Federal agents run amok across Southern California

“We have a government that has been weaponized against we the people, against the very people we represent,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Tuesday on the House floor.

On December 22 in Sherman Oaks, California, we saw an example of what Jordan was talking about.

Federal agents showed up at about 6:00 a.m. at an address in the 14000 block of Burbank Boulevard to serve an arrest warrant. As reported by CBS Los Angeles, the suspect “refused to surrender,” leading to a stand-off. SWAT officers with the FBI set up a perimeter outside the building and above it, on rooftops. The LAPD assisted federal officers to secure the area, and crisis negotiators were rushed to the scene.

What would you guess that was about? Drugs? Human trafficking? A retail theft ring? Murder?

No, the FBI and all its law enforcement might was arrayed in Sherman Oaks to arrest a man who was outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. His name is Eric Christie. He was photographed with a bullhorn in his hand, a hammer in his belt loop and a rainbow Pride flag draped around his shoulders, wearing a black sweatshirt with lettering on the front that read, “[gay slur] for Trump.”

Following an hours-long stand-off that closed roads and scared the neighbors, Christie was taken into custody “for his role in the insurrection,” as the Associated Press described it. According to court documents, he faces federal charges of entering and remaining in a restricted building or ground with a deadly weapon, and disorderly or disruptive conduct. Prosecutors allege “he ran toward the Capitol after a crowd pushed through barriers, then runs up steps on the east side of the building while repeating ‘This is our Capitol’ on the bullhorn.”

“Christie is a known local far-right anti-vaxxer and protested against coronavirus pandemic restrictions around the Los Angeles region and often attended rallies supporting former president Trump,” reported the L.A. Blade, citing NBC News. He was identified from photos and video by “online sleuths” and publicly named by an “anti-fascist activist” in February 2021. And in December 2022, the feds swooped down on Sherman Oaks to get their man.

The splashy arrest happened on the very same day that the House January 6th committee released its final report. A cynic might think the FBI has been conscripted into doing publicity stunts in coordination with political leaders. But even a non-cynic could wonder if the show of force was intended to chill ordinary Americans out of participating in political protests that are protected by the First Amendment.

Another case of troubling law enforcement overreach occurred in Beverly Hills on March 22, 2021, when federal agents seized the contents of hundreds of safe-deposit boxes based on allegations that the company providing them, U.S. Private Vaults, Inc., was involved in criminal activity.

The Fourth Amendment protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires probable cause for warrants that “particularly” describe “the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.” In the USPV case, the government misled the judge on the warrant application and said it was only seizing the customers’ boxes for identification and an inventory to protect against liability. Instead, federal agents rifled through the contents looking for evidence of crimes.

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The box owners were required to provide intrusive documentation to the government in order to retrieve their private property. Unknown to the court, the government had earlier made plans to take the contents of the boxes as part of a large-scale civil forfeiture proceeding, apparently on the theory that people putting valuables in a private safe-deposit box must be hiding something illegal from the government.

But that kind of mass seizure is not allowed under the Fourth Amendment.

The Institute for Justice represented the box owners in a class action lawsuit. Judge R. Gary Klausner ruled in favor of the government, a decision the IJ called “shocking” and vowed to appeal.

These abuses of Americans’ constitutional rights should not be happening. It’s fortunate for the country that some in Congress who understand this will soon have gavels and subpoena power.

Write and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley

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