Editor’s Note: The following article is based upon the testimony of the raid victim. Montana Gazette has contacted Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino, who is expected to appear on Montana Gazette Radio later this week to address the raid from a law enforcement perspective.
On March 15th, 2021, the Montana Daily Gazette published an article exposing federal overreach that occurred during a raid that took place near Marion, Montana, in February of 2021.
The article details how an American citizen was raided by the ATF in the early morning hours and why early warning measures and a cool-headed response by the resident could well have prevented unnecessary casualties.
Since the publication of the aforementioned article, readers from around the nation have been asking questions about the raid. While some readers deny the event ever happened, others claim to have special insight, and finally, some look at the ATF’s actions as proof that something must be done now to right this wrong.
Several media outlets have published follow-up articles or reposted the link to the Montana Daily Gazette article (1) (2), and it is only through those grassroots efforts that knowledge about this raid has gone national.
Yet despite the exposure of this raid, many in law enforcement remain silent about what happened and why. Citizens of Montana are standing by for answers but are getting few.
The most common questions seen so far are:
1. Why was the house raided?
2. Who turned them in?
3. What agencies were involved?
4. What role did the Sheriff’s office have?
5. What was seized from the home?
6. What charges were/are in place?
7. Who signed off on a no-knock raid under these circumstances? (Unknown at this point)
This article will address each question given the best information at hand, but the answers cannot completely explain some aspects of the story as there are ongoing legal proceedings.
The victim’s house was raided because the victim’s ex-girlfriend in North Carolina filed restraining orders against him. Then, the ex-girlfriend further claimed that the victim was sending nude photos to her, claims which were later turned into felony warrants against the victim.
In Montana, the charges would result in a misdemeanor, but in North Carolina, it’s a felony even though it’s the lowest class of felony warrants in the state.
The ATF claimed that the felony made the victim a non-permissive gun owner. The victim has a Federal Firearms License (FFL), a Special Occupational Tax (SOT) license that allows him to own fully automatic weapons and noise suppressors, and other licenses for a variety of weapons and powders.
The victim is not the only FFL holder in the home either, and the actual homeowner has a legitimate business license in Montana and every right to maintain the weapons in the home.
In fact, there are only four reasons why a lawful gun-owner becomes a non-permissive gun-owner when it comes to restraining orders. The victim does not fit ANY of the following criteria:
1. Subject is a convicted felon
2. Subject has been convicted of domestic violence (even a misdemeanor charge counts)
3. Subject has been adjudicated as having a mental disorder
4. Subject is “intimate partner”
An intimate partner is described as one who is continuously living with the other, shares bills and finances, and gets mail at the same address. The victim, in this case, does not meet the intimate partner clause as he maintains and receives mail at his own address and manages his own finances and bills.
The victim has proof to validate the facts outlined above by way of lease agreements and other documents. The claim of intimate partner status was used to justify this raid, but the facts will show that this claim is simply inaccurate.
The identity of the person who turned the victim in remains unclear. But a fact discovered later is that the ex-girlfriend has a history of abusing restraining orders and a history of behavioral health issues.
Chances are that the ex-girlfriend is likely the sole source and cause of not only the restraining orders but the alleged nude photos that resulted in felony warrants.
The entire scenario will take some time to sort out as evidence collection and legal proceedings are still ongoing at this time.
The agencies involved in the raid included the ATF, the DEA, and the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office. It is not clear if other agencies were involved, as these were the only agencies that were on the ground during the raid.
The Sheriff’s office’s involvement was limited, but they did know of the raid. The Flathead County Sheriff did not want to execute the raid in the manner the ATF desired but preferred a simple traffic stop or phone call.
The original date of the raid was scheduled to be on inauguration day, January 20th. But the Sheriff requested a delay in the raid until a later date. Whether the Sheriff challenged the ATF on the charges or the victim’s weapons ownership status is not known, as of the writing of this article.
On the day of the raid, the only visible involvement from the Sheriff’s department was two deputies who were posted ¼ mile down the driveway, one of whom later took the victim into custody and transferred him to the Flathead County jail.
While incarcerated, the victim was interviewed and told that part of the reason for concern was that he threatened law enforcement three days before the raid. However, the victim was in Oregon until the night before the raid and does not know any threats leveled at any time, much less three days before the raid. The victim was released on his own recognizance a few days later, as he was clearly not a threat. *
After entering the victim’s home, the ATF confiscated legally owned weapons and ammunition while also disconnecting all surveillance devices and erasing the victim’s hard drives. Not all areas searched were on warrants, and as all surveillance was disconnected it is unknown if they confiscated anything other items. The weapons are stored in Missoula pending completion of legal proceedings.
A neighbor of the victim, and the victim himself, received a notice in the mail that listed the items confiscated, but it only contained about 20% of what was taken. It should be noted that the other home resident is also a legal owner of the seized weapons and her legitimate claim is moving through the courts as this article is being written.
Currently, there are no gun or federal charges filed against the victim, but the feds have five years to file them. The felony warrants are for allegedly sending nude pictures without invitation, a charge that is being adjudicated now because the specifics for how these warrants were justified or based on any actual proof remain under investigation.
Additionally, all court dates were continuously delayed due to COVID, and the victim did not know that there were any charges or warrants against him until the morning of the raid.
Agents were also led to believe that the property was covered in booby-traps and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Sadly, it was not until agents already breached the house in two locations and created significant damage that this fact was determined to be false.
Although all the details are not yet known about the raid, it is clear that the rules of proportionality were not applied here. Simply put, a low-level felony in North Carolina that equates to a misdemeanor in Montana does not justify a full ATF raid perpetrated by numerous agents flown into Montana from around the country.
Adding to the overall injustice of the raid is the fact that the victim has no criminal history or mental illness history. Moreover, he has served his nation faithfully in a variety of ways over the years.
In addition to the victim, two other lives were placed at risk as a result of the raid, not counting the potential harm to the lives of the numerous ATF agents. One of the people whose life was put in jeopardy was the eighty-eight-year-old mother of the victim.
The current administration continues to shred the constitution and numerous other principles upon which this nation was founded. This raid provides a cautionary tale to all American citizens who believe the federal government has their best interests in mind.
“We the People” must continue to expose and magnify all cases of government overreach at all levels. Our governments are supposed to work for us and not the other way around.
*The section of the Sheriff’s department is based on knowledge gained during interviews with the victim and unnamed sources in Flathead County, not in direct conversations with the Sheriff’s office.