Thursday, April 01, 2010

A Matter of Perspective

This is a true story... All the names have been changed to protect the innocent...(or not). It's a story about a strange crime and an even stranger criminal justice system. Enjoy!

A Matter of Perspective

“Is this the reporter who wrote the story about the guy who hiked half the Pacific Crest Trail last summer?” a friendly, male voice asked over the phone.
I had just finished my lunch and was sitting at my desk pondering what I was going to write for the following day’s paper.

“This is her,” I said.

“Well…” he said, “I also hiked the PCT. Only I didn’t just do half. I hiked the entire thing in one year.”

Oh no. Not anther hiker, I thought. “Really?” I said. “By yourself?”

“By myself.”

Although this was impressive, I didn’t want to do another PCT story. I mean, I had just written a PCT story. How could I justify running another one? This kind of dilemma happened often in the small town newspaper where I worked. I would write a feature story about someone doing something impressive, and then other people who did the same thing or better would start coming out of the woodwork.

I exhaled silently. I didn’t like to be rude. Maybe if I just talked to him for a while he’d go away.

“Can I get your name?”

“Patrick Flannigan,” he said.

“Do you live in Siskiyou County?”

“I’m a student at College of the Siskiyous.”

Another college student, I thought. “When did you hike it? Do you have pictures?”

“Lots of them,” he said. “I started at the border of California and Mexico last spring, and ended at the Washington-Canadian border last fall.”

I hesitated. If his story was true, this guy had accomplished a whole lot more than the other college student I had just written about. What could it hurt to interview him? I could at least run a picture and a cutline if the story was pretty much the same.

When he came by the newspaper office the following day, I recognized him immediately. Not because I had met or even seen him before, but because he could be no one else but the man who had hiked the PCT by himself in one year. He looked older than most college students, with gray at his temples and a tanned, lined face. He was extremely tall and thin—about six-feet, five-inches. His smile came easy as he shook my hand.

As he spoke about his year-long adventure, he leaned back in his chair with his long legs stretched out in front of him. He talked about the different parts of the trail, which ones were his favorites and which were more treacherous. He talked about some of the people he had met, and about how he had come close to death when he got caught between a mother bear and her cub while hiking in Washington. The only thing that had saved him was singing a gospel tune while stepping lightly away. He spoke about how he arranged his supplies so that they were mailed to him at different times and town locations near the trail.

He had a lot to say, and I was scribbling down every word.
But Patrick didn’t show his true colors until he began speaking about the reason why he went on the hike.

“I did it to meet and talk to people along the way,” he said.

“Come again?” I said.

“I used the experience to tell people about the Fed and the corruption they’ve brought on our country.”

He didn’t look crazy, but his eyes were serious and he had shifted his body so that he was now leaning forward in his chair.

“Did you say the ‘Fed’?”

“Yes,” Patrick said emphatically. “The Federal Reserve. You do know what the Federal Reserve is, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah—”

“Most people think they know what it is, but they really don’t have a clue. Did you know that the Fed is not part of the U.S. government?”

“No, but--”

“You’re not alone. Most people are completely in the dark about the corrupt system that illegally controls our monetary system.” He was on a roll now, his Pacific Crest Trail stories long vanished. “I learned about all this from an amazing book called The Creature from Jeckle Island, and used my chance meetings on the trail to tell people about it.”

Patrick must have talked for thirty more minutes about the U.S. money system and how it was illegally controlled by a group of private bankers. He spoke about how this group of rich bankers—known as the Federal Reserve—was not elected by the people nor controlled or appointed by Congress.

Although a good journalist would have steered him back to the subject at hand, he had me spellbound.

He spoke with such determiniation that I almost forgot the reason why I was interviewing him. He was a man with a mission… ready to take down the most powerful institution in the world by hiking the PCT and telling his story to a small town newspaper woman. And I was powerless to stop him. Every time I attempted to steer the interview back to the trail, he would steer it back to the Fed. Finally, after spending way more time than I intended to with him, I stood up, stretched, and explained that I had another appointment. He gave me some photographs, eagerly shook my hand, and left.

The following week I ran the story on the outdoors page. It was far more than a photo and cutline, but did not mention anything about the Federal Reserve and his personal quest to take them down.

I figured that was the last time I would hear from Patrick Flannigan.
I was wrong.

About three months later while going through the jail bookings for the morning’s paper, a familiar name jumped out at me: Patrick Flannigan. Could it be? I wondered. Surely there couldn’t be two Patrick Flannigans in Siskiyou County. This Patrick Flannigan had been arrested and booked with a misdemeanor charge of disobeying a peace officer in the line of duty.

I immediately called the sheriff’s office and talked to the public information officer.

Officer Denton let out a frustrated sigh when I mentioned Patrick’s name. He didn’t have to look anything up and get back with me. He knew who Patrick was. Apparently everyone in the station knew about the incident.

“What was he doing to disobey an officer?” I asked. “I’ve met this guy. He doesn’t seem like the type to get arrested.”

“Yeah, well, he was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt and he refused to sign the ticket,” Denton said.

“That’s illegal?” I asked.

“Yep.”

“So he was arrested?”

“Yep. He was warned and given every opportunity to comply. But he refused. So we were obligated to take him in.”

“Is he still in jail?”

“Yep. You’ll have to check the court proceedings to see when he goes before the judge.”

****

Patrick was in jail for two days before seeing the judge to state how he would plead. The judicial system couldn’t release him because he wouldn’t sign any paperwork promising to appear. On the day of his arraignment he was wearing an orange jumpsuit with his hands cuffed in front of him. When the judge called his name, he stood. There was no lawyer by his side.

“Mr. Flannigan, am I to understand that you denied your right to an attorney?” The judge asked, looking from the paperwork on his bench to Patrick and then back to the paperwork.

Patrick said nothing.

“Will you be representing yourself?” the judge asked.

Again nothing.

“All right then. I will determine your silence as an affirmative,” the judge said. “Now, Mr. Flannigan, how do you plead?”

Silence.

“By not answering me, I will have to determine that you are pleading not guilty.”

Not a word.

“Let the court be aware that Mr. Flannigan is pleading not guilty to the misdemeanor charge of disobeying a peace officer in the line of duty. Will November 15 work for the pretrial hearing?”

Patrick stood in silence, his eyes fixed on the judge.

“I’ll take your silence as a yes,” the judge said. “Let the court be aware that the pretrial hearing for Mr. Patrick Flannigan is set for Nov. 15 at 1 p.m.”

The gavel went down.

As Patrick was escorted from the courtroom there were audible whispers from a group of men sitting together in the audience. I followed them out of the courtroom and into the hallway.

A short man in his early sixties with a slow southern drawl and several missing teeth was laughing as I walked up to them.

“He’s got them,” the man was saying with obvious glee. The few teeth he had left in his mouth made clicking sounds when he talked. “They’re hanging themselves. Not only do they have no legal contract to hold him, but now they’re putting words into his mouth. He hasn’t given them any jurisdiction over him, but they’re completely ignoring that.”

The man looked over at me and smiled. “Did you see what went on in there, young lady?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Are you friends of his?”

“Yes we are,” the man said. “My name’s Ted Nelson and this is Dell and John. Are you from the newspaper?”

I had heard of Ted Nelson. Another reporter had warned me about him.

“He’s an anarchist and is completely deranged,” she had told me. “He’s full of hate and has the worst set of teeth I’ve ever seen. I think he files them into fangs.”

But Ted Nelson didn’t seem deranged to me. Despite his unfortunate dental situation, his smile was warm and friendly. And his eyes twinkled.

I introduced myself and told them I knew Patrick from the feature story I had written a few months before.

“I was shocked to see that he was arrested,” I confessed. “So I decided to come by and check it out.”

“Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s not in any trouble,” Ted said, laughing. “Now the county, they’re the ones who are going to be in trouble if they don’t let him go.”

I guess I must have looked confused because Nelson started explaining common law to me-- a concept I had never before heard of. He said common law was the basis for the U.S. Constitution. However, he said that it had been illegally replaced by code law, which was unconstitutional because it violated the tenants of common law. For Patrick, it all had to do with jurisdiction. As long as he remained silent, Ted said the county had no jurisdiction over him and he remained under common law, which gave the county no right to convict or hold him under code law.

My head was spinning as I tried to make sense of it. The pretrial was bound to be interesting.

It came eighteen days later. Patrick had now been in jail for three weeks. He was still dressed in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffed when he stood before the judge. He said nothing as the district attorney made his case for trial. The judge agreed with the DA and set the trial date for the following week.

The same group of men were standing outside the courtroom when it was over.

“Now the DA’s perjured himself,” Nelson said, grinning his toothless smile. “This keeps getting better. When Patrick finally gets out he’s going to have a million dollar lawsuit to file against the county.”

*****

The trial didn’t happen for two more weeks. All the while, Patrick sat and waited in the county jail. On the day of the trial, the arresting officer was called as the chief witness. He was a young man with a baby face and short hair. He was dressed in full uniform, including a bullet proof vest that gave his chest a hard, robotic look. As he explained the events that led up to Patrick’s arrest, it sounded as if he were reading rehearsed lines.

“While he was driving I suspected that he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt because I didn’t see the shoulder strap through the window,” the officer explained. “When I pulled him over and wrote out the ticket, he refused to sign it.”

“How many times did you ask him to sign the ticket?” the district attorney asked.

“I asked him five times. Each time he shook his head and refused,” the officer explained. “I then warned him that he would be arrested if he did not sign the ticket. He still refused.”

“So then you arrested him?” The DA said.

“Yes sir,” the officer said. “He gave me no choice.”

“Did he resist in any way?” The DA asked.

“Only by refusing to sign the ticket,” the officer said.

“That’s all I have,” the DA said.

“Would the defense like to cross examine the witness?” the judge asked.

Patrick leaned back in his chair and smiled.

The judge looked annoyed.

“Let the court be aware that Mr. Flannigan has no cross examination. Are there any more witnesses?” he asked the DA.

The DA answered no. Patrick said nothing. He was looking out the window. There was no jury, just the judge. And it didn’t take him long to determine that Patrick was guilty. The DA recommended that Patrick serve a sentence of time already served. The judge agreed and Patrick was set free after being in the county jail for over a month.

*****

I’m not exactly sure how long Patrick and Ted Nelson worked on his lawsuit against Siskiyou County, the judge, the district attorney, and the sheriff’s department. I know they held special law meetings with other folks who were also fighting battles against the county. And I know Patrick ran into roadblocks at every turn when he finally finished the paperwork. Whether unconstitutional or not, this code law seemed to be recognized by all the federal courts and judges wherever his lawsuit landed.

Each time a federal judge denied his lawsuit, Patrick would add their name to the list of who he was suing. I imagine that list got pretty long after awhile.

Years later, I heard that Patrick eventually moved to Oregon, found a nice girlfriend, and got a job working for a government bureaucracy.

Somehow, that didn't sit well with me. I hope it's just a vicious rumor.

3 comments:

cinderkeys said...

Well, shoot. That story was going to make my libertarian friends feel all warm and fuzzy, right until the end. Would love to know how he wound up where he did.

I think you should hunt him down and fill in the blanks. :)

kylben said...

As one of Susan's libertarian friends, it does put a smile on my face. I have serious disagreements with the "common law" hyper-legalistic crowd of libertarians, for philosophical reasons too involved to get into here. But, anytime someone stands peacefully on principle, I do get the warm and fuzzies.

It's meaningless in the big picture, but in this one small case, for all the people who were witness to it, he was able to lay bare one small bit of hypocrisy without saying a word. He refused to accept premises that few people ever realize are even premises, that are almost universally accepted without question.

I too would like to hear the later story filled out.

Lori Sellstrom said...

The ending is ironic, no doubt. And I'm thinking about adding a little more to it, but not sure how to tackle it. Maybe with my own feelings about the thing. How I hope it isn't true... that the "Patrick" I knew was somehow still fighting for what he believed in so strongly, filing his lawsuit over and over... etc. I still may do this because he certainly did make an impression. It seems a shame he would lay it all down just to earn a living ;)
In any event, this is not the only story about "Patrick." It seemed that whenever there was some kind of injustice in the winds, he was somehow involved. So stay tuned! And thanks for reading!