Shane Farrell Thomas has become a pain in the backsides of Oklahoma County judges and court officials whose jurisdiction he refuses to recognize.
Thomas, 37, a self-described ‘sovereign' American, is among a growing number of people nationwide who don't recognize the government's authority to impose laws or taxes.
“We know they are in Oklahoma because we see and hear about their paper activity in our court system,” said Tamara Pratt, deputy director of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City. “That's their method of operation.”
‘Sovereign citizens' such as Thomas, a defendant in multiple embezzlement cases, usually represent themselves in court, filing nonsensical paperwork on their own behalf.
“They like to flood the courts with false liens against public officials,” Pratt said, adding that ‘sovereigns' don't pay taxes, create false license plates and driver's licenses and sometimes make currency as a means of defiance.
Demands a trial
On Friday, Thomas was taken into custody by courthouse deputies before the start of his preliminary hearing. An arrest warrant for Thomas was issued after he failed to appear for a previous hearing.
Handcuffed and with his mother in tow, the Del City man reappeared before Oklahoma County Special Judge Larry A. Jones and promptly asked the judge to remove himself from the case.
“My rights have been violated,” said Thomas, citing outdated state and federal laws as a basis for his defense. “I demand a trial by a jury of my peers.”
Jones fired back, telling Thomas a counterclaim he filed that names the judge as a defendant has no merit because “there is no such creature” in criminal cases.
“The arguments you're making today are nonsensical and not relevant to these proceedings,” the judge told Thomas. “You're clueless.”
Thomas, a contractor, is accused in four felony cases of embezzling more than $100,000 from friends and neighbors who paid him to complete home repairs, court records show.
One of those alleged victims is an 80-year-old neighbor of Thomas whose roof was damaged in a fire. Monte Wampler agreed to pay Thomas $34,000 for the work and cut him a check for $27,000 to pay for materials and subcontractors, records show.
Another alleged victim said he paid Thomas $25,000 for an attic conversion that was never completed. Chase Anderson, of Oklahoma City, characterized Thomas as a “predator” and a “used car salesman.”
“This is an opportunity for him to be stopped,” said Anderson, who attended Thomas' hearing with another alleged victim.
Thomas, who referred to himself in court papers filed this week as “a living son of our Father God” and “one of the sovereign people of Oklahoma,” declined to comment about his beliefs or the rights of his alleged victims outside of court.
“We don't recognize him as anything more than a criminal defendant,” District Attorney David Prater said Friday.
As of 2011, there were an estimated 100,000 “hard-core sovereign believers” in the United States and another 200,000 testing “sovereign” techniques by resisting everything from speeding tickets to drug charges, according to statistics provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry.
Prater said he's seen a resurgence of “sovereign citizens” during the past two years.
“They have the potential to be violent,” he said.
The terrorism institute is charged with training police officers to recognize and respond to terrorism warnings and indicators and record suspicious activity that may or may not be terrorism related.
“The real challenge here is to try and separate those that are dangerous from those who are angry,” Pratt said of “sovereigns.”
As for Thomas, his preliminary hearing was continued until June.
He likely will represent himself after his public defender told the judge he intended to remove himself from the case.
Jones appointed the public defender after telling Thomas he didn't think he was competent to represent himself.