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Speeding Ticket Costs Sovereign Man His Life

A 2012 traffic stop and subsequent attempts to pay the fine with non-government-sanctioned counterfeit bills leads to the arrival this week of the sheriff's office SWAT team and the shooting death of a man inside his parents' home.

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An armed Navarre man killed early Saturday morning during a standoff with the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office claimed to have ties with an FBI-designated domestic terrorist organization, authorities said.

Jeffrey Allen Wright, 55, told Santa Rosa Sheriff’s told deputies repeatedly he was a “sovereign citizen” and threatened them during a four-hour confrontation that ended when he pointed a gun at SWAT Team officers who opened fire, Sheriff’s Office said.

According to an online FBI briefing paper, followers of the Sovereign Citizen Movement are “anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or ‘sovereign’ from the United States. As a result, they believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement.”

The FBI briefing paper notes that sovereign citizens have used “fake money orders, personal checks, and the like at government agencies, banks, and businesses.”

In fact, the fatal standoff began Friday evening when deputies came to serve Wright on felony warrants on five counts of counterfeiting and five counts of passing a counterfeit bill, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The charges stemmed from Wright’s arrest after he was stopped for speeding on East Bay Boulevard in Navarre Sept. 28.

According to a Sheriff’s Office report, Wright was arrested for resisting an officer and obstruction of justice after refusing to provide a driver’s license or step out of his vehicle when instructed to do so. While pulled over by officers, Wright handed them a document entitled an “Affidavit of Reservation of Rights,” according to a Sheriff’s Office report.

The phony document is characteristic of fraudulent filings often used by members of the sovereign citizens movement, according to the FBI.

He was also charged for not having a valid tag and registration and his vehicle was towed to a body shop.

In October, deputies arrived at the scene of Navarre Paint and Body where Wright’s vehicle was being held. While at the scene, Wright told officers that he was a sovereign citizen and that U.S. currency was illegal. Officers also received a call from Navarre Paint and Body that the business had received threatening phone calls from Wright.

According to a Sheriff’s Office report released Monday, Wright tried to pay the Santa Rosa County Clerk’s Office in October for his citations on five occasions with money orders and coupons he fabricated.

One money order submitted for payment stated it was “not valid for more than ‘Fifteen million, one hundred thousand dollars,’” the report said.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Scott Haines said Wright was a “self-proclaimed” sovereign citizen and had once told a deputy that he "denounced his U.S. citizenship."

Members of the movement have been charged in the slayings of law enforcement officers in Louisiana and Arkansas during the past three years, the FBI said.

The lengthy stand-off between Wright and law enforcement began around 9:45 Friday night when Wright barricaded himself inside his home in the 6500 block of Avenida de Galvez as deputies attempted to serve him the warrants.

According to a Sheriff’s Office news release, Wright pulled a black object from his pocket that appeared to be a firearm, and fled to the second floor of his garage and barricaded the stairway.

Wright refused to come out of the garage and fired off one gunshot, telling officers, he was “not a U.S. citizen, but a sovereign citizen and that he would not be a servant of the king,” according to the Sheriff’s Office. He also told the deputies that “if you ever want to see your families again, you will leave.”

Sometime later, the Sheriff's SWAT team was called out. The situation escalated as the Wright refused to speak with negotiators. The SWAT team deployed gas into the second story of the garage, and Wright began to break out windows with a semi-automatic pistol, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

At one point, Wright began to remove items from the entrance he had barricaded and sat at the top of the stairs with a handgun. According to the Sheriff’s Office, while refusing to surrender, he pointed the pistol at a SWAT team member.

SWAT team officers Sgt. Nathan Hall, Deputy Brian Miller and Detective Jerry Nash shot at Wright simultaneously.
Wright was pronounced dead at the scene.

“It’s unfortunate that we ended up taking a life, but anytime, anyone threatens deadly force, we have to take the necessary action to protect,” Haines said.

Hall, Miller and Nash are on paid administrative leave, as is standard practice for shooting incidents involving officers. The case is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

It was a violent end of a life that began with so much promise, said the man's mother, Carole Wright, on Tuesday.

After graduating from the University of West Florida in 1976, the son of a Navy officer moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in the film industry.

For the next 30 years, Wright worked as a grip, a lighting and rigging expert, for studios in Los Angeles, she said.

“That is what he wanted to do,” Carole Wright recalled of her son. “He worked with Danny DeVito, Dustin Hoffman.”

But that dream came to an abrupt halt in 2009, when Wright suffered a stroke, impairing his speech, and temporarily impairing his ability to walk, his mother said. The devastating blow left Wright, who never married or had children, unable to work or support himself.

In 2011, at his parents insistence, he returned to Navarre to live with them.

It was at then, that Carole Wright noticed a change in her son’s usually caring and helpful disposition.

“He could be happy,” she recalled. “But ever since he came back home, he was getting more and more depressed.”

The depression worsened as Wright spent years searching for steady work to no avail.

Wright said she watched her son who once relished in helping others become increasingly isolated, spending much of his time in front of the computer, researching information on the Sovereign Citizen Movement.

“He was on his computer all the time,” she said. “He was inundated with all this information. It seemed to warp his mind.”