Radio station broadcast Washtenaw Sheriff's Department communications during Hutaree raids
A militia radio station broadcast Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department radio communications as the FBI was still looking for at least one wanted Hutaree member, according to an e-mail circulated March 28 among sheriff’s department employees.
The e-mail, sent at about 10 a.m. March 28, says the FBI “called today to advise that www.militiaradio.com has started to broadcast our radio traffic.”
“Please take this into consideration as it is a serious officer safety concern,” the e-mail says.
The e-mail was circulated the morning after the FBI began raids on the Christian militia group in Washtenaw and Lenawee counties and in Ohio and Indiana. In Washtenaw County, five Hutaree members were arrested during a raid in the Ann Arbor area, and a Manchester Township home also was raided.
At the time the e-mail was circulated, FBI agents were still looking for 21-year-old Joshua Stone, who wasn't arrested until the following night in Hillsdale County. He was the last of nine people to be arrested during the raids.
Representatives at militiaradio.com could not be reached for comment Monday. The Internet radio station is registered to a web hosting company based in Utah. Local militia leader Mark Koernke of Dexter, who has a show on the station, also could not be reached for comment Monday.
The FBI confirmed Tuesday it notified the sheriff's department about the broadcast on militiaradio.com.
“They were being monitored,” said Special Agent Sandra Berchtold, a bureau spokeswoman in Detroit. “We wanted to let them know for security and officer safety.”
Nine Hutaree members are in federal custody after being indicted on charges that accuse them of conspiring to levy war against the United States. Investigators say members discussed killing a law enforcement officer, then attacking law enforcement officers at the funeral with homemade bombs. Among the allegations is that Hutaree discussed luring a law enforcement officer with a false 911 call, then killing him or her.
While deputies are well aware the public can monitor the department's radio communication over a scanner or live feed on the Internet, it was a reminder to be vigilant, said Marc Breckenridge, emergency services director for Sheriff Jerry Clayton.
The sheriff's department did not have to make any adjustments as a result of the broadcast, other than putting officers on alert, Breckenridge said. The department wasn't involved in the raids and ensured no mention of them was made over the radio, he said.
The sheriff's department dispatches for its own agency and others, including the Michigan State Police and Northfield Township police, Breckenridge said.
A dispatcher was aware the radio station broadcast the radio communication prior to the FBI notifying the department, Breckenridge said. He could not be more specific on the timing.
Breckenridge said there was no indication Hutaree was targeting any deputies. Nonetheless, the concern was that people listening to the radio traffic during the raids could determine the location of deputies if they were seeking to harm them, he said.
“In an ambush, the more intelligence you have about the person being ambushed, the more successful your ambush could be,” he said.
If a situation warrants, deputies have "secure" communications, he said.
Militiaradio.com is one of “several right-wing extremist” Internet radio stations, said Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, who studies the militia movement.
The sheriff's department radio communications may have been broadcast for various reasons, he said, including to warn people of the raids or simply because "it's a breaking story" related to the militia movement.
"Obviously, it can have officer safety implications," he said.
Mike Lackomar, a spokesman for the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, has five scanners and said it's not uncommon for militia members to monitor communications of police agencies. Lackomar said he wants to know what's going on in his neighborhood and elsewhere.
Lackomar pointed to one discussion board where a link was posted to a live scanner feed for the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department the night the raids began. In many cases, people were simply trying to spread the news, Lackomar said.
"I think it's more of a case of people trying to tell people what's going on and not necessarily tip off the Hutaree."
News Director Amalie Nash and Lead Blogger Ed Vielmetti contributed to this report. Lee Higgins is a reporter for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at (734) 623-2527 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.