ELKHART — Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers doesn’t necessarily have anything against the feds.
He just thinks they sometimes overreach.
“Quite frankly, I believe in some cases the federal government is overstepping their boundaries in some constitutional issues,” Rogers said.
Rogers gained minor fame a year ago after he stood up to the U.S. Federal Drug Administration on behalf of a Middlebury-area dairyman who supplies raw milk to consumers. The dairy operator had faced repeated inspections by the FDA and sought help from Rogers, who fired off a letter to the agency telling it to first get a warrant if it wanted to carry out any more action.
More recently, Rogers garnered mention in the winter 2012 edition of Intelligence Report, the magazine put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC, a civil rights group based in Montogmery, Ala.
A critical report in the magazine zeroed in on Richard Mack, the head of a group that Rogers belongs to that’s aimed at curtailing what members see as federal government overreach, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, or CSPOA. Rogers didn’t face any direct criticism, but in a subsequent interview with The Elkhart Truth, he defended Mack, a former sheriff from Arizona.
“I know Mack, he’s not a violent person. He’s passionate. Passion is a good thing,” Rogers said.
The SPLC called Mack, who spoke in Elkhart earlier this year, a “darling of the tea party set.” His rhetoric can be confrontational and seems to “fuel the passions” of extremists along with more mainstream listeners. “What Mack seems to want is a nation of county sheriffs who believe the government is the enemy,” said the SPLC report.
Rogers, a 25-year veteran of the sheriff’s department here serving in his first term as sheriff, also defended the aim of the CSPOA, expanding on his views toward federal power along the way. Mack, who lives in Fredricksburg, Texas, heads the group, while Rogers sits on its Council of Sheriffs, Peace Officers and Public Officials.
“I think it’s strictly an educational group. It’s trying to educate sheriffs, (police) chiefs — what is the oath of office, how to protect citizens from the tyranny of crime and overreach of government,” Rogers said. “Government is necessary. But again, it should be to protect rights, not to take them away.”
UPHOLDING THE CONSTITUTION
In discussing his involvement with the CSPOA, Rogers, a Republican elected with tea party support, frequently alludes to the oath of office he took as a sheriff and law enforcement officer. The oath states that he vows to uphold the U.S. and Indiana constitutions, and for Rogers, that extends to defending the public from usurpation of their personal freedoms, even if the federal government is the usurper.
“I believe in personal liberties and the government should stay out of people’s business, by and large,” Rogers said. “The government is here to protect peoples’ rights, not to take freedom and liberty away from people.”
In the raw milk case, Rogers viewed the FDA as unfairly cracking down on the milk producer, David Hochstetler of Forest Grove Dairy, harassing him even. The agency — which enforces laws related to raw milk commerce, controversial and prohibited in many circumstances — had inspected Forest Grove Dairy and later subpoenaed Hochstetler to appear before a grand jury.
Rogers stepped in, saying FDA agents would need a search warrant to carry out any inspections or potentially face arrest. The FDA countered, saying it was acting within its authority per the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Either way, the subpoena was eventually withdrawn and Rogers — praised by raw milk activists and others at the time because of his stand — hasn’t heard any more of the matter.
Another example of federal government intrusion, Rogers says, came when Federal Bureau of Investigation agents recently swooped in to arrest a local suspect in a drug case. It’s not that they were out of their jurisdiction, it’s just that they never bothered to advise local law enforcement officials ahead of time.
Armed federal agents swarmed a local house to arrest their suspect and Rogers wonders what would have happened if a local law enforcement official had come upon the scene, unaware what was going on. He still doesn’t fully know what happened.
“As sheriff of the county, I take offense to that,” Rogers said. “I’m the elected sheriff of the county. Let’s work together.”
NO TRAMPLING ON RIGHTS
Of course Rogers does work on a multitude of issues with federal agencies — the FBI, immigration officials, the U.S. Marshals Service — generally without a hitch. Likewise, the bulk of his time is spent on the nuts and bolts of running a sheriff’s department, fighting crime and keeping the county’s roadways safe.
He deals with CSPOA issues perhaps once every two or so months.
That said, get him talking about federal power and the passion comes through. Sheriffs, as perhaps the highest-ranking elected law enforcement officials in the country, are uniquely positioned to do something to serve as a check when the feds do things they’re not supposed to.
“We have a unique ability to be able to step in and say, ‘We’re not going to let the rights of our citizens get trampled on, even if it’s from the government,’” he said.