Raid, rinse, repeat – Part II

BLM investigations may be linked to suicides

Courtesy photo

Dr. James Redd of Blanding, Utah was charged with a felony solely for possessing this half-inch pendant, which he picked up near the Arizona border. The day after Redd’s home was raided as part of Operation Cerberus Action, he attached a garden hose to his car’s exhaust pipe and died by asphyxiation. The pendant later was appraised to be worth roughly $75 and not the $1,000 necessary for a felony.

Robert Weaver

Dr. James Redd (right) and his wife Jeanne Redd

Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald via AP

In this Aug. 19, 2009 file photo, Daniel Love, a special agent with the Bureau of Land Management, walks in front of Carl “Vern” Crites’ home in Durango Colo., after Crites voluntarily turned over his entire collection of ancient artifacts during the Operation Cerberus Action.

Tucked between the publishing information and table of contents in Christopher Kortlander’s new book, Arrow to the Heart: The Last Battle at the Little Big Horn: The Custer Battlefield Museum vs. The Federal Government, is a dedication with three names: Dr. James Redd, Steven Shrader and Robert Weaver. This dedication is posthumous, Kortlander wrote, as all three took their lives due to what he believes was forceful questioning and abuse from Bureau of Land Management agents.

As director of the Custer Battlefield Museum in Garryowen, Kortlander had first-hand experience of BLM interrogation tactics during their nearly five-year investigation into his alleged dealings in fraudulent artifacts. The BLM began their investigation in earnest starting with a raid in the spring of 2005 – and, according to Kortlander, they continued pressuring him for nearly five years when they turned up nothing. At his museum office in mid-April, he picked up a glass case containing animal bones that were certified as such by an archaeologist. During the raid, he said, an agent shoved the remains near his face.

“These are little girl bones!” he remembers the agent yelling at him repeatedly while smirking. “Where is she buried?”

Four suicides in the U.S. within the past decade have been attributed to stress from BLM investigations. Kortlander stated in mid-February 2017 on the “Ark Midnight” radio program in Dallas that they the BLM “intimidate and bully, and threaten you,” adding that he would understand why those undergoing such pressure would want to die.

A representative for the Montana/Dakotas State Office of the BLM referred a request for comment to the agency’s national office, who did not reply. A former BLM special agent involved in the investigation of Kortlander’s museum also declined comment.

Of the subjects in cases he studied for Arrow to the Heart, Kortlander said, “I’m the only person who did not plead guilty, did not get indicted, did not get arrested, did not forfeit and did not commit suicide.” He credits his attorney Penelope Strong in helping him keep his resolve, despite his begging her on occasion to let him plead guilty to something in an attempt to make the investigation go away.

While trying to cope with his emotional struggle, he developed a friendship with Dr. Jay Redd, a dentist in Blanding, Utah who had unique insight into what he might be feeling. Those who have undergone such investigations, Jay said, sometimes need the support of others who survived them.

“Unless you’ve been through and experienced personally what they are capable of doing,” Jay said of the BLM, “it’s hard for people to believe or understand the injustices and mental trauma that they purposefully inflict – at least in my family’s [case].”

Redd family tragedy

Jay’s father, Dr. James Redd, was a prominent physician in Blanding – his obituary states he made house calls in the town of about 3,500 and delivered “well in excess of 2,000 babies (some he even delivered in cars).”

The day after a highprofile sting operation by the BLM and FBI, James died of asphyxiation in his Jeep Rubicon on June 11, 2009 “by the pond where he’d been praying earlier,” according to a 2014 article by the Los Angeles Times. Jay’s sister, Jerrica, found her father in his Jeep, where James had attached a garden hose to the car’s exhaust pipe and placed it through the driver-side window.

James’ was the first of three deaths following the Operation Cerberus Action, which the Department of Interior and Justice Department called, the “nation’s largest investigation of archaeological and cultural artifact thefts.” A representative for the BLM in Utah was reached by the Big Horn County News, but no one who would answer questions on the investigation could be located at press time.

Operation Cerberus was organized in the Four Corners area of southern Utah to cut down on the local trade in ancient Anasazi antiquities.

“This is a community in which this kind of conduct has been, if not culturally accepted…tolerated for many years,” stated U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups of Utah in court transcripts regarding the local antiquities market. “And that doesn’t justify it or make it legal, it doesn’t explain away the offense, but it does provide an explanation and understanding as to what was going on.”

According to an April 1, 2009 electronic communication from the FBI, James’ house was one of 12 locations hit simultaneously to avoid a repeat of past situations where “valuable evidence was lost because subjects received advanced warning of impending search warrants.”

After James’ death, the second fatality occurred a week later when Steven Shrader – a salesman from Albuquerque, also under investigation – shot himself twice during the night behind an elementary school. The third person was Ted Gardiner, an undercover informant who told BLM agents about the previous two. He died March 1, 2010 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in his room, which was witnessed by a patrolman.

“These people thought I was their friend,” Gardiner yelled at his raquetball partner two days before his death, according to the LA Times. The Times article states he was waving a .38-caliber revolver and crying at the time, before his friend called 911 and sent him temporarily to a psychiatric hold. “I caused two deaths…I killed two people.”

‘Effigy bird pendant’

Court documents state the main impetus for the investigation against the Redd family was an “effigy bird pendant” with a value of more than $1,000. The actual value of the pendant, roughly the size of a dime, was appraised after James’ death to be worth roughly $75. Since James, by all accounts, picked the pendant up off the ground, soil disturbance would not be a factor in its cost.

In video footage recorded by Gardiner, he, along with James and his wife Jeanne, have a laugh over the small size of the pendant, which was found in Baby Rocks, Ariz., a settlement near a grouping of red cliffs by the Utah state border.

“What do you think of that little dude there?” James asks the informant, laughing with Jeanne as he hands him a case with the artifact.

“You’re talking about the little, white pendant, right?” Gardiner jokes.

At another point, Jeanne lamented to Gardiner on tape that her husband was “not interested” in the collection of artifacts. According to Jay, she was far more involved in that particular pastime.

Both Jay and Kortlander believe the pendant was used as an excuse by the BLM to falsely indict James on a felony charge – taking an artifact worth less than $1,000 would be a misdemeanor – and gain a high-profile arrest to draw attention to Operation Cerberus. Accomplishing that, Kortlander wrote, they could “take away his medical license and destroy him.”

“They needed to get my father. In my opinion, that was their main goal was to indict my dad on something – it didn’t matter what it was,” Jay said. “By going after a doctor who has a nice house up on a hill, that’s going to make the paper.”

In response to the pendant, federal agents arrived in about a half dozen SUVs to the Redd family residence on June 10, 2009 – the day before James’ death. The Times article states they then “hauled him out of his car at gunpoint, handcuffed him and took him to the garage,” where the family states he was interrogated for about four hours.

Dan Love, formerly the BLM assistant special agent in charge of Operation Cerberus, told the Deseret News in a Sept. 24, 2011 article that James didn’t appear to have any animosity or anger toward law enforcement during questioning. Once the meeting was over, he stated, James and he shook hands, and the physician thanked him for being treated with dignity and respect.

The Redds paint a different picture.

Using recollections from family members, Kortlander wrote that agents called James “a liar to his face multiple times,” asked him “what shovel he liked to dig up bodies with” and told him he “would never practice medicine again.” Jeanne, he wrote, was put in handcuffs by agents, told “your life is over as you know it” and asked three times, “Are you suicidal?”

“Incredibly,” Kortlander added, “the feds did not even take the effigy bird pendant the day of the raid.”

Investigation aftermath

In 2011, the Redd family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Love that also named 15 other members of the BLM and FBI. Though the case made it to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the eventual judgment – filed Feb. 13, 2017 – dismissed the Redd family’s final claim of excessive force by Love.

According to the ruling, the Redds based this claim on the number of agents who raided their house, along with the BLM and FBI’s outward appearance.

“Specifically, it alleges that Agent Love used excessive force by deploying more than 50 agents wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying guns to execute the warrants,” the ruling states. “But the Estate offers no proof that Dr. Redd even saw 50 agents before being transported to Monticello, Utah. Moreover, it doesn’t claim that the agents used excessive force by physically abusing Dr. Redd or pointing firearms at him.”

Though Love received qualified immunity from the lawsuit, he eventually would be ejected from the BLM after an Aug. 24, 2017 report faulted him for official misconduct. This report alleges Love gave moqui marbles seized for evidence away as gifts and directed a subordinate to delete emails that depicted him unfavorably while under official inquiry.

On Feb. 2, Kortlander emailed a BLM representative in an attempt to find Love’s whereabouts. While she stated he was not employed by the agency, she also had “no idea where or if Mr. Love is presently working in any capacity.”

Overall, Operation Cerberus netted 19 guilty pleas: 11 to felonies and eight to misdemeanors. Jeanne Redd – who sold and exchanged artifacts with Gardiner – pleaded guilty to three counts of trafficking in stolen artifacts, and two counts each of theft of tribal property and government property. In addition, Jerrica pleaded guilty to single counts of theft of property from tribal lands, excavation of archaeological artifacts and transportation of archaeological artifacts.

Jeanne was sentenced to 35 months’ probation and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine, while Jerrica was sentenced to 24 months’ probation and a $300 fine. Despite the felony charges, no one caught in the operation went to prison.

“I am...going to take into account the need of the defendant for medical care and emotional care, and support of her family, which I believe are particularly significant in this case,” Waddoups stated of Jeanne in his presentence report on Sept. 16, 2009, adding that she had been cooperative with investigators. “I’m satisfied completely by her statement that this conduct will not be repeated.”

Tipping point

Even with the knowledge of these incidents, Kortlander said he was ready to put his own struggle with the BLM in the past and get back to focusing on the museum. During this period, from 2014 on, he declined comment on his past with the federal government.

Then, a fourth suicide occurred – Robert “Bob” Weaver of Cody, Wyo. died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Dec. 31, 2016, three days after investigators from the BLM and Office of Inspector General arrived to his trailer with a search warrant. The reason of this warrant was to discover whether Weaver, known by friends as “Bob the Geologist,” had been collecting rocks and fossils illegally from public land.

Soon after Kortlander heard of Weaver’s death, he said, he hired a publicist who booked him on more than 40 radio shows in 45 days, where his take on the Garryowen investigation was syndicated on about 1,300 stations nationwide. Through raising awareness of “senseless misconduct” by Department of Interior law enforcement divisions, he stated in a February 2017 letter to the Office of Inspector General, “we possibly could prevent a fifth suicide.”

The News reached out to the Cody Field Office of the BLM for comment and was referred to the agency’s press office. According to the press office, statements regarding cases cited in this story were unavailable.

BLM officials stated their meetings with Weaver had been friendly in tone, according to a Feb. 1, 2017 article by the Cody Enterprise, but his friends believed the investigation had been unnecessarily aggressive and taken an emotional toll.

At the time of his death, one of Weaver’s friends stated, the rock hound was on permanent disability for post-traumatic stress disorder due to the death of his wife from cancer.

Though Kristen Lenhardt, communications chief for BLM Wyoming in Cheyenne, told the Enterprise that Weaver’s death was a tragedy, she defended her organization’s conduct. After all, she stated, “The BLM has the important task of managing and protecting our natural wonders on behalf of all Americans.”

Jack McDonald of Powell, Wyo. – a friend of Weaver’s and retired BLM employee – was more critical.

“What kind of a response would make you want to commit suicide?” he stated to the Enterprise. “They’re going to do everything they can to cover this up. They know something bad happened.”

On Oct. 12, 2017, Kortlander tried to obtain all of the documents pertaining to the Weaver investigation via a Freedom of Information Act request. In December, the BLM asked him for a two-month extension. At press time, he still hasn’t received the documents.

To learn more about or purchase his book, go online to  arrowtotheheartbook.com/book/ . As stated last week, those who would like to comment on the issue for use in the final part of this story may email Editor Andrew Turck  at news@bighorncountynews.com. Federal  agencies who would like their side to be heard are encouraged.

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