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Armed man at Black Lives Matter protest charged with impersonating officer

Updated June 12, 2020 - 2:19 pm

A formidably armed man with a Nazi tattoo who tried to march alongside police at a Black Lives Matter protest in Las Vegas is facing a charge of impersonating a federal officer.

Zachary Sanns was spotted at a rally that moved along Fremont and Seventh streets late last month, wearing plain clothes, a tactical vest, a ballistic helmet and night-vision goggles, according to a federal complaint filed this week.

Sanns, who faces one count of false impersonation of an officer or employee of the United States, had driven to the protest in a black Chevy Tahoe with blue lights in the grill activated, the complaint stated.

As Metro officers from various jurisdictions arrived at the May 30 protest, Sanns’ face was covered with a balaclava, and he walked up behind a line of officers known as the “skirmish line,” or a barrier between protesters and a command post, the court papers filed Wednesday said.

He carried an AR-15 rifle with a holographic sight and a magnifier, “similar to how law enforcement and military carry their rifles when not in use but can be quickly accessed,” the complaint said. “The manner in which this subject was dressed is nearly identical to how a plainclothes local and federal law enforcement officer would be in this situation.”

Heavily armed

A Glock pistol with an extended magazine and rubber bands wrapped around the handle was clipped to his gun belt, along with a Taser, two tourniquets and pepper spray.

A deputy chief with Metro who assumed Sanns was part of law enforcement and believed he saw a federal badge approached him and said: “I don’t need you on the front line with an AR-15. Who are you with?” the complaint said. “He recalled the subject stating something similar to being ‘federal officer.’ ”

When the deputy chief pressed further, Sanns said he was with Homeland Security Investigations.

Assistant Sheriff Chris Jones then approached Sanns and asked the same question.

“I’m with the State Department,” he said, according to the complaint. “They deploy us out here.”

Jones told federal investigators that he noticed what he believed was a Department of Homeland Security emblem on Sanns’ gray T-shirt.

That night, a Las Vegas Review-Journal photographer posted images of Sanns on social media that showed an “SS” bolt logo and “0351” tattoos on his upper left arm.

“The SS font is the same font used by Nazi SS units in World War II,” the complaint said. The numerical tattoo references a U.S. Marine Corps special infantry. The “SS” tattoo is a “discouraged symbol used by some Marine Corps Scout Snipers. This 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.”

Ex-Marine, DOD contractor

Sanns was enlisted in the Marine Corps from January 2011 to April 2016 and worked as a Department of Defense contractor for the Navy from Dec. 2, 2019, to Dec. 23, 2019, according to the complaint.

Metro’s internal affairs bureau received a call this week from Sanns, who said that officers swore at him and “had blown kisses to his wife” at the protest, the complaint said. “There was no reason for Sanns to be on the event with his police officer wife in an area of town she does not work and he does not live.”

An investigation found Sanns had lied.

“When told the complaint would be closed, Sanns became agitated and irate,” the court documents said. He then told an internal affairs sergeant that he worked with the CIA.

When federal investigators searched his home on Tuesday, Sanns admitted being at the Black Lives Matter protest and told them he was an “off-the-books contractor for a federal agency.”

Court records showed that Sanns remained in federal custody. A hearing date had not been set.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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