SUNDANCE — Two self-proclaimed “First Amendment auditors” came to Sundance last week on a mission to “prove” that local law enforcement goes beyond its remit and encroaches upon citizens’ right to freedom of speech.
After the resulting video was posted to the internet on two separate social media accounts, fans of the twosome flooded the community with phone calls, messages and emails decrying the Crook County Sheriff’s Office and calling Sheriff Jeff Hodge a “tyrant.”
The incident began on Monday morning when the father-and-son duo arrived at Sundance Post Office and began their attempts to attract attention from law enforcement. As can be seen on the video footage, these efforts included showing off that they were carrying a firearm near what they believed to be federal property; circling the building several times while filming on their phones; and approaching patrons of the post office.
When their efforts proved successful, the Sheriff’s Office reports that several complaints were received from members of the public at both the Sheriff’s Office and City Hall. Two deputies were dispatched to speak with the pair and check on the welfare of citizens. They were later joined by the undersheriff, who also conversed with the father and son.
According to the video footage, once the three deputies had ascertained that the men were not a threat and left the premises, Sheriff Hodge is seen arriving. Though he initially declines to engage with the pair and says he has business in the post office, the father can be heard on the video using expletives to describe the sheriff as he enters the building.
At this point, Hodge can be seen taking the older man by the arm and escorting him from the property. He then returns to his vehicle, where both men continue to film and harass him for several minutes.
The encounter was posted to two separate social media accounts the next day, with a combined subscribership of more than 300,000 viewers. Hodge was described as a “butt-hurt sheriff” who “goes crazy” and “attacks” the older man.
One video page shared contact information for numerous local officials, ranging from Sheriff’s Office staff to County Attorney Joe Baron, Mayor Paul Brooks, local news and the post office. It called for viewers to contact the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation to report the “assault.”
As the video gained popularity, viewers began encouraging one another in the comments to make contact with the community. Unknown persons began inundating the Sheriff’s Office with calls until it became necessary to switch off the office phones.
The phone calls were reportedly extremely vulgar and involved threatening language toward dispatchers and staff members at the office.
Messages were also sent to the newspaper, to a news site that had been wrongly identified as based in Sundance and to both county and city officials who had not been involved in the original incident.
Superintendent Mark Broderson reports that Sundance High School and the Sundance Booster Club both made the decision to take down their Facebook pages after fans of the “auditors” continually posted the video on both sites. Sundance Elementary School also received numerous phone calls that appeared to have been intended for the Sheriff’s Office due to the two phone numbers being similar.
Sundance State Bank also decided to lock its doors for a short period due to the unknown circumstances taking place across the street, according to Andy Miller, President.
Witnesses also reported seeing unidentified persons filming near the courthouse for unknown purposes.
As the situation escalated, followers of the two men got hold of Hodge’s unlisted phone number and began harassing him personally. A family member also received nuisance calls at her place of work.
On Monday morning, Hodge reported that the number of phone calls directed to the Sheriff’s Office had dropped, but were still continuing, and the incident is being looked at by the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office.