovereign citizens claim is different from driving.

“While traveling I was not operating under a ‘driver license’ and provided a passport,” the lawsuit reads.

Sarteschi, the Chatham University professor, said references to “traveling” originate from a mistaken belief that “if they’re traveling and they’re not engaged in commerce in their vehicle, then they do not need the typical things that any other person would need, like a license or license plate.”

Allan became involved in his mother’s case, as well as other unrelated traffic cases. The Tribune reported that Allan attempted to act as an unofficial lawyer in her traffic case. The court asked Allan to sit in the gallery, because he was not a lawyer.

In her lawsuit, Killian-Allan claims her son responded by asking court officials whether “under Title 18 § 1583 are you committing slavery and involuntary servitude?" In the suit, Killian-Allan incorrectly claimed that she did not need an accredited lawyer, and that “the courts have held that action that is brought by sovereign individuals, is not to be held to the same high standards as action brought by licensed attorneys.”

The Tribune reported that Allan returned for a different woman’s traffic case in September 2022, where he became “disruptive and non-compliant.” He was arrested and taken to the Davis County jail, where he allegedly refused to identify himself and claimed deputies had “no authority over him.” He was released without charges.

In a video after Allan’s death, Dortzbach expressed sympathy for the family, but added that “I feel like they were following some ideas that got them in trouble.”

“I think both sides could have done better,” she said. “I don’t know how else to say it.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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