Oathkeeper Chapter 19

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 19

 

Sheriff Ellison left the Francione residence and was back on the road by eleven. The clouds were filling back into the skies, and it was darkening to the south. On the radio, the sheriff could hear weather reports of a storm front backing up into the valley. Laden smoke rolled out of the chimneys he passed on the road, sinking straight to the ground. Small winter birds – frenzied chickadees and finches – scurried about gathering seeds and other edibles. Mule deer were out grazing. Foxes were hunting as the late morning faded to gray.

The scene at the Sheriff’s Department was exactly what Ellison had expected. The flotilla of news vans had returned, someone obviously having tipped them off. Three black Tahoes were on the scene, as well as two unmarked Grand Cherokees. A throng had gathered at the steps before the main entrance. Ellison avoided them and drove around to the back garage. He was sure they spotted him pull in, but he got the door down before the mob could push through.

Ellison went straight to his office. The marshals, Inspector Weathers and Deputy Scott, were already there, both sitting on his office sofa. Agent Acevedo had taken a seat in the swivel chair, with his feet up on the sheriff’s desk. The marshals stood up as Ellison entered.

“Gentlemen,” Ellison greeted them unenthusiastically.

“Sheriff,” Acevedo replied. He was still seated.

“Has the DEA commandeered the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department without my knowledge?” asked Ellison.

“Not that I’m aware of,” answered the agent.

Ellison narrowed his eyes. “Then please remove your feet from my desk and your ass from my chair.”

“Touchy this morning, eh Sheriff?” Acevedo waited another few seconds, as if mocking the sheriff, then withdrew his feet and rose from the chair.

“Are you two not getting along?” asked Weathers.

“You’re late,” Scott stated.

“It’s only 12:10,” answered Ellison, pointing to the wall clock.

“Let’s not waste any more time,” said Acevedo. “You know what we’re here for.”

“I suppose you have the warrant?”

“Right here.” Scott produced a manila folder.

“So where is he?” Acevedo inquired.

“We’re going to do a little horse trading first,” said Ellison.

“I love all this redneck talk,” replied the DEA agent, “but there isn’t anything to deal, here.”

The sheriff sat down behind his desk and swept away the dirt specks that had fallen off Acevedo’s shoes. He noticed that his drawers had been opened as well. He slowly pushed them shut, emphasizing that he knew they had been compromised, then collected his scattered pens, placed them in their mug, and straightened out his papers.

“When you get your man,” he addressed them after he had finished tidying up his desk, “it’ll be time for you boys to wrap things up around here. You and your expeditionary force can move on. I think that’s a fair trade.”

The eyes of both marshals shifted hopefully from Ellison to Acevedo. The agent, who was now standing across from the desk, responded with a clicking, squirrel-like sound made with his tongue behind his teeth. He stared at the floor, then gazed upwards to the ceiling and sighed.

“Uh…no.” he said. “That’s not going to work for us.”

“No?” asked Ellison.

“Did I stutter?”

“What do you mean, no?”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Sheriff,” Acevedo answered snidely. “We’re deep into a surveillance program on an operation up by Twin Lakes. It could take until June to wrap it up. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid we can’t just pull up stakes. We’re too far into this.”

Ellison stared blankly, pondering the explanation. He had guessed beforehand that Acevedo wouldn’t yield. The DEA had to know that they had worn out their welcome, but it made sense to him that there wouldn’t be any flexibility. Regardless, he thought he would take one more crack at it, just to be sure he was on record. At least the marshals would know he had exhausted every possibility.

“I’m asking you Vince, as a professional courtesy, to move on to the next county.”

“No, Sheriff.” Acevedo clicked his tongue, sighed, and looked down and up again. “I’ve got my orders. You see, we’re going to scrub this little county of yours. We’re going to scrub it clean of meth. Somebody has to enforce the law around here.”

Ellison wondered how Frenchie would handle this. He envisioned him giving a command and a battery of deputies storming into the office, wrenching the agent’s arms behind his back, and escorting him out of the front doors as if they were nightclub bouncers removing a belligerent drunk.

“I understand what you’re dealing with,” Acevedo continued, “but don’t make it any more difficult for yourself.”

For an instant, Ellison considered tossing his badge on the table and walking out, leaving them empty-handed, but that wouldn’t make things any easier. He would likely be detained and suffer the ignominy of being booked and having his mug shot plastered on Channel 9. His entire legacy – whatever good he had done – would be zeroed out by such an outcome. He’d be disgraced. And what about his wife? How would Nguyet deal with it? Would she ever come back after something like that? After he stepped down, the interim sheriff would probably just call Kennesaw and have him bring Turcot in, anyway. No good would come from him quitting. His control of the knowledge of Turcot’s whereabouts was the only leverage Ellison had. He thought again about Frenchie, masked in his tinted glasses and puffing away on his cigar, grinning. No, he couldn’t resign.

“So why is all the media here?” he asked.

“We thought we’d have a little press conference,” explained Acevedo. “Let them know we’re bringing in the cop killer.”

“Presumptuous.” Ellison stated.

“Is it?”

“Are you going to publically address the Fifth Amendment issue?” Ellison asked.

“What issue?” Acevedo replied.

“Double jeopardy.”

Acevedo huffed and rolled his eyes. “I let the lawyers handle that. I’ve got news for you, Sheriff. No one cares about the Bill of Rights anymore. What they care about is being safe…safe from drug dealers and rapists and junkies and cop killers and terrorists. We’re doing what’s necessary for their well-being. We’re the only ones that stand between the good guys and the bad guys. You think John Q. Public cares about some cop killer’s so-called rights? That he gets a fair trial? They want him hunted down like a dog. They want to know that law enforcement is capable of doing what’s necessary to keep them safe. That’s all.”

“You’re probably right,” Ellison replied. “I suppose you better get on with your press conference, then, while I make a call.”

“Oh no, Sheriff,” replied Acevedo. “You are going to give the press conference. This is your county, after all. It’s the least you could do, considering how little help you’ve given us.”

“That’s going a little too far, Vince, don’t you think?” Weathers interjected. “We got what we came for. There’s no need to beat the sheriff up like that.”

Acevedo rolled his eyes again in dissatisfaction. “No. I want the sheriff out there showing these folks whose side he’s on.” He turned to Ellison. “Then you go get Turcot just as soon as it’s over.”

“That’s totally unnecessary,” said Weathers.

“I think it is necessary,” Acevedo countered. “The folks around here need to see their sheriff cooperating with the federal government.”

“But–”

“Let’s just get it over with,” interrupted Ellison.

The four men left the office and passed through the front doors, making their way out onto the steps where a hundred civilians and the press with their cameras and microphones had convened. Weathers was the first to speak.

“The Department of Justice is here today to announce the indictment of Montgomery Turcot on the charge of violating the civil rights of Special Agent Kevin Sniggs.” He held up the indictment dossier for effect. “With the help of my partner, Deputy Scott, the U.S. Marshals intend to bring Mr. Turcot in and see that justice is finally carried out in this terrible case. The DOJ, along with our partners at the DEA and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, know that the citizens of Calumet County will greatly appreciate that this matter is finally being set straight–”

“Why don’t you go back home!” someone shouted from the crowd. The cameras swung around, searching for the heckler. Another voice roared, “Double jeopardy!” and another, “Turcot’s innocent!”

Weathers, still holding the indictment dossier aloft, glanced disbelievingly at his partner, who looked equally confused.  He turned to Acevedo, searching for guidance, but the agent had none to give.

“Get out of our county!” shouted another heckler. “Free Turcot!”

“You want the drug dealers to take over?” someone shouted in response. “Lock him up!”

Shouting, pushing, and shoving ensued as the news crews moved in to capture the spectacle.

Acevedo had had enough. He turned to the sheriff and grabbed him by the collar. “Get your people under control!”

In that instant, Bear Ellison had a moment of perfect clarity.

“Take your god damn hand off me,” he ordered.

“You calm them folks down, or I’m going to start making arrests for disorderly conduct,” Acevedo barked as he released his grip on Ellison’s shirt.

The sheriff walked forward into the sea of microphones and cameras, pushing Weathers aside. The marshal had seemingly forgotten that he was still holding his dossier aloft. Before he spoke, Ellison looked back over his shoulder and spotted Kennesaw. He winked at the deputy, and Kennesaw disappeared back through the department’s front doors. Bear bought himself a moment by grabbing the dossier from Weathers’ upraised hand. He thumbed through the papers while the reporters pushed microphones and hurled questions at him.

“You’re not with them, are you Sheriff?” asked another voice from the crowd. “Are you going to sell Turcot out?”

“You’re either with the feds, or you’re with the drug dealers!” shouted another.

Ellison handed the folder back to Weathers, who looked even more confused than before. Acevedo watched intensely. The sheriff glanced back over his shoulder once more, back to the front doors of the department. He cleared his throat and waited for the din to subside, but the reporters grew restless. They asked the same questions again, only louder. Weathers glared at Ellison, who simply raised a hand to silence the mob.

“So where do you stand, Sheriff?” asked a man from the crowd.

Keeping his hand up while he scanned the crowd, Ellison looked over his shoulder again. Kennesaw finally emerged from the building, flanked by a group of six deputies.

“Tell us, Sheriff!”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Ellison began. “Thank you for coming out today. Please forgive me if I begin to sound like I’m giving a sermon. My grandfather was a minister, but I didn’t inherit any of his talent. I do apologize.” He glanced at Acevedo, whose face was turning red as the CCSD deputies lined up behind them. “Back when I took this job, I was required to take an oath. In that oath, I swore that I would faithfully perform the duties of the Office of Sheriff of Calumet County and support the Constitution. For many, their oath is just words. But not to me. I don’t take my oath lightly.

“A few days ago, a Calumet County man stood accused of capital murder in district court in Fremont County. After a trial, decided by a jury of his peers, he was acquitted in accordance with the laws of this state. That’s how the law works, whether we like it or not. I have nothing to say about whether Monte Turcot murdered Agent Sniggs or not. As sheriff, that doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. What matters to me is the law. And regardless of whether you or the DOJ or CNN or anyone else thinks Monte Turcot is a killer, he was acquitted by that jury.

“Like I said, I swore to support the Constitution of the United States. That Constitution says that ‘no person shall be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.’ The meaning is perfectly clear. No one can be tried twice for the same crime.”

“Sheriff!” a reporter spoke up. “Sheriff, are you interpreting the Fifth Amendment in place of the Supreme Court?”

“I don’t need some lawyer or judge to interpret for me. It’s written in plain English. Sometimes the Court makes mistakes,” continued Ellison. “Dred Scott comes to mind. Ever hear of it? You should remember that case from junior high school. The Supreme Court ruled that black men cannot be citizens. I can think of a few others. There’s Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld forced segregation in Louisiana. The Kelo ruling lets big cities seize people’s homes and land and sell it off to giant commercial interests like big box stores. And what about the Korematsu Case? Did the court interpret the Constitution right? Our all-wise Supreme Court ruled that the government has the right to put Americans in concentration camps. These rulings were all obviously wrong, but did everyone just give up and accept them because the Constitution only means what the court says? Of course not.

“I’ve known quite a few lawyers in my day, and I’ve come to the conclusion that if you get enough of them together, they could convince five of nine judges that two plus two equals five. Can the Court deny your right to free speech or religion? If the Constitution means only what they say it means, why not? They could argue: ‘We just can’t have people going around stirring up trouble or questioning authority. That might cause a riot or interrupt someone’s tranquil evening.’ Could they take away your right to defend yourself? They might say: ‘If we could take all the guns away, that’d reduce violence and promote the general welfare, wouldn’t it?’ What about your right to be secure in your effects? Free from warrantless searches and seizures? But they could say: ‘How would we catch terrorists without the ability to access everyone’s emails and phone conversations?’ Imagine what the government could find if they could poke around in everyone’s bank statements and phone records and emails and web searches whenever they want. It’s already happening. They can find something on anyone. And if they can do that, they could jail or silence or blackmail anyone who disagrees with them. The courts might say that it’s in the interest of public safety to create a secret court to issue warrants and keep things constitutional. They might say that if you’ve got nothing to hide, then you’ve got nothing to fear. We’ve all heard that one, haven’t we? You may have nothing to hide today, but what about a decade from now, when there are different people in power?  What if those people in power don’t like you? What if they fear you?

“We all have unalienable rights, like them or not. They don’t come from a judge or a government. They’re inherent. Civil rights are what living in a free country is all about. Just because one right inconveniences or offends or scares someone doesn’t mean they get to overrule it – whether they be cops or federal agents or even presidents. The Bill of Rights is not à la carte. You don’t get to pick and choose which rights you can ignore, no matter who you work for. It’s all or nothing. If the law doesn’t apply to everyone, then there is no valid law. And without the law, all we are left with are the whims of men more powerful than you and I.

“I may not have an Ivy League education, but I can read the Constitution. It’s written in plain English. And frankly, I don’t give a damn how any Harvard lawyer interprets it to mean the exact opposite of what it says in order to push some agenda. The meaning is clear, and I swore an oath to uphold it. This is Calumet County, not Washington D.C. or New York City or even Denver, for that matter. I’m the sheriff of this county. That means I am the chief law enforcement officer here, and that means that any law enforcing that is to be done here needs to have my authorization. Now these fine gentlemen came all the way out here to serve their writ. They’ve served it. They’ve asked me to arrest Monte Turcot and hand him over to them for a second trial on the same crime. But as far as I’m concerned, if I was to do what they demand, I would violate my oath. I’m not going to do that.

“Furthermore,” the sheriff concluded, “as the chief law enforcement officer of Calumet County, I’ve determined that the DEA’s mission in this county has been concluded. It’s time for them to pack up their things and move on. My department will not be authorizing any more surveillance or any other operations by the DEA here for the foreseeable future. That order is coming from the sheriff’s department, and if any agent refuses to obey that order, I will instruct my deputies to arrest them. That’s pretty much all I have to say. Thank you for coming out, and have a pleasant day.”

Ellison turned, pushed through the reporters that had circled behind his deputies, and stepped through the department doors back into the building. Acevedo and two of his agents started towards the sheriff, but Weathers intervened before they could make their move.

“Not now,” he said, and motioned towards the deputies, the press, and the crowd of nearly a hundred Calumet County citizens. “Not yet.”

Oathkeeper

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