Man accused of courthouse takeover goes on trial

AP News
Posted: Oct 19, 2011 8:54 PM
Man accused of courthouse takeover goes on trial

A man who said he was part of a Georgia militia told the FBI about his plans to travel with guns to take over a Tennessee courthouse, yet he wasn't arrested until days later, an agent testified Wednesday.

Darren Wesley Huff drove into the East Tennessee town of Madisonville on April 20, 2010, a day after telling FBI agent Charles Reed he was going to take over the courthouse and make citizens' arrests of judges and other officials. Huff encountered heavy police presence that day and drove out of town. Authorities indicated he wasn't arrested then because they didn't want violence to break out.

Ten days later, as he was driving through Knoxville, Huff was arrested.

Reed said he didn't initially arrest Huff at his home in Georgia when Huff told him of his plans because no crime had been committed. Huff told the agent he and others going to Madisonville "would not resort to violence unless they were provoked," Reed testified.

Huff is on trial facing two firearms charges, including a charge of causing a civil disturbance. If convicted of both charges, he could face up to seven years in prison. One charge carries a two-year minimum.

Huff's attorney, Scott Green, said Huff has a permit to carry an AK-47 and a handgun. Huff was within his constitutional right to express his opinions and never caused any disturbance, Green said.

Earlier Wednesday, regional drug task force supervisor Donald Williams, testified that he pulled Huff over for a traffic violation as he was on his way to the courthouse, but he didn't arrest Huff because he had not violated state law.

Huff and about 15 others showed up in Madisonville to support a man who was taken into custody after he tried to put the local grand jury foreman under citizen's arrest when he didn't indict President Barack Obama over a concern about his citizenship.

Mike Hall, who at the time was director of the drug task force, said the presence of about 70 officers likely discouraged Huff and other out-of-towners _ some of them also carrying guns _ from getting violent. He said arresting Huff during the tense situation in the community between Knoxville and Chattanooga could have started a shootout.

"There was a sense of who is going to fight first. It was very tense," Hall said. "Police restraint was more important than anything."

Williams testified that Huff had a loaded Colt .45 in a holster on his hip as well as an AK-47 assault rifle and 200 or 300 rounds of ammunition in a tool box in his truck. He said that as Huff was about to leave the traffic stop he started talking about his "intentions of taking over the Monroe County Courthouse and affecting citizens' arrests."

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"It wasn't a real arrest warrant," Williams said. "He said they had their own grand jury and judge."

Huff told FBI agents he wanted to help Walter Fitzpatrick, a military retiree who was arrested after he tried to put the local grand jury foreman under citizen's arrest. Fitzpatrick, who became hostile to the government two decades ago when he faced a court-martial, is in custody and has been subpoenaed to testify at Huff's trial.

Huff identified himself as the chaplain of the Georgia militia when he was pulled over.

Huff has also identified himself as being involved with the Oath Keepers group. In pre-trial documents, he asked the court to prevent prosecutors from making any reference to those groups kicking him out after he was charged.

Questions about Obama's citizenship have been raised by so-called "birthers." They claimed there's no proof Obama was born in the United States, and he is therefore ineligible to be president. Hawaii officials have certified Obama was born in that state and the U.S. Supreme Court has turned away a challenge to the president's citizenship.

(This version corrects that Williams did not make traffic stop.)