COLLEGE STATION, TX - MARCH 11: U.S. Airman Milvia Cruz reads a brochure about being a U.S. citizen shortly before taking the oath during a naturalization ceremony March 11, 2005 at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. A group of 47 active duty soldiers became U.S. citizens during a ceremony presided over by former U.S. President George H.W. Bush. (Photo by Karl Stolleis/Getty Images)
Tom Laughlin, a veteran homicide detective who declared himself a "sovereign citizen" in documents filed in court last April, was fired by the department, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Laughlin, 42, had included a thumbprint on each page of the document and a photocopy of 21 silver pieces, the price to become a "freeman."
Though he'd served for about 20 years and had handled several high-profile cases for the department, Laughlin had increasingly becomed disillusioned with the direction of the city and country.
"What the paperwork was done for, was basically to get back to the roots," Laughlin told internal affairs investigators. "The Constitution. You know. And under God and back to the meat of what it really is."
He began talking about a "straw man accunt" that helped the government hide millions from citizens and spoke with fellow officers about a conspiracy involving Social Security numbers.
"It was one of those things where, as he's trying to explain it to me, I'm looking at him thinking, 'You're crazy,'" Detective Charles Riffe said in a statement to investigators. "I mean, what the hell? It didn't make any sense to me."
The Sarasota Police Department had already told officers last year to be careful during interactions with sovereign citizens. The FBI lists them as domestic terror threats after violent attacks by members, including Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols.
Tom Laughlin's brother James, himself a "freeman," has been charged with trying to extort two officers and may have been the catalyst for his brother's sovereign citizen bid.
Tom Laughlin said that after his brother allegedly tried the extortion, he wanted out.
"That's when I knew this was something that I didn't want to be a part of," Tom Laughlin said. "I filed those documents without really reading them. All I wanted to do was make a political statement about the way things are going in this country. I didn't want to be involved in any kind of extremist movement."
He says he tried to get the court paperwork retracted but it was too late. In July, an internal affairs case was opened, and though Laughlin apparently hadn't broken any laws, he had likely violated his oath of office.
Laughlin was fired last week, after he was accused of associating with a hate group that advocates violence, dishonesty, and using department computers to search websites on straw man accounts and sovereign citizens.
Laughlin said he knew he was wrong but is appealing the firing.
"I screwed up and I deserve to take my lumps," he said. "I know what I did was stupid. But I don't think I deserve to lose my job over it. I have been a police officer since I was 19 years old. This is all I know."