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Legislative candidate files grievance against governor over COVID actions

by Colin Gaiser
Daily Inter Lake | May 21, 2020 1:00 AM

Nick Ramlow, a Libertarian candidate for House District 7 in Kalispell, posted a message on his Facebook page on May 8 telling local business owners to contact him “immediately” if they decided to open their business in defiance of Gov. Steve Bullock’s stay-at-home directive.

"If you are a business owner in Kalispell and you open your business, contact me immediately if a government official comes to you to enforce Governors DIEO," Ramlow stated. "Report it to me as a Criminal Complaint under Title 18 u.s.c, Section 242 and I will arrest them properly."

Ramlow is referring to the section of U.S. code that makes it a crime to “willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

Ramlow had filed a grievance in Montana District Court on April 28, stating Gov. Bullock did not have the executive power to issue his stay-at-home directive intended to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

“We the People of the State of Montana hereby declare, for reasons already established, that Stephen Clark Bullock’s DIEO [Directive Implementing Executive Orders] is null and void and shall not for any reason be treated as legitimate lawmaking,” the grievance states.

It continues to “demand” that Bullock issue an apology to the “People of the State of Montana” and resign from office or face arrest.

Ramlow claims at least 3,600 people have signed the petition that corresponds with the grievance.

He also visited local businesses to inform them of the grievance he filed, and said “at least 30-40 businesses” have put up stickers on their windows protesting Bullock’s directives.

“This establishment is protected by the People of the State of Montana. All government officials attempting to enforce the governor’s unlawful DIEO are required to call this number before entering,” the sticker states.

Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner said Ramlow’s court filing is not unusual.

“It’s not uncommon to get stuff like this,” Ahner said, when an individual disagrees with decisions made at the federal, state or local level. “Mr. Ramlow’s paperwork isn’t anything we haven’t seen or had to deal with before.”

He said a “citizen’s arrest” is something that can only be done in situations “where existing circumstances require the arrest,” according to Montana state code. Ahner said something like a burglary in progress or a “purse-snatching” would qualify as a situation when a private person could use “reasonable force” to detain someone.

According to the section 46-6-502 of the state code, that person must then “notify the nearest available law enforcement agency or peace officer and give custody of the person arrested to the officer or agency.”

Ahner said he would “caution citizens” about doing anything that could qualify as a “citizen’s arrest.”

“If you hurt someone and you don’t have the right … you’re subject to liability,” he said.

Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino said it could be considered “kidnapping” if Ramlow went through with a citizen’s arrest under his pretenses.

“I swore to protect the constitution of the United States,” Heino said. “I will protect Mr. Ramlow but I also have to protect everyone else.”

Heino said there have been no incidents related to Ramlow’s grievance or his actions, and he has never spoken directly to Ramlow. He added he believes people in the county have been respectful of the governor’s directives and said many “were very self-quarantined” early on in the pandemic.

Ramlow said regarding the citizen’s arrests, Heino and Ahner “fail to see how this works.” He said he would be issuing citations, which would not require physical contact with the person, and claimed this would “still be considered an arrest.”

Meanwhile, Ramlow served copies of his grievance along with cease and desist orders to the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, Flathead County Attorney, Flathead City-County Health Department, Kalispell Mayor and Kalispell Chief of Police.

Ramlow also said he is “Montana’s leader” of a group called People’s Rights. He said the group is meant to “empower people with the tools to protect themselves,” and at least 24,000 have joined to date.

The group’s only public online presence is a GoFundMe page that describes the group as “dedicated to the preservation and periodic maintenance of our neighbors’ rights through legal, political and physical defense and experimenting within the bounds of our federalist system to achieve these objectives.”

Since the page was launched on May 8, it has raised $100 of its $50,000 goal.

Ramlow also claimed he has “reached out to the militias of Montana” and said they are organizing under the banner of People’s Rights.

“My message to the sheriff is he’d better keep his nose clean,” Ramlow said.

“I have a bigger army than he does.”

In October of 2012, Ramlow was convicted of a misdemeanor charge for disorderly conduct in Bozeman after he pulled a gun out and pointed it at another male during an altercation in an alleyway. Court documents in the case state that Ramlow told police that he drew his firearm from the door of his truck, pointed it at the victim’s head and removed the firearm’s safety.

Ramlow claims he was “nearly mugged” and had to draw a weapon because he was “afraid for my life.” He said he was charged because he failed to say that during the interrogation.

A year earlier, Ramlow was convicted in Oregon of trespassing on private property while hunting, according to a report in the Blue Mountain Eagle newspaper. He was sentenced to probation for 12 months, 40 hours community service, and fined $500. His hunting privileges were suspended for 36 months. Two counts of the same charge were dismissed.

On Ramlow’s public Facebook posts about his grievance, Ramlow has been encouraged by Dr. Annie Bukacek, a member of the Flathead County Health Board. She has become known for her controversial stance on vaccinations and a protest she organized when the Kalispell City Council made an emergency declaration in early April, which the city said was intended to access federal funding for expenses related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Bukacek said the city was trying to “usher in martial law.”

Meanwhile, some citizens have spoken up against the actions of Ramlow and Bukacek. At the May 14 County Commissioners meeting, Cherilyn DeVries of Love Lives Here in the Flathead Valley said she was “very concerned” about the situation.

“Dr. Bukacek has been encouraging Nick’s threats to perform citizen’s arrests on public Facebook pages,” she said. “Since county health department employees would be the government officials speaking to businesses on this matter, this means that Dr. Bukacek is encouraging a potentially dangerous conflict with county employees who are just doing their jobs.”

“I do not understand how this is acceptable behavior for members of any county board,” she added.

Ahner said he appreciated the conversation about authority, limits to authority and checks and balances.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about how to deal with this in a way that’s most manageable for everybody,” he said.

Kianna Gardner contributed to this report. Reporter Colin Gaiser may be reached at cgaiser@dailyinterlake.com.