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Browns: Dog walker saved lives

Concord Monitor | June 9, 2007
Margot Sanger-Katz

A day after federal and state officers swarmed near the hilltop home of tax protesters Ed and Elaine Brown, the couple thanked a supporter from upstate New York, Danny Riley, for saving their lives.

Riley, who posted a video account of his experience on the internet, said he was walking the Browns' dog early Thursday when he discovered a large group of U.S marshals hiding in the woods near the Brown's Plainfield house. The marshals, he said, shot at him and shocked him with a Taser. If not for that encounter, Ed Brown said yesterday, he and his wife might be dead.

"If it wasn't for Danny Riley taking that walk yesterday morning with the dog the way he did," Brown said yesterday on his daily radio show, Ed Brown Under Siege. "The fact that he did probably saved our lives."

A law enforcement source confirmed yesterday that Riley was the man marshals detained Thursday after encountering him with a dog near the Brown property.

U.S. Marshal Stephen Monier said that the officers were near the fortified concrete home Thursday to watch the Browns and their supporters while marshals and IRS agents acted on a warrant to seize a commercial property owned by the couple in West Lebanon. He said his officers had never intended to arrest the Browns but wanted to monitor them in case they retaliated in response to the seizure.

On Thursday, Monier described how officers performing surveillance near the Brown home encountered a supporter leaving the property. Marshals detained and questioned the man, but they released him without charges on Thursday afternoon.
Riley's internet video has fueled speculation on various pro-Brown websites and radio shows that marshals had intended to arrest or kill the Browns on Thursday, and were stopped only when Riley accidentally blew their cover.

"Astounding testimony from Danny Riley, the man who was arrested by U.S. Marshals after walking Ed Brown's dog near his property yesterday morning, proves that Thursday's events in Plainfield New Hampshire represent a planned siege that was only aborted after Riley's disappearance gave the Browns early warning that militarized police and SWAT teams were descending on their home," says an article on prisonplanet.com.

Ed Brown told his radio audience that the marshals' actions suggested that they intended to kill him and his wife.

"If they were willing to shoot an unarmed guest of ours," Brown said, "then their intention was to come down and kill us."

Though there had been calls Thursday for supporters to visit the Brown property, Brown said yesterday that he would prefer supporters stay put. He did request the hand delivery of a high powered ham radio and a "third-generation, good" thermal imaging scope for a rife.

"They're very expensive, but so what guys," he said. "We're going to give our lives to you if we have to."

In the video, Riley, shirtless and sitting in front of a bulletin board, gives a detailed description of his experience. After walking down the Browns' long, wooded driveway, he came face to face with a man in camouflage. When Riley asked the man if he was a turkey hunter, he initially got no reaction.

"Then all of the sudden, the guy stood right up in front of me," Riley said. "And with a full camouflage suit on and yelled, 'Freeze.' At that point I turned around and ran, ran for my life."

On the video, Riley describes hearing bullets whiz by him as he yelled to the marshals that he was unarmed. Brown said on the radio yesterday that he also heard gunfire Thursday morning from his house. But Monier said that marshals never shot at the dog walker.

"Absolutely no lethal force was ever employed towards him or against him," Monier said.

Once he started running, Riley said that several more marshals emerged from both sides of the Brown driveway. Realizing he was surrounded, he held his hands out in attempt to surrender.

Riley said, and the law enforcement source confirmed, that marshals shocked him with a Taser before handcuffing him and placing him in a vehicle. Riley said that marshals, whose badges identified them as "special operations unit," asked him about who was at the house, what weapons were there and whether the Browns had a bomb.

Then, Riley said, marshals were uncertain of how to use him. Initially, they asked him to help ask the Browns to surrender and drove him past armored vehicles, a helicopter and an ambulance. But the marshals decided against the strategy, he said, and took Riley to the Lebanon police station instead, where they questioned him for several more hours.

In the afternoon, Riley was released about a mile from the house, he said, and instructed to tell the Browns that he was arrested by two officers involved with the seizure. He said marshals threatened him with prison time if he assisted the Browns again or told his story to journalists.

He told the two-officer story to the Browns, he said, but the couple already knew about his run-in with the marshals because of phone calls from neighbors and information from reporters.

"They pretty much already knew the deal," Riley said on the video.

Riley said that after he returned to New York, he discovered a message on his cell phone from another Brown supporter who said he'd been arrested.

Monier said yesterday that his office had not detained or arrested anyone but the dog walker.

Ed and Elaine Brown were both convicted of multiple federal felonies in January. The jury found that the Browns had evaded taxes on $1.9 million in income from Elaine Brown's dental practice and that the couple had broken large financial transactions into small increments to avoid federal reporting rules. The couple maintain that there are no laws that require them to pay federal income taxes and that the court that convicted them was a "fiction."

Midway through their trial, Ed Brown retreated to the couple's home, where they have long stockpiled food and can operate without municipal power or water. A few weeks after their conviction, Elaine Brown, who had been free on restrictive bail conditions, joined her husband.

Since then, they have remained at home, entertaining a rotating cast of supporters and making repeated statements that any attempt to arrest them will end violently. In April, each was sentenced to more than five years in prison.

Monier, charged with arresting the couple on bench warrants, has taken a low-key approach to their capture. Though he acknowledged Thursday that he has sent officers to quietly check in on the couple, he has not established a visible presence near the house and has limited his communications to phone calls urging the Browns to surrender. He has said often that he does not plan to raid the Browns' home.

Thursday's actions, if not an arrest attempt, marked a change in style. Armored vehicles, SWAT teams and helicopters were sent to Plainfield, and dozens of state troopers blocked roads near the home. Monier said it was important to seize the West Lebanon building this week because of ongoing concerns about its security.

Phone and internet service at the Brown house, which had been disconnected by marshals on Thursday, were working again for much of yesterday, allowing the Browns to appear on a number of radio talk shows and post updates to their MySpace website.By 3 p.m., however, phone service was again cut off. On a website frequented by supporters, a poster said that the personal cell phone of Cirino Gonzales, a man who is living with the Browns, had also been disabled.

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