WAVERLY | A relatively minor criminal case in Bremer County has so far produced dozens of documents, spawned a federal lawsuit and drawn the Iowa Attorney General's Office into the fray.
On Dec. 24, 2014, law enforcement officials arrested Billy Fleshner, 34, of Sioux Falls, S.D., on two counts of possession of a dangerous weapon and one count of interference with official acts. Authorities also cited Fleshner for not having a driver's license, for not yielding to an emergency vehicle and for having dark windows on his car.
He is being prosecuted for two counts of carrying weapons, an aggravated misdemeanor. A conviction could mean up to four years in prison.
Officers seized a number of items, including two handguns, a rifle, ammunition and related gear and equipment. They also found printed material linked to radio host Eddie Craig, whose name appears frequently on websites touting the so-called "sovereign citizen" anti-government movement.
In a recent email to The Courier, Fleshner denied knowledge of sovereign citizen ideals.
"I really do not know what these 'sovereign citizens' are about, because I am NOT one of them nor do I know of any that I can ask. I do not know their concepts nor do I care to," he wrote.
"I am a private citizen of the United States of America. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights contained within it are what I believe in, and that is the law of the land," Fleshner added.
During the traffic stop, though, Fleshner refused to provide identification and for a time refused to get out of his vehicle, according to authorities. He continued his resistance during his initial booking.
Since then, Fleshner and his former defense attorneys have filed a raft of motions.
Jill Dashner, assistant Bremer County attorney, declined to comment on Fleshner's case. She did, however, acknowledge Fleshner is producing a generous amount of documents.
Dashner, though, noted Fleshner is within his rights to do so.
Fleshner initially expressed reluctance to comment on his cases in an email to The Courier.
"After all the ridiculous claims already made by your media outlet, I'm uncertain if I will respond," Fleshner wrote.
"Lucky for me my family, friends and employer know better than the exaggerated claims already made by the stories published," he added. "What can you expect when lazy reporters only get one side of a story thou (sic), right?"
In May, Fleshner turned to the federal judicial system for relief. He filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa.
In his suit, Fleshner claims he was the victim of a "shakedown racket" and "a form of land piracy." The purpose, Fleshner alleges, is "to divest motorists traveling through Bremer County of their property by illegal searches and seizures and bringing bogus criminal charges against them."
Fleshner also claims he was the victim of "an excessive force arrest, false imprisonment and a bad faith prosecution."
- Bremer County.
- Sheriff Dan Pickett.
- Deputies Matthew Tiedt and Kyle Shores.
- Dispatcher Connie Sents.
- Dan Schaefer and James Dickinson, troopers with the Iowa State Patrol.
- Marks Auto Repair and Wrecker Service in Waverly.
- Kenneth Wiley, a private citizen Fleshner claims acts as a "scout" for law enforcement officials.
The attorney general's office represents the troopers. David Schrock of Cedar Rapids represents the county, sheriff and deputies. Federal court records do not indicate who, if anyone, represents Wiley or Marks Auto Repair.
In a response to the lawsuit, Schrock offers roughly 230 denials of Fleshner's alleged facts in a point-by-point rebuttal. Schrock also offers seven affirmative defenses, noting the county's law enforcement officials are entitled to qualified immunity.
According to Fleshner's lawsuit, officers suspected he might belong to an extremist organization, and Schaefer asked Tiedt to inquire with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In his lawsuit, Fleshner said he told the "threatening" officers he wanted to speak to their supervisor.
"And I tell them, 'I don't trust you guys,' and I was fearful because of their negative demeanor," the suit says.
Fleshner admits his permit for concealed carry had expired. He also reveals officers' frustrations.
"Tiedt states, 'I don't know what the hell to do with this guy.' They begin to try to figure out my legal identity."
Two days after the traffic stop, according to the lawsuit, Schaefer pulled over Fleshner's brother because the light over the man's license plate was out. The state trooper allegedly asked the man if Fleshner was part of any activist organizations. The man said Fleshner was not, according to Fleshner's lawsuit.
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Fleshner's more recent court filings in Bremer County include a motion to dismiss the case for prosecutorial misconduct, alleging law enforcement officials had no probable cause to stop, detain, imprison and charge him.
Magistrate Karen Thalacker initially appointed an attorney to represent Fleshner, public defender Linnea Nicol of Waterloo. But he later hired his own lawyer, George Jones of Lamoni.
Fleshner subsequently filed a motion to dismiss his cases based on ineffective counsel, revealing he paid $2,500 and promised $500 per two weeks toward a $5,000 retainer.
In his motion, Fleshner alleges he ultimately paid Jones $7,000 "and we hadn't even been to court yet." The figure later climbed to $8,000, according to Fleshner.
"I started to wonder how much he cares as nothing positive had transpired with my cases and my money was being stripped to the point where he was definitely alleviating his poverty level," Fleshner wrote.
Fleshner's motion suggests he had a hard time accepting Jones' legal strategy. One issue where their opinions diverged was how to best approach Judge Peter Newell.
"The bias of the associate district judge, Peter Newell, seemed obvious to me, yet Jones never agreed that a change of venue or motion to recuse the judge was an option we should fully pursue," Fleshner wrote.
Jones withdrew as Fleshner's attorney April 17.
On June 18, Fleshner filed a motion for Newell to recuse himself. As evidence of the judge's alleged bias, Fleshner cites a series of what, from his point of view, were legal defeats.
Among the letdowns from Fleshner's point of view, Judge Newell allowed cameras in the courtroom, initially denied a request to lower Fleshner's bond and rejected a motion to reconsider. Newell also declined to extend a deadline.
In court documents, Fleshner suggested Dashner makes Newell behave "like a puppet on a string," part of a "very corrupt" system in Bremer County.
Fleshner also asked the court for a change of venue, taking the case out of Bremer County. As one justification, he cited "extensive pretrial publicity."
"While in jail, Fleshner was referred to as 'Front Page' by other inmates, which apparently resulted from local law enforcement officers embellishing his arrest," Fleshner's suit states.
As evidence of the expansive news coverage, Fleshner included an article from The Courier and one by KELO TV. The station, though, is based in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Fleshner also cited as a reason to move his trial his federal lawsuit, which includes Bremer County as a defendant.
"There is no way that a jury empaneled from Bremer County can judge evenly between their own county government, their own law officers and an 'outsider,'" he wrote.
Fleshner, at the moment, represents himself but requested standby or co-counsel on June 22. At that time, he was unwilling to fill out a related form required by Iowa's courts.
"Given this county's legal system's proclivity for bringing baseless charges, defendant has what he believes is a well-justified fear that -- no matter how truthfully he fills out the affidavit -- he may be charged with perjury or some similar crime," Fleshner wrote.
Fleshner provided an incomplete form, offering only his P.O. box in Sioux Falls, his ZIP code, his birth date and an email address. He also checked a box indicating he was not in jail.
His signature appears under words penned on the form: "Signed under Threat, Duress and coercion."
Fleshner provided no information about his income, wages, employer, family members he might support, assets or possible mortgage.
At a hearing June 23, Newell agreed standby or co-counsel is appropriate, and he ordered Fleshner to complete an application. He gave Fleshner 30 days to comply.
Fleshner, in his email to The Courier, seems likely to continue his legal battle.
"A slim few may find it alright to wrongly accuse someone of a crime they are not committing and violently arrest them hoping to find something to charge them with, but I'm not one of them," he wrote.
"They violated a list of processes and procedures, and well as, my rights and I'm not going to lay down and let this kind abuse go unrecognized."
A hearing on Fleshner's various motions is set July 31. Trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 6.