The car Chase Allan was driving last Wednesday caught an officer’s eye, Farmington police say, because it didn’t have a legitimate license plate.
Instead, news footage shows, it bore a placard that included a known “sovereign citizen” symbol — part of a flag, with blue stars and red-and-white stripes — along with the words “Utah, American State Citizen” and “Notice, Private Automobile Not For Hire.”
It is unclear whether the officer recognized the symbol on the placard before what began as a routine traffic stop ended with five officers firing at Allan, killing the 25-year-old, Farmington police Chief Eric Johnsen said.
“All I can tell you is none of us are experts in these things,” Johnsen told The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday. “I mean, I’m a 20-year officer and, literally, in the thousands of traffic stops that I’ve made in my career — thousands — I’ve only encountered a couple of people affiliated like this.”
It is not yet clear whether Allan considered himself specifically part of the “sovereign citizen” movement, but the placard has put a spotlight on the loose network of extremists who reject government and law enforcement. The FBI considers sovereign citizens a domestic terrorist movement, and notes that followers regularly put false license plates on vehicles.
A statement from Allan’s family, who have accused police of his “brutal murder,” said Allan had been “studying law the last few years and was a patriot doing what he could to defend the people’s freedom and liberty in his community.” It did not name the sovereign citizen movement.
But court documents show Allan was physically removed last year from courtrooms where he was attempting to intervene on behalf of his mother and later, another woman. Refusing one judge’s order to sit down, court records show, he demanded, “Are you committing slavery and involuntary servitude?”
After Allan was pulled over Wednesday, he refused to get out of his car and “asserted his independence from the laws of the land,” Farmington police have said. The initial officer called for backup and four more officers responded. As they tried to remove Allan from the car, an officer yelled that Allan had a gun, and the five officers opened fire.
According to police, a handgun was found on the floorboard of his car, and a holster on his hip was empty, though it is unclear if Allan ever brandished the weapon or opened fire. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.
If Allan was associated with the sovereign citizen movement, it is not why officers fired, Johnsen told The Tribune on Monday.
One of his few encounters with people who seemed to hold similar beliefs, the chief noted, involved Allan’s mother. She did not reply to a request for comment Monday.
What is the sovereign citizen movement?
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the loosely organized sovereign citizen movement has adopted a “right-wing anarchist ideology.” Individuals associated with it believe “virtually all existing government” in the U.S. is illegitimate, and they seek to “‘restore’ an idealized, minimalist government that never actually existed,” the League says.
Sovereign citizens “wage war against the government ... using ‘paper terrorism’ harassment and intimidation tactics,” the League states.
Occasionally, such individuals resort to violence, according to the ADL. In Nevada in 2014, a married couple authorities later determined were associated with the sovereign citizen movement ambushed two Las Vegas officers eating lunch at a Cicis Pizza, killing both.
The Southern Poverty Law Center labels the sovereign citizen movement a hate group, rooted in racism and antisemitism. The movement’s members “believe they are not under the jurisdiction of the federal government and consider themselves exempt from U.S. law,” the nonprofit legal advocacy organization says.
Allan was not known to be associated with any sovereign citizen groups, according to both the Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Utah Department of Public Safety.
His only record with DPS involved a previous traffic stop, and there is no indication that he asserted then that he was not subject to “the laws of the land,” a DPS representative said Monday.
His mother’s traffic stop
It also is unclear whether Allan’s mother, Diane Killian-Allan, associates herself with the sovereign citizen movement.
But during the April 2022 traffic stop that Johnsen recalled, she disputed an officer’s right to stop or cite her and refused to give her date of birth, court records state.
The officer had pulled her over because her car registration had expired. Through the process of the traffic stop, the officer learned that Killian-Allan’s driver license had also expired and that her car was not insured, as required by law.
The officer called for backup, and then-Lt. Johnsen responded to assist the “fairly new officer,” telling him, as he recalled to The Tribune, “Hey, listen. They’re not going to respond to you. ... If their plate’s expired and if you’re going to issue a citation, then issue it to her. Don’t even ask her to sign it. She’s not going to sign it.”
“Just explain it to her, and then stick the citation through her window and tell her to have a nice day,” Johnsen recalled telling the officer. “And that’s essentially what he did.”
Later that day, Killian-Allan showed up at the Farmington Police Department to protest the ticket. According to a federal lawsuit she later filed in September, Johnsen told her that her car would be impounded if she didn’t register it.
In a court filing, Killian-Allan asserted that her son responded, “That’s a threat.” She also said, “Johnsen was informed that such comments are a declaration of war,” though it is unclear who she claimed made that statement to Johnsen.
Though Johnsen recalled the traffic stop, he said he otherwise did not remember much about Chase Allan or his mother.
In September, Killian-Allan walked out of her trial, claiming the court had no jurisdiction over her. A judge found her guilty and fined her $100, court records indicate.
Disruptive in court
After Allan claimed to be his mother’s “council” (sic) at an August 2022 hearing, her lawsuit said, the judge instructed him to sit in the gallery because he was not a licensed attorney.
When Allan refused, the judge told him he would be removed from the courtroom if he did not comply. Allan then asked, “Are you committing slavery and involuntary servitude?” and once again refused to sit in the gallery, a filing from his mother’s lawsuit states.
At that point, according to the filing, “two deputies then drug him out of the courtroom against his will” and locked the door to keep him out.
The next month, in a separate case, Allan “voluntarily showed up” at a Davis County justice court hearing on behalf of a woman who had been charged with a traffic violation, according to a court document.
During the hearing, Allan became “disruptive and non-compliant” and “began to resist officers,” according to a probable cause statement filed in connection with his arrest that day. He “refused to comply” when told to leave the courtroom.
A Davis County sheriff’s office deputy wrote at the time that they used “reasonable force” to arrest Allan, and transported him to the Davis County jail. When he was questioned, Allan refused several requests to identify himself.
“When asked to stop interrupting, [Allan] responded that deputies had no authority over him, using an expletive,” according to the probable cause statement.
No charges were filed against Allan after his release.
Police weren’t targeting Allan, chief says
In their statement last week, Allan’s family questioned the police account that the traffic stop was routine. They alleged, without citing the source of their information, that the officer who pulled Allan over “requested multiple other officers to the scene a couple blocks prior to the stop.”
Johnsen disputed the family’s account Monday, stating that the initial officer only called for backup after Allan became “non-compliant,” as police had previously said. Johnsen also said the initial officer did not know who he was pulling over.
Given that the mother and son had reportedly refused to register their vehicles, Johnsen argued, officers could have sat “down the street from their house every day,” and consistently stopped or cited them, if they had wanted to target them.
“That’s not how we police,” he said. “That is not who we are. And so the assertion that we were doing that is really difficult to swallow.”
On Friday, Farmington police noted in a news release that authorities had reviewed body camera footage from the police shooting, which the Davis County “critical incident protocol” team continues to investigate. As of Monday, that body camera footage had not been released to the public.
Unlike Salt Lake City police, Farmington police do not have a policy mandating that body camera footage must be released to the public within 10 working days of a police shooting, but the chief expects his department will release the video “well inside” that timeframe.
Allan’s family said the 25-year-old lived at home with his parents, and they described the Davis High School and Utah State University graduate as a “son, brother, grandson, nephew, peer, teammate, student and neighbor amongst many other important roles he played within our community.”
The police shooting Wednesday marked the fourth police shooting in Utah so far this year, according to a database maintained by The Salt Lake Tribune. The five officers who opened fire on Allan were placed on administrative leave pending the ongoing investigation.