Criminal Justice

In John Joe Gray's 12th Year of Armed Standoff, Such 'Sovereign Citizen' Behavior May Be Increasing

Corrected: Wanted in a Christmas Eve 1999 assault on a Texas state trooper in which he allegedly bit a chunk of flesh out of the officer’s arm after a routine traffic stop escalated, John Joe Gray found an effective way to avoid answering the charge.

Released on bail over a decade ago, he holed up at home on his nearly 50-acre East Texas farm and told authorities to bring body bags if they intended to come and get him. What may be a record standoff has now lasted 12 years, as four successive Henderson County sheriffs have declined to take Gray up on the threat, saying that the likelihood of multiple fatalities outweighs the need to enforce the law against him, USA Today reports.

Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt is a former Texas Ranger who was dispatched in 1993 to Waco, where a federal raid on a compound housing David Koresh and his Branch Davidian religious sect brought the death tally to 80 when it burst into flames after a 51-day standoff. He said that experience has been an important component of his decision not to raid Gray’s home.

Doug Lowe, the district attorney in neighboring Anderson County, where the incident between Gray and the trooper occurred, agrees that the risk isn’t worth the benefit of trying to capture Gray.

However, the specter of Gray operating with impunity as a “sovereign citizen” in a compound patrolled by his armed adult children is troubling to law enforcement officials. Such behavior appears to be on the increase as citizens feel free to operate outside the bounds of the law in criminal justice, foreclosure and tax matters, among others. Sovereign citizenship has been linked to the slayings of six police officers over the past decade, including Brandon Paudert in West Memphis, Ark., on May 20, 2010, the newspaper reports.

“There are people at war with this country who are not international terrorists,” his father, former West Memphis police chief Robert Paudert, tells USA Today. “I had never heard of the sovereign citizen movement before May 20, 2010. But these are people who are willing to kill or be killed for their beliefs.”

Related coverage: “Holed Up at Home Since 2000, Texas Man Awaits Potential Gunfight with Sheriff’s Deputies”

Corrected April 2 to change the date of the assault on the Texas state trooper to 1999.


Corrected April 2 to change the date of the assault on the Texas state trooper to 1999.

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