I had an argument about the last arrest of John Kieffer, not being that supportive myself. This is the kind of bullshit that makes me angry and gets me to throw my support behind, because this arrest is an example of theocracy using its weight to get their way in our country.
Atheist says arrest baseless, questions timing
By STEVE STEINER
Saturday, March 12, 2011
(This is the first of a series on the arrest of EllenBeth Wachs, a
member and officer with Atheists of Florida, a Tampa-based organization.)
There is no question in EllenBeth Wachs' mind. Although she would be
hard pressed to prove it, she is convinced her arrest and the charges
Wachs, who lives in a gated community just outside Lakeland city limits,
was arrested March 3 in what she termed a surprise raid on her home. She
was charged by State Attorney Jerry Hill's office with practicing law
without a license, a charge Wachs emphatically denies.
"They knocked on the door and asked me to step outside," said Wachs, who
said she did as requested. "They told me I was under arrest." When she
asked what was she being charged with, it was then she learned she was
being arrested for illegally posing as an attorney.
The ferocity of her arrest caught her off-guard, she said. She estimated
there were anywhere from 10-15 officers and a similar number of squad cars.
"Some (law enforcement officials) were in civilian clothes, some in
uniforms," she said. "The street was lined with patrol cars." Wachs
added the uniformed officers were bedecked in SWAT-style regalia instead
of standard uniforms.
If there were any law enforcement officials in SWAT-style gear, it
wasn't LEOs with the State Attorney's Office, said Chip Thullbery, an
assistant state attorney
and the SAO media spokesman. According to Thullbery, its officers are
clad in civilian clothes, most often jackets, shirts and ties. However,
they are permitted to carry firearms. Thullbery said that because he was
not there, he could not comment further on how LEOs with the Polk County
Sheriff's Office were dressed.
PCSO Chief of Staff Steve Lester would neither confirm nor deny how PCSO
deputies were clad. PCSO deputies and not Lakeland police officers
assisted with the arrest because Wachs lives outside city limits.
When asked whether the number of officers and squad cars sent was
justified, he said he was he was not aware of the exact number sent.
Thullbery added that regardless the number of LEOs assigned to that or
any arrest, the number selected are an effort to err on the side of
safety and caution, not only for the person being arrested, but also for
neighbors and law enforcement personnel.
Searching the premises
LEOs also had a warrant to search her home and they seized a number of
items. Wachs said she believed the search was conducted in a calculated,
destructive manner, and said officers did not limit their search to her
home, but also her car. Although she was read the search warrant, Wachs
said she hardly remembered anything at all as she said she was in a
state of shock over being arrested. Nor did she remember whether the
warrant stated that LEOs would also search her vehicle.
To the best of her knowledge, LEOs confiscated computers, her cell phone
and iPod (which were stated as to be searched for in the warrant, and
included any documents, whether in digital or hard copy form). However
that is not what she found most disturbing. When she returned home after
making bond, she claimed she came home to a house in utter chaos. It
more closely resembled a rampage conducted by burglars than a search by
law enforcement, she said. Desk and dresser drawers were pulled out and
left on the floor, clothing and intimate apparel tossed, her bed
stripped and other furniture and belongings in a state of disarray.
"They opened my car; left the car doors open, the trunk open," she said.
"They trashed my bed. They left the place in shambles. They even left
every single light on in the house."
Their behavior exceeded what they supposedly were searching for and
clearly was unprofessional, and included inappropriate comments about
her lifestyle, said John Kieffer, the president of AoF. He learned about
the arrest and search from a reporter (with another publication), who
contacted him about Wachs's arrest. At first, Kieffer thought the
reporter was confused, thinking it was Wachs who had been arrested the
week prior at a protest staged over the giving of an invocation at the
Feb. 22 Polk County School Board public session. In fact, Kieffer told
the reporter, he had spoken with Wachs just a couple of hours earlier,
so he was unaware of Wachs's arrest. He estimated it was about 1 p.m.,
when he was first contacted. Kieffer immediately left Tampa to get to
Lakeland and was appalled by what he witnessed.
"It looked like an invasion. It looked like a combat raid," he said of
his impression of the scene. There were at least 15-18 officers and "at
least a dozen unmarked vehicles," he said. With the exception of a few
people wearing jackets, shirts and ties, the rest were dressed in what
Kieffer termed paramilitary outfits, with combat boots, flak jackets and
the like. "I did not see a standard sheriff's officer uniform."
Thullbery could not respond to the allegation the search had been
carried out in either an intrusive or destructive manner. He added each
search warrant conducted differs.
"If you're looking for papers, you're going to have to look through
drawers," he said, but that in some situations it would not be necessary
to pull drawers out and dump the contents.
A question also exists as to which law enforcement agency carried out
the search warrant. Lester would neither verify nor deny it was the PCSO.
"This was not our arrest, it's not our case, it's the state attorney's
arrest," he said. "It would be inappropriate for us to comment on their
case." As for whether inappropriate comments about Wachs were made,
Lester would only say that the PCSO had been requested to assist in the
search warrant and had no other information beyond that.
"I don't even think we knew who we were searching."
Wachs wondered whether items not included in the warrant might also have
"That's a good question," she said when asked what, if any other, items
may have been taken, and before some of her property had been returned
later Wednesday afternoon, March 9. She said the inventory list she was
given when her computer and cell phone were returned was sparse. In
response, Thullbery later said if she believed items were seized that
should not have been taken, that she could make a motion to suppress.
Conflict of interest?
Thullbery did not believe a conflict of interest existed by having the
PCSO conduct the forensic investigation of items seized from Wachs's
home. The Atheists of Florida were looking into filing a potential
lawsuit against the PCSO. That possible lawsuit stemmed from the AoF's
protest of donations of basketball equipment made by the PCSO.
The potential lawsuit stemmed from an incident that occurred in December
2010, when Sheriff Grady Judd ordered the dismantling of basketball
equipment at county jails. They were donated to eight churches in Polk
The AoF took exception that it considered the donations a direct
violation of the Florida and U.S. Constitutions. It also requested the
PCSO immediately cease and desist the practice, that it's "only
objection was limited to the transfer of taxpayer assets to directly
benefit religious organizations" (The following is cited in the arrest
"We do not want to even create the impression we would slow down or
delay the investigation," Lester said. He added that the PCSO had indeed
been conducting its forensic examination with all deliberateness for
just that reason, and had done so from the beginning of the search and
(Part two will address the nature of the charge, how it arose, who was
interviewed by the State Attorney's Office and what they said that led
to the decision that "probable cause" existed that warranted the arrest
of EllenBeth Wachs.)This is the first of a series on the arrest of
EllenBeth Wachs, a member and officer with Atheists of Florida, a