Former Irwindale Reserve Police Officer Glenn Yee was sentenced to 16 months in prison on June 10 in Los Angeles, the stiffest sentence meted out so far in the case brought against four members of a gun club accused of plotting terrorist attacks around the Southland.
Yee, who patrolled Irwindale in uniform on a part-time basis, and two other men - Mark Grand and Timothy Swanson of Los Angeles - entered pleas of no contest to weapons charges. Grand and Swanson were sentenced just to probation, but all three contend they were falsely protrayed as militia plotters by officers in the LAPD's Anti-Terror Division (ATD). The fourth defendant, Alvin Ung, awaits trial in San Bernardino County.
The self-described gun enthusiasts were members of a shooting group called the Southern California Marksmen's Association (SCMA), which they assert professed no political philosophy. They were arrested after a dawn sweep of residences, work sites and a storage locker in May 1997. LAPD and ATD brass called a press conference to announce the bust, displaying an arsenal of seized weaponry, including several machine guns, which they said were stockpiled for violent terrorist attacks.
"Countless lives were saved as a result of these raids," police officials told Cable News Network, adding, "A militia cell has been brought to its knees." But prosecutors never pressed terrorism or conspiracy charges - and the defendants say the charges were trumped up solely to justify LAPD excess.
Glenn Yee faced yet another allegation at his sentencing hearing - that he had engaged in plots to assassinate a local militia activist. According to L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Eugene Monaghan Jr., Yee was captured on tape, "jokingly or not," saying, "Let's whack [the activist] either by a head shot at 40 yards or putting a grenade in his car."
Yee attorney Chuck Michel objected repeatedly at the hearing, contending that Yee was trying to stave off an overzealous undercover officer by humoring him, and that the prosecutor was selectively using evidence that both the D.A. and the L.A. City Attorney's Office had withheld from the defense. Superior Court Judge Craig E. Veals waved off the objections, once answering Michel's protest that the D.A. had never shown him an exhibit, "You're seeing it now, counselor."
The case is closed for now, but Michel is challenging Yee's sentence, and attorneys for the gun buffs have filed separate federal lawsuits that they believe will yet show their clients were framed. The three defendants agreed to stop fighting the prosecutions, their lawyers say, only because they were stripped of their ability to mount a defense. "We are talking about prosecutorial misconduct to the degree that they were left with no choice but to take a plea," said attorney Michael Stoller, who filed the suits on behalf of the four men and the wives of Yee and Grand.
The federal suits name as defendants the LAPD, the city attorney, the district attorney, the Police Commission and numerous individuals within those agencies. They also allege that the D.A. and the city attorney colluded to withhold evidence.
The suits seek to throw the focus of the case back on the LAPD's Anti-Terrorist Division, the quasi-secret unit that carried out the investigation. At the time of the arrests last year, according to the lawsuits, the ATD was on the verge of being disbanded; officers needed to break a sensational case in order to preserve the unit.
The ATD was born in controversy in 1983, when it was formed from the discredited Public Disorder Intelligence Division, itself disbanded by court order after it was shown to have spied on scores of progressive activists and political figures. The ATD's investigative scope was strictly limited, but the Police Commission relaxed the unit's original guidelines in 1996. Nevertheless, the lawsuits claim the ATD violated its own rules when it investigated the SCMA, which Yee and his co-defendants say was organized for earthquake and riot "preparedness" and firearms practice.
The lawsuits focus on the role of two cops who allegedly acted as "agents provocateurs" by attempting - unsuccessfully - to goad the SCMA into various illegal acts. Queried this week, the LAPD said neither officer is "on our current roster," but did not respond to questions about whether the men had been officers. One of the men, Doug Stice, was identified in court by the prosecutor as a "sworn officer." Stice was an ATD undercover officer who first made contact with the SCMA in January 1996, when some acquaintances brought him to a club meeting, according to court papers and interviews with Yee and Swanson. Stice posed as Andrew Nelson, a fellow gun enthusiast and manager of the electronics department of the Target store in Pacoima.
In early 1997, Yee said in an interview, Stice suggested killing Stephen King, who operates a Web site for the "California Militia." Yee said he learned that King was a white supremacist and was badmouthing the SCMA in cyberspace, and asked him to stay away from the organization.
Soon after, according to King, Yee and another man who knows all three of them, Stice got into an e-mail spat with King. Then, Yee recounted, Stice phoned and said he "want[ed] to go out and whack this guy." Yee said Stice phoned him at least three more times to discuss killing King. "He said he wanted to use my rifle, and I said, 'Use your own rifle.'"
Yee said he became uneasy with Stice's preoccupation and wondered, "Why he's telling all this to a cop." After a final conversation, during which Yee said he was trying to "humor" Stice, he called other group members and expressed concern that Stice was "a loose cannon." The lawsuits say Stice's behavior was a major factor in the decision, in April 1997, to disband the SCMA.
That month, Yee and Swanson assert in court papers, Stice went on vacation to Virginia. When he phoned from there, asking Mark Grand about the outcome of an SCMA meeting, Grand said the group was breaking up. Stice quickly returned to California and began pressing Yee to organize one more shooting practice in Burro Canyon in the Angeles National Forest. "He said he hadn't shot for a while and was experiencing withdrawals," said Yee.
"He asked, 'Can you get all the guys together tomorrow or Tuesday?' I said, 'Everybody works.'" Yee said he finally got a few people together for Thursday, May 8. They were arrested before dawn the next day.
The second "provocateur," a cop named Dave Ralph, is allegedly a uniformed LAPD officer whom the federal lawsuits allege helped form the SCMA in mid-1995. Ralph quit the group in late 1996.
Swanson and Yee describe Ralph as an anti-immigration activist who was "real tight" with Glenn Spencer, a leader of Voices of Citizens Together, a San Fernando Valley-based group that backed Proposition 187 (the 1994 ballot measure to deny state services to undocumented immigrants). The pair said Ralph asked the SCMA to provide security for a demonstration Spencer planned, but the SCMA refused because its members didn't want to be involved in politics.
Spencer confirmed in an interview that he knew Ralph as a cop who has attended VCT meetings. "He's one of our members," Spencer said.
Ralph's political activism, whether it flowed from the heart or from Parker Center, extended at least as far as Glendale's KIEV talk radio. KIEV staff identify the LAPD officer as one of three individuals who aired a program on gun owners' rights that was "very proactive on the Second Amendment." The program went off the air in January 1996.
The lawsuits say Ralph tried "to connect the SCMA with a 'right-wing' political group within the city limits of Los Angeles, in order to justify and legitimatize the ongoing illegal undercover investigation."
Ralph subsequently proposed something more ominous, according to Yee: "One day Dave Ralph arrived and he said, 'What do you think about doing a real operation? We'll go to South-Central and see what happens and we'll take extra guns. Guaranteed we'll get into it with the indigenous population.' Everyone thought that was a lame idea," said Yee. Ralph quit the group soon after, Yee said.
The original court-imposed guidelines for the ATD did not allow officers to infiltrate organizations undercover or to propose illegal activities. Officers had "an obligation not to create a situation where they can make arrests," said Dan Stormer, a civil rights attorney who took part in negotiating the ATD's original guidelines. "They have no right to create a scenario." The current guidelines could not be reviewed because they were recently classified as top-secret.
According to the lawsuits filed by the SCMA members, the ATD in 1997 was an outfit in survival mode, ready to "concoct" a "fraudulent investigation" to "justify its own existence." The plaintiffs' court papers contend that "The ATD was . . . being threatened by superiors . . . with dissolution in light of the fact that ATD had not produced any arrests or significant intelligence regarding domestic terrorism." Attorney Stoller said in an interview that he has information supporting that assertion. An LAPD spokesperson said he "could not verify" that the ATD was in jeopardy of disbanding.
The plaintiffs are also seeking damages against the prosecutors in the SCMA case. Stoller accuses the D.A.'s Office of "prosecutorial misconduct," for allowing the cops to withhold evidence. On April 21, as Yee was standing before Judge Veals to enter his guilty plea, Deputy D.A. Monaghan conceded that the original prosecutor on the case filed the case "under some circumstances that I certainly wouldn't have allowed . . . that apparently not the investigating officer, but their superiors within the [LAPD] indicated to the city attorney that they wanted to invoke a privilege . . . to not allow certain evidence to be used in a prosecution. Why my office agreed to that, I don't really know."
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Monaghan declined when asked outside the courtroom to elaborate on that comment.
Eight of Yee's colleagues from the Irwindale Police Department turned up to testify on his behalf at the sentencing hearing, including Yee's commander, along with 26 friends and relatives. Only three officers were allowed to testify; one was Shan Jenkins.
In his testimony, Jenkins said Yee's main motivation in training "was the L.A. riots - people stealing arms from sporting-goods stores." During a break in the proceedings, Jenkins said he shot with the SCMA at Burro Canyon and the members impressed him as "not at all" political - simply "a group of guys that liked to shoot together." Other Irwindale officers testified that they frequently discussed the prospect of facing firearms stolen in the 1992 civil unrest, firepower superior to their own.
Judge Veals was unimpressed, commenting audibly during a bench conference that he was struck that, "These guys had all kinds of weapons and ammunition." Veals then imposed on Yee the "low-based term" of 16 months. As Michel objected and two ATD officers grinned, Veals issued his ruling. And before bailiffs could take him into custody, Yee walked by himself through the prisoner door.