A West Virginia man who describes himself as a “sovereign citizen” is accused of shooting three neighbors as part of an ongoing dispute.
Erick Shute, 32, originally of Pennsville in Salem County, allegedly shot at a group of men in a rural West Virginia town, killing three before fleeing the scene, leading police on a hours-long manhunt that ended with his arrest in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsville Police Department stated that the search for him “was handled extremely well,” adding that he was arrested by Pennsylvania State Police in Chester County.
Shute claims to be part of the “sovereign citizen” movement, which the FBI describes as one of the top domestic terrorist threats in the United States. The loosely organized movement includes a number of tax protesters and anti-government activists.
Shute, who uses the alternate name “Anarch E” on Facebook, made a post on the website: “This was self defense. I talked to a cop and he even agreed this is an open and shut case of self defense and that they probably won’t even pursue charges.”
“I am just waiting to talk to the prosecutor. I have nothing to hide,” he said.
He added that the victims “stole over $20,000” of belongings from him before selling it for drugs—while also threatening him. “Everyone not on drugs on the mountain hates them,” he said. “These are known thieves and drug addicts.”
The victims were identified as Jack Douglas of Great Cacapon, Travis Bartley and Willie Bartley, both of Hedgesville, Morgan County Sheriff Vincent Shambaugh told The Journal. He was taken into custody in Chester County, police in Pennsville Township, South Jersey, said.
Pennsville Police Chief Allen Cummings told The Associated Press Shute was involved in the movement. He was charged with aggravated assault of a police officer in 2011, and that year, he went into the Pennsville Police Department in 2011 to ask if they would sign a peace treaty to drive his car without registration. He left when they wouldn’t agree.
He said that Shute gunned down the victims with an AR-15 rifle, the Herald Mail reported. “He took cover behind a tree and shot these people ambush-style,” Morgan County Sheriff Vince Shambaugh said on Tuesday morning.
Cummings added that Shute was pulled over for having fake license plates made out of cardboard. He also had a fake license he made himself.
In the manhunt, police moved two judges into hotels because Shute had previously threatened them.
“We were concerned, that’s for sure,” he told AP. “I had bad feelings. I was very concerned about where he was going to go, what he was going to do. After committing a murder … sometimes people make decisions that they have nothing else to live for, and you kind of wonder if he’s going to come back and take people with him.”
The FBI says that sovereign citizens “could be dismissed as a nuisance” but “a closer look at sovereign citizens’ more severe crimes, from financial scams to impersonating or threatening law enforcement officials, gives reason for concern.”
“If someone challenges (e.g., a standard traffic stop for false license plates) their ideology, the behavior of these sovereign-citizen extremists quickly can escalate to violence. Since 2000, lone-offender sovereign-citizen extremists have killed six law enforcement officers,” the FBI states.