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Greenleaf man sentenced to federal prison; Investigation turned up threats to McLean

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Editor’s note: This story contains strong language.

A judge sentenced a Greenleaf man to 6.5 years in prison during a federal court hearing Monday in connection with unlawfully possessing firearms and an assault against a U.S. Forest Service Officer when he was arrested last spring. Items found by federal law enforcement during searches of his home and vehicle turned up a bullet with Mayor Lauren McLean’s name written on it and a journal entry referencing her.

Erik Ehrlin, 33, appeared in front of Judge Scott Skavdahl of Idaho’s District Court in Boise and received his sentence for charges of unlawful possession of a firearm and assault of a federal employee. A sentencing memorandum filed by the U.S. Attorney called him a “radicalized extremist”, while the defense argues he was suffering from a delusional mental disorder at the time of the crime and disputes the characterization that he was preparing to commit mass political violence.

Court documents show a range of items the feds say they found in Ehrlin’s possession, including items to impersonate a police officer, zip ties, a balaclava face mask, and high-capacity magazines. He also had bullets with individual targets written on them in red marker, including “DIE McLean,” “FUCK BLM” and “FUCK FEDS.”

A photo of bullets with targets written on them recovered from Ehrlin’s possession. Courtesy of the U.S. District Court

“(Ehrlin) identifies as a sovereign citizen and does not adhere to federal authority,” a sentencing memorandum filed in federal court said. “Ehrlin wrote express threats about shooting federal employees. And most significantly, Ehrlin possessed all the items needed to impersonate a police officer, to restrain an individual, and to do serious harm to others, including four firearms, twelve magazines, and spare rounds of ammunition. The ammunition with names and entities on them, coupled with Ehrlin’s ideology, dispels any innocent explanation for these items.”

Ehrlin and his lawyer countered this in court on Monday while arguing for a lower sentence of four years. Ehrlin said he was conservative, but he said he was not a radicalized extremist out to commit acts of violence. His lawyer pointed to an evaluation completed by a mental health professional that found Ehrlin to be suffering from a delusional mental disorder, and Ehrlin told the court a story that he remembers being blackmailed by Canyon County Sheriff’s deputies who forced him to possess firearms and commit the crimes he was found guilty for.

“If you were to send me home to my family today, I would never touch a firearm in my life, and after I would hug my kids and kiss my wife, I would work hard to make amends for the damage I have caused,” Ehrlin told the court before his sentencing.

He was convicted of a felony sex offense in Oregon in September 2010, barring him from being able to legally carry firearms. 

Ehrlin case part of trend of threats against McLean

This comes after McLean has come under increased pressure from the far-right on COVID-19 masking and isolation orders, her support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and other stances. Protesters visited McLean’s home multiple times since 2020, including a night rally in November 2020 where protesters carried tiki torches and chanted outside of her North End property. 

McLean declined to comment on Erhrlin’s sentencing this week, but she did issue a general statement in March condemning the threats and vowing to stand strong against extremism. 

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean answers questions about the Future of Downtown Boise. Photo: Eric Turner/Special to BoiseDev

“It’s incredibly difficult to talk about the more sinister thwarted plots and serious threats I’ve received because it makes it more real, as if it’s happening all over again – and as I write this, I once again see the briefings, the photos of perpetrators and evidence, my kids’ faces, my husband’s fear,” she wrote in March. 

“And yet it’s also important that we start to tell our stories; that public servants know they aren’t alone in their experience; that our residents know this is happening; to focus on our shared values; to find ways to rise to our better selves; to help right political discourse; to help us get back as a city, state, and nation to our long-held mores of civic engagement, disagreement, and self-government.”

Links to sovereign citizens movement 

Materials created by Ehrlin and graffiti at federally owned campgrounds, which investigators say was drawn by Ehrlin, show a connection to a movement of people who disregard the authority of federal laws. 

The graffiti had references to SAI and “Sovereign Alliance of Idaho” and threats to shoot federal employees, including messages reading “Warning federal employees shot on site” and “enforced by snipers.” A journal the FBI recovered from Ehrlin’s home also references SAI and contained a “Sovereign Citizen’s Oath,” which appears to be a reference to the sovereign citizens’ movement. The movement is a loose group of people who believe they are only answerable to common law and no government statutes have authority over them, unless they consent, according to reporting from law trade publication the ABA Journal. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center says people affiliated with this group “clog up the courts with indecipherable filings” and, in extreme cases, can commit “acts of deadly violence” against government officials. The SPLC says the movement has roots in racism and antisemitism, but “contemporary sovereign citizens hold varying racial ideologies and include a variety of people, most commonly white and African American.”

Photos of U.S. Forest Service signs vandalized by Ehrlin. Courtesy of the U.S. District Court

Photos of a journal recovered from Ehrlin’s home show several references to SAI next to messages like “McLean who’s got your 6?”, “disrupt operations, disrupt sympathizers, defend homeland”, “DO ALL YOU CAN TODAY LEST TOMORROW NEVER COME” and “IF NOT WE THEN WHO? IF NOT WHEN, BUT NOW!”. 

“Who’s got your 6” appears to be a reference to a World War I-era saying asking who is watching out for someone’s well-being – implying to ‘watch your back.’

Investigation began with campground vandalism

Federal court documents filed with Ehrlin’s case say the case began in March and April 2021 when the  U.S. Forest Service began investigating a string of graffiti vandalizing government signs with spray paint and permanent marker. 

The graffiti included references to SAI as well as threats to shoot federal employees. Investigators identified Ehrlin as a possible suspect for the vandalism when a hiker reported SAI and “Do Not Enter” had been freshly spray painted on a fallen tree upon returning from a hike near Mann Creek north of Weiser. The hiker had only seen one person in the area and reported their description to law enforcement. 

An unoccupied camper vehicle registered to Ehrlin was found in the area matching the description provided by the hiker, and two other Idaho Fish and Game employees provided information about previous run-ins with Ehrlin and described his gray Nissan pickup truck. Other witnesses also reportedly described a man and camper matching Ehrlin’s description in multiple locations where graffiti was later discovered. A Forest Service agent recovered a cardboard box spray painted like a shooting target in a similar color and style to the graffiti in the area with several high caliber bullet holes in it. Shell casings for 9 mm and .22 long rifle caliber shells were also recovered from the area. 

An image of a journal found at Ehrlin’s home. Courtesy of the U.S. District court.

On the afternoon of April 30, 2021, the USFS deputy investigating the graffiti and a Washington County Idaho Sheriff’s Deputy approached Ehrlin at a campground in the Mann Creek area. Upon approaching Ehrlin, the officers say they saw him go behind his camper carrying a child in a backpack and a semi-automatic rifle fall to the ground before he picked it back up. Prior to approaching Ehrlin, deputies were aware he had a felony sex abuse charge in Oregon and was not permitted to carry guns. 

Ehrlin came back around the camper with the child in his arms, and the deputies asked him to step away from the woman with him and the child in order to discuss him illegally carrying firearms. He initially denied being “Erik Ehrlin” and told deputies he would go retrieve his identification from his truck. Ehrlin initially walked toward the semi-automatic rifle and stepped away once the Washington County deputy asked if he could unload the weapon because it was sitting out in the open. Ehrlin told him it wasn’t loaded, but court documents say it had no bullet in the chamber, but it did have a loaded magazine.

Ehrlin handed the child to the woman camping with him, walked across the campsite, got in his truck, and locked the door. The USFS agent told Ehrlin to stop. He looked at her and accelerated the truck in reverse, striking the deputy’s ballistic vest and body camera with his side-view mirror. Still shots from body cam footage included in the court documents show the wheel of the truck angled in a way that if he had continued moving it would have struck the deputy. 

The deputy responded by shooting three rounds into his tire, causing it to deflate and the truck to stop moving. He was ordered out of the truck at gunpoint and arrested. 

Search turns up weapons, items to impersonate a police officer 

After he was arrested, deputies searched his pockets and found a Boise Police Department badge. Ehrlin said he and his mother discovered the badge while hiking, but it was not weathered. He has never served as a law enforcement officer for Boise Police or any other agency. 

A loaded 9 mm handgun was also discovered under the truck’s driver’s seat. Markers and spray paint consistent with the vandalism were also discovered in the vehicle, along with red and blue LED lights, handcuffs, and a POLICE patch that could be affixed with velcro to a tactical vest found in the backseat. 

A picture of some of the items recovered from Ehrlin’s home and vehicle. Photo courtesy of the U.S. District Court

At Ehrlin’s home, law enforcement say they discovered two .22 caliber firearms on the kitchen table, and elsewhere in the home, they found the journal with the “sovereign citizen’s oath.” His truck also contained “heavy-duty zip ties, duct tape, rubber gloves, a balaclava face mask, a flashlight, high-capacity magazines, and a bag of 7.62x39mm caliber ammunition.”

Judge swayed by some arguments, not others

Neither side completely won Judge Scott Skavdahl over during the sentencing hearing.

He did not agree with Prosecutor Frank Zebari’s argument that Ehrlin should have had more time added to his sentence because he was carrying a firearm while he vandalized federal property. Skavdahl said there is no direct evidence or witnesses confirming that Ehrlin carried his guns while defacing the signs around the campgrounds or that he was emboldened to commit those acts because he was carrying a weapon. He noted increasing the sentence because someone committed a felony while carrying a gun is usually applied in drug cases where someone was dealing in possession of a firearm, but this is a different sort of case.

Skavdahl was also skeptical of the prosecution’s argument that the sentence should be higher because the truck hitting the USFS agent resulted in bodily injury. He noted that the legal definition for this requires injuries that are painful, obvious, and the type of injury requiring medical attention, and while the officer did describe the hit like “being punched in the chest” and she did go to the hospital, there are no records of a broken rib, a bruising or other issues.

But, the Judge also sided against the defense on one of their arguments as well. Skavdahl said he agreed that Ehrlin used his truck as a deadly weapon because he looked the agent in the eyes and chose to back up when he didn’t have to, injuring the agent.

A screenshot from the body camera of the U.S. Forest Service Agent when Ehrlin made eye contact with her prior to reversing the truck. Courtesy of the U.S. District Court

Ultimately, Skavdahl tried to walk a middle ground and settled on a sentence halfway between what each side proposed. He was impressed with Ehrlin’s dedication to fatherhood and his family, but he said the evidence entered in the case showed Ehrlin has tendencies, either because of his political beliefs or mental illness, that could lead him to hurt people he doesn’t agree with politically.

“I don’t have any doubts as to his sincerity, loyalty, and commitment to those he is in agreement with,” Skavdahl said, over the sound of Ehrlin’s family crying in the courtroom. “My fear is 1. Ehrlin truly harbors those feelings or 2. He has a delusion disorder and so what’s the next one? Whose the next potential person that is going to be in his path of danger? I think there’s a lot of paranoia. I think there’s a lot of distrust to others outside of his circle.”

Ehrlin claims he was blackmailed into carrying the items

Ehrlin underwent a mental health assessment due to a story he told days after his arrest about being blackmailed by unidentified police officers into possessing all of the items recovered in the investigation and acting out against those with differing political views. 

In its sentencing memorandum, the U.S. Attorney’s office refutes this and any evidence that shows that mental illness contributed to his actions. The court document said the evidence directly contradicts any evidence that he was blackmailed or that he sincerely believed he was. The document pointed to his story about the Boise Police badge being found on a hike at the time of his arrest, which directly contradicts any mention of blackmail. 

“Further, his attempted flight further belies his claim and demonstrates consciousness of guilt,” the memo said. “Finally, the pants that Ehrlin wore provide valuable insight as well. Ehrlin wore tactical-style tan pants, similar to those worn by Washington County Sherriff’s Deputies. The independent evidence demonstrates Ehrlin did not suffer from delusions and acted purposefully.”

In his statement to the judge, Ehrlin said he is struggling with the possibility of a diagnosis of suffering delusions. He said the memory of being pulled over by Canyon County Sheriff’s Deputies, phone calls to his place of employment, letters in his mailboxes, and instructions to commit these crimes under the threat of blackmail is “as real to me as the birth of my son.”

“I want to accept the validity of (Dr. Davidson’s) assessments, but I would be lying to say I don’t struggle with this,” he told the judge. “I do not just think maybe I was stopped by Canyon County Sheriff’s Deputies and blackmailed. I know I was. I can remember the emotion, the adrenaline. I can remember the complete and utter confusion of being asked to load and unload a magazine…”

The investigation also included a review of his text messages and other digital communications, which uncovered discussions between him, his mother, and his common-law spouse which “illustrate strongly anti-government views that advocated violence in graphic and extreme statements,” a forensic analysis of his phone reads. 

Excerpts from a text conversation with his mother from October 12, 2020, show his strong opposition to Black Lives Matter protesters. Another text message described someone killing protestors like someone “sitting back looking at an elk herd of 300 elk with an assault rifle on saying shoot until you run out.”

“Have a vehicle pre-loaded with magazines and extra rounds and hand grenades and just execute hundreds of them in the street put a f****** end to this crap and make it to where they’re scared to even come out and ‘demonstrate,'” he wrote in one message, with the redaction for the f-word added in court documents.

Sentencing memorandum

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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