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Shawn Vestal: Self-described ‘constitutionalist’ Gavin Seim flees to Mexico to avoid court

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 28, 2017

FILE - Gavin Seim speaks to the crowd gathered Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, during a protest by self-labeled “constitutionalists” in the parking lot of the Spokane Valley Police. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - Gavin Seim speaks to the crowd gathered Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, during a protest by self-labeled “constitutionalists” in the parking lot of the Spokane Valley Police. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

In the online world of conspiratorial patriot poseurs, Ephrata’s Gavin Seim has repeatedly cast himself as a hero, a valiant knight in battle with the tyrannical “psychopaths” of the justice system of Grant County and America itself.

Now he’s fled to Mexico, dodging a charge of obstruction of justice that arose from his repeated, petty harassment of cops on the job in Ephrata.

Seim sees his flight to Mexico in the most heroic of terms, of course. While urging people to donate to his cause.

“I, for one, refuse to lie down and live as a slave, and I will not comply with fascism,” he says in a video, posted to Facebook the day after Thanksgiving.

It’s all pretty odd, even by Seim’s high standards for oddity – particularly when you watch the Seim family load up on extra cookies at the store or enjoy a refreshing coconut water from a machete-wielding vendor in Mexico, all while Seim narrates darkly about tyranny and terrorism and corruption and his own personal valiance.

Odder still is the fact that, for once, Seim’s case has raised an actual, important legal issue: Whether courts can order defendants to unlock their smart phones.

A Grant County prosecutor has asked a judge to order Seim to provide the password for his phone. He says that evidence relating to Seim’s obstruction of a police officer – which Seim recorded, as he always does – is on the phone. Seim is defending himself in the case, naturally, and was ordered to make arguments on the motion.

So he fled to Mexico.

In the video, Seim says, “The court says, ‘Gavin, you have to come and argue in your defense of whether or not you should be forced.’ And you know what my answer to that is? ‘No, I don’t.’ A court that says I have to argue for my most basic and fundamental rights is not a court of law. We don’t have to lie down and submit to criminal conspiracy. We don’t have to lie down and be kicked in the head. We don’t have to walk into the gas chamber and the concentration camp.”

He’s not one for understatement.

Seim, you may recall, was the play-by-play announcer in a gripping YouTube live-stream of the final days of the Bundy clan’s bird-refuge takeover in Oregon in 2016, including the tense, desperate final hours when it seemed the last holdout might provoke his own death. Seim was one of the higher-profile patriots trying to grab their share of the drama, along with Spokane Valley Rep. Matt Shea, who visited the armed protesters on a “fact-finding” trip.

Seim has continued to beat the drums of conspiracy in Bundy World, taking up causes such as that of a Missouri “constitutionalist” blogger convicted in an armed confrontation with police.

Less widely known are Seim’s constant stream of provocations of Grant County officials, in which he picks inane, petty fights and tries to elevate them to end-of-the-world status.

He’s now charged with obstruction of justice and harassment over an altercation with an officer in a Walmart parking lot, in which he attempts to order the cop to stop questioning a woman. Seims deeply loves trying to order cops around and filming the results. A previous video of Seim picking a fight with the same officer – and attempting a citizen’s arrest – is titled “Gav Dresses Down This Bully Cop on the Street.”

Marc Fedorak, a deputy prosecutor in Grant County, filed a motion Oct. 25 asking the court to order Seim to unlock the phone, according to coverage of the case in the Columbia Basin Herald.

But: Is forcing a suspect to open a locked phone a violation of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination?

There haven’t been many actual cases forcing the question just yet, but the early signs point to a fascinating divide. In one Virginia case, a judge found that a defendant can be compelled to unlock a phone by fingerprint, which is akin to legally compelling a DNA test or handwriting sample. But the judge ruled that forcing a defendant to reveal a password is a different matter – it requires a person to reveal knowledge, which would be protected by the Fifth Amendment.

Fedorak argues, according to the Herald report, that requiring Seim to turn over his password would not violate his Fifth Amendment right under the “foregone conclusion” doctrine, which holds that courts may compel testimony regarding evidence that is already known by prosecutors.

The issue is sure to be taken up by higher courts, eventually.

Meanwhile, Seim has fled to Mexico in an RV with his family, where he has outsourced his valiant defense against tyranny. I could not reach Fedorak directly for comment on Monday, so I couldn’t ask what Grant County’s official response to this flight would be – chase Seim, wait for his return or bid him good riddance – but this likely won’t be the last we hear from him.

The hero doesn’t disappear from his own story, after all.