Overkill or justice? Costly 5-year-old artifacts case nets no prison time and 3 suicides, but retrieves Native American treasures and raises awareness
Gardiner's son, Dustin Gardiner, has defended his father, saying he became disillusioned with the antiquities business when he saw the number of stolen items being sold. His father, he said, wanted to stop the digging and grave robbing and preserve history.
When it came time to make arrests, authorities, relying on Gardiner's information, stuck with the drug case game plan.
About 150 agents wearing bulletproof vests and armed with automatic weapons descended on homes in the Four Corners area on June 10, 2009. Agents searched the houses of suspected artifacts traffickers and placed people in handcuffs and shackles and drove them to face a federal magistrate in Moab.
Politicians like Adams, who said the FBI and BLM used "Gestapo" tactics, and others complained of heavy-handed treatment, especially when it came to people in their 70s.
Love said the BLM and FBI vetted each warrant beforehand and after hearing that some of those whom they planned to arrest had guns, took precautions to safeguard themselves and others.
"I would be hard-pressed to find any law enforcement officer across the country that when serving an arrest warrant or a search warrant isn't properly geared," he said.
Christensen said the raid was conducted so as not to tip off any of the targets, to keep people from destroying evidence and to prevent them from fleeing.
"This was a blueprint for how you do it," she said. "It was textbook."
Hatch, a vocal critic of the raid from the outset, didn't see it that way, and two years later still doesn't.
"I had concerns with the manner in which some federal officers, acting under the direction of the Department of Interior, conducted the search and arrest warrants in the operation that took place in San Juan County," the senator said. "I still believe that the operation was not handled as well as it should have been and was not representative of the cautious enforcement that I've come to expect from our federal law enforcement agencies."
Among the two dozen arrested that day was Dr. James Redd, a well-known Blanding doctor and longtime pot-hunter. The next day, the 60-year-old man connected a hose to the exhaust pipe of his car to asphyxiate himself.
His widow, Jeanne, said in a wrongful death suit filed in May, that FBI and BLM agents' "excessive, overreaching and abusive treatment" pushed her husband to suicide. She claims that agents "manhandled" her husband and interrogated him for hours in the garage.
But Love said it didn't appear that Dr. Redd had any animosity or anger toward authorities as a result of the investigation or the way he was treated that day. In fact, he said Redd shook his hand and thanked him for being treated with respect and dignity.
A month after Redd's death, one his former patients threatened to beat Gardiner with a baseball bat "to make the (undercover) source pay" for causing the doctor's death, according to court documents. Federal agents became aware of the threat and indicted Charles D. Armstrong. He was sentenced to a year in prison.
Ten days after the raid, another defendant, Stephen L. Shrader, shot himself to death.
Shrader, 56, was not arrested with the others. He read about the arrests in the newspaper and walked into the BLM office in Santa Fe, N.M., to tell authorities he knew of another person involved in trafficking: Ted Gardiner, the confidential informant.
Agents ultimately arrested Shrader on an outstanding warrant and charged him with allegedly taking an ancient pair of sandals and basket from public land.
McKelvie said while tragic, the deaths can't be connected to how agents treated the defendants.
"He was not arrested as part of the raid. He was not subject to a search. Nobody came into his house at 6 o'clock in the morning with guns and took him away," McKelvie said.
"If you look at the two suicides and try to couple them with the concept of jack-booted thugs kicking down doors at 6 in the morning and putting people in handcuffs, it was simply not the case. The fact that the suicides happened when they did really fed that kind of frenzy of the overreaching government."
In March 2010, Gardiner, 52, became the third person associated with the case to take his own life. According to a Unified Police Department report, he was upset over his involvement in the case and believed "he had killed two people."
San Juan County still has not regrouped from the deaths and the arrests, Adams said.
Federal authorities, he said, came into the raid with the notion, " 'We're going to scare the hell out of people.' Is that really the role of government? … That's what they did in (Nazi) Germany."
Residents in southeastern Utah remain suspicious of the FBI and BLM. Said Adams, "I don't think it will ever go away."
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: dennisromboy
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