A protest spurred by a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy’s statement that angered self-described constitutionalists drew more than 300 people to the Spokane Valley Police Precinct parking lot Saturday afternoon.
Many of those in attendance carried rifles, handguns or both. A series of speakers criticized Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and called on him to give back the mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP) that the department received for no cost as military surplus.
A video of a deputy responding to a question about the MRAP went viral after it was posted on the Info Wars website, which is run by radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The video shows a citizen asking why the MRAP is needed. The deputy’s response: “We’ve got a lot of constitutionalists and a lot of people that stockpile weapons, a lot of ammunition.”
Constitutional activist Gavin Seim said the problem is that law enforcement is becoming increasingly militarized.
“Read my lips, Ozzie Knezovich, the people should be armed equal to the police” Seim said. “If they can have an MRAP, we can have a tank.”
It’s not about guns or MRAPs, but liberty, Seim said.
“When the government fears the people, there is liberty,” he said. “Nothing terrifies a bully more than someone who will stand up to them.”
State Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, told the crowd that Knezovich’s explanation for the deputy’s quote – that he was taken out of context – is hogwash.
“There is never a context or situation that would justify that comment,” Shea said. “A real leader would say, ‘I’m sorry,’ but that didn’t happen.”
Shea and Knezovich have been political opponents for several years. The sheriff was one of the only elected Spokane County Republicans currently in office to publicly endorse Shea’s Republican opponent in the November election.
At the rally, Shea called on Knezovich to apologize or resign for his deputy’s comment.
“If loving the Constitution is now terrorism, we don’t live in a free country anymore,” he said. “No more. The line in the sand is here. We won’t back up one inch.”
The Sheriff’s Office released a statement Saturday saying the deputy should have used the word “extremist” to refer to people who believe their ideology justifies violent attacks.
“We want to assure the citizens of Spokane County that their Sheriff’s Office upholds the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, and that we are dedicated to defending it,” the statement said. “This is evidenced by our welcoming of this peaceful demonstration at the Spokane Valley Police Precinct.”
No deputies were seen during the protest at the precinct, which is closed to the public on weekends.
Brad Underhill carried a bright yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flag and an AR-15 rifle to the event.
“I just see a duty as an American to stand up and protest for my rights,” he said.
People who believe in the Constitution are not a threat, he said.
“I’m not the citizen they should be fearing,” Underhill said. “We’re all very friendly people.”
While the event was peaceful, Shea said a man was arrested for assault at a protest against Initiative 594 outside the Spokane County Courthouse earlier in the day. Officer Teresa Fuller, Spokane Police Department spokeswoman, said she had no information about an arrest at the event. Deputy Craig Chamberlin, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said a Spokane police officer made an arrest for misdemeanor assault during the protest.
I-594 extends background-check requirements to private sales and transfers of guns.
The Spokane Valley event was organized by M. Scott Maclay, president of the Rattlesnakes Motorcycle Club, which he describes as a political action club. Maclay said he believes the response to the video was mishandled and that Knezovich should have apologized.
“The country is paying attention to what is going on in a militarized police force,” he said. “I saw the video. We are a political action club. We knew we needed to move fast.”
In an interview last week, Knezovich said he believes the response against the video is politically motivated and pointed out that Maclay donated money to his election opponent, Doug Orr.
Maclay also has an active lawsuit in federal court against Knezovich, the Sheriff’s Office and the Spokane County Jail. Maclay claims in the suit that he was not given needed medication while he was in jail for four days in February 2011 after being arrested on a civil bench warrant.
In 1997, Maclay was the victim of a road-rage incident and responded by drawing his handgun and firing two shots over the man’s head, according to past news articles. In May, he drew a handgun inside the Timber Creek Grill, 9211 E. Montgomery Ave., during a meeting of the Inland Empire Motorcycle Coalition.
Maclay said he drew his gun in self-defense during a fight with members of another motorcycle club who were also armed. No arrests were made after those involved in the incident declined to press charges, Knezovich said.
The Inland Empire Motorcycle Coalition has since voted to ban Maclay and other members of his group from future meetings, saying his actions created a “bad image” of area motorcyclists.
Maclay was arrested in 1984 on suspicion of second-degree burglary, a felony, under his previous last name of Dunwell. He was convicted of first-degree criminal trespass, a misdemeanor. In 1999, he was charged with reckless endangerment and malicious mischief, but the charges were dismissed.