Last Wednesday, while the power and majesty of the Blue Angels was on display overhead on a beautiful and cloudless August day, Wayne Groen stood before Judge Thomas S. Zilly in a Federal District Court room in Seattle.
Groen was there to be sentenced for a conviction of incapacitating a Customs and Border Protection helicopter pilot on the evening of September 22. While handing down his sentence, Zilly described what Groen did as “stupid” and said he should consider himself “lucky” for not causing the helicopter to crash. Zilly ordered him to spend two months at the federal prison in Sea-Tac followed by 90 days of home detention, three months of community supervision, and a fine of $5,000. He will begin serving his sentence in the next couple months.
Groen, a Lynden farmer whose property abuts the international border, shined a spotlight into the cockpit of the helicopter that Wednesday evening after – as his attorneys described – he was awoke around 9:30 in the evening by the sound of it hovering above his house. His arrest and April conviction spurred protests, community meetings, and myriad media accounts. The details of the case are not in dispute; although Groen’s attorneys argued that the pilots “exaggerated” the danger Groen and his spotlight posed. The jury agreed, acquitting him of the more serious charge he faced.
Whether Groen acted recklessly that night is not really up for debate. He probably never intended to bring the helicopter down but that doesn’t minimize his crime. The most interesting aspect of the case is what Zilly excluded from it. Any past incidences between Groen and federal law enforcement on or near his property was excluded; as was any past incidences between Groen and local law enforcement. It’s safe to say Groen was an individual law enforcement in the area was aware of. In other words, he’s a hot-head and lost his temper and is now paying for it.
Living on the northern border at present is quite different from living on the northern border before September 11, 2011. The size and scope of federal law enforcement on and near the border has risen astronomically. Even so, the vast majority of residents have adapted seamlessly. Residents of Lynden used to be able to ride their bikes over the international border and any American could return to the United States from a trip into British Columbia with little more than a passing wave to the officer at the port of entry.
Not so much now.
It’s not at all unusual for a secondary check, even after the most routine trip to Canada. Border Patrol agents and their vehicles are more familiar than local law enforcement in a community like Lynden. The Seattle Weekly reported last week that 9-1-1 calls in Whatcom County are now being answered by federal law enforcement who in turn contact the proper authorities. Border Patrol agents and unmanned cameras keep close watch everywhere, even on The Spit at Semiahmoo. Personnel scour woods, farm land, and even backyards in search of illegal drugs, human traffickers, and undocumented immigrants. If their work leads them on to private property, so be it. Groen wasn’t willing to adapt like his friends and neighbors. He had the right to defend his Castle, but he didn’t have the right to irresponsibly harass law enforcement officers above it.
The Seattlepi.com reported after the sentencing yesterday that Zilly received more than 100 letters from Groen’s supporters describing his as a hard-working man fed up with harassment. A commenter at The Province described Groen as a “man’s man.” Call me crazy, but I don’t think a “man’s man” storms out of his house in his underwear in a rage to blind a pilot. I also don’t think of a “man’s man” as spending 60 days in a federal prison. But hey, that’s just me.
[photo credit: flickr]