LAS VEGAS (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged a former U.S. Marine with impersonating a federal officer after the man was armed and wearing tactical gear as he stood alongside police at a protest in Las Vegas last month.
Zachary Sanns was wearing plain clothes with a tactical vest, helmet and belt, a balaclava, a stun gun and two firearms, including an AR-15 style rifle, as he appeared near the front line with police on May 30 as they faced off with people protesting the death of George Floyd, according to a complaint filed in federal court last week.
He has been charged with one count of false impersonation of an officer or employee of the United States.
David T. Brown, an attorney representing Sanns, declined to comment Monday on the allegations. Sanns made an initial court appearance Friday but has not yet entered a plea. His next court appearance is June 26.
Prosecutors say two police officers, a deputy chief and an assistant sheriff noticed Sanns during the nighttime protest and asked him who he was with and believed he was a federal law enforcement officer.
The deputy chief said he recalled hearing that the man say he was a “federal officer” with the Department of Homeland Security. The assistant sheriff said the man told him, “I’m with the State Department, they deployed us out here.”
Las Vegas police began investigating after seeing photographs of the man taken by the Las Vegas Review-Journal that showed a tattoo on his arm with the number “0351” and “SS” in the same font as used by Nazi paramilitary SS, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors said the police department worried the photo “could have an immediate impact due to the public seeing the symbol and speculating the person in the photo to be affiliated with Nazi or racist groups and ideology.”
Investigators learned Sanns is married to a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer and had appeared with his wife at an event in an area of town where she does not work and he does not live, the complaint said. Officers at the event, which is not described, said Sanns had identified himself to them as a federal officer but refused to show any credentials.
Prosecutors said Sanns later told another officer that he works with the CIA and his wife’s supervising sergeant had complained about Sanns “continuously coming to the police station, showing up on his wife’s assigned calls for service, and repeated attempts to include himself in department training.”
The supervising sergeant told investigators that he saw Sanns on March 30 flashing blue lights in the grill of his Chevy Tahoe in a line of vehicles trying to exit the freeway near the protests. The sergeant said he later saw Sanns near his car downtown, dressing in body armor. He said Sanns “said his boss knew about him being there and was ‘OK’ with his self-deployment.”
The sergeant saw Sanns walking behind the police “skirmish line,” and saw him wearing body armor with a patch on the front that read “Department of Homeland Security” and one on the back that read “Federal Agent.”
Investigators said in the complaint that they checked with numerous federal law enforcement agencies and confirmed that Sanns was not an active federal employee or contractor. He was enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps from January 2011 through April 2016 and was a U.S. Department of Defense contractor for the U.S. Navy from Dec. 2-23, 2019.
Sanns’ was arrested on June 9 and told law enforcement officers that he never identified himself as law enforcement and while he was at the protest, he denied being on the police “skirmish lines,” or activating emergency lights on his vehicle.
Sanns said he was “an ‘off the books’ contractor for a federal agency,” according to the complaint, and said his wife’s supervising sergeant accepted his offer to help at the protest.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said Monday its internal affairs bureau has an ongoing investigation into allegations that Sanns sought to join his wife’s squad for police training.