From time to time, Libertas Institute interviews people throughout Utah whose stories are important and relevant to our misison of advancing the cause of liberty in this state. Below are the transcribed results of these insightful conversations.
Editor’s note: Heather Gardner is a parent of several children attending school in Utah. A few days ago, using a legal opinion from an Assistant Attorney General that contradicts the purpose and intent of a “parental rights” law in the state, her daughter was forced to take an exam that she had opted her out of.
This morning, Heather filed a formal complaint with the Utah State Charter School Board. Below, she recounts this and other experiences her children have had being told by teachers to do what her parents said she didn’t need to comply with. The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.
Libertas Institute: Tell our readers a little about yourself.
Heather Gardner: My husband and I are the parents of five children. I’m currently a professional photographer, and own two book review websites. I also teach at Liberty Hills Academy, a private school in Bountiful. I ran for the state school board during this last election, and did not make it on the ballot because the Governor’s nominating committee ended my candidacy. However, I did petition Judge Waddoups to put myself and all the other rejected candidates on the ballot once he ruled that the process was unconstitutional, but my petition was denied. I was appointed by Senator Niederhauser to the standards review committee for Fine Arts curriculum in Utah.
I’ve tried to stay very informed about educational issues, related legislation, and to attend my local school board meetings and legislative sessions. I’m a special needs mom and advocate for students and parents.
Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited transcription of an interview Libertas Institute conducted with a student from Fremont High School who experienced a pat-down search after a student brought a gun to school on December 1, 2014. In response to the gun, police were called, the suspect student was taken into custody, and subsequently every single student was patted down as officials evacuated the school. Out of respect for the student’s privacy, we are not disclosing her identity nor that of her parent.
Libertas Institute: Tell us about your experience at your high school during the recent lockdown incident.
Student: During my third period class the principal came over the intercom and announced that all teachers were to lock the doors and no one was permitted in the hall. I just thought maybe it was a random locker search with drug dogs because they have done that occasionally.
Then we looked out the window of our classroom and saw dozens of police cars and realized that this was not a drill. We continued to wait in class for what seemed like three hours after the end of our teacher’s lecture that day. Students were taking pictures out the window and calling family and friends. The principal then came over the intercom and announced that the school was being evacuated and that they would evacuate our classrooms one-by-one. We waited for another 45 minutes until a police officer opened our door and told us to all line up and leave everything, including backpacks, behind. They let us keep our wallets, cell phones, and car keys. They instructed us to go down the hall and split up into girls on one side of the hall and boys on the other. They had us put our arms above our heads and spread our legs. I placed my keys and cell phone on the ground. A female officer came by and patted me down. She thoroughly searched me over my clothing including under and around my breasts, my buttocks, and between my legs. When we were done with the pat-downs we were led outside to the football field.
There were female officers to search female students and male officers for male students. I think they brought in additional female officers from nearby places like Ogden too.
Editor’s note: The following is a lightly edited transcription of an interview Libertas Institute conducted with a Utah mother of three whose parental rights have been violated by the judicial system. The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.
Amy Brown: I’m 33 years old, and was raised as a Latter-day Saint. My husband and I have been married for 10 years and have three children.
LI: You were recently issued a fairly controversial order by a commissioner. Before getting to that, can you explain how you got to that point?
AB: About a year ago, my husband and I began to extensively study the history of the LDS Church. In essence, we came to separate conclusions and it began to drive a wedge between us.
What I didn’t know until more recently is that he secured a divorce attorney nearly a year ago and began going behind my back to get affidavits against me—including from each of my own family members—for fear that I would expose our children to what I was studying.
We each filed a petition for divorce in September, and were living together at the time that the commissioner gave a temporary order which required me to leave our home; I was the primary care giver for our three children, including a nursing one-year-old infant.
Editor’s note: Lyft is one of two popular ride-sharing services (Uber being the other) that have faced significant opposition from traditional competitors such as taxi companies. Governments around the country have attempted to enforce regulations on them. Libertas Institute’s president recently got a ride using Lyft and documented his experience here.
The woman interviewed in this article is one of several Utah drivers who have been issued extremely costly citations in recent weeks for offering a ride to a consenting passenger.
Libertas Institute: Tell us about yourself.
Amanda Wardell: I’ve lived in Salt Lake City for about three years. I’m a single mother of a seven-year-old daughter—her father’s rights were terminated, so I get no financial support from him. I’ve been the sole provider for her. I just finished school to get my massage therapy license, so hopefully that will give me some opportunities.
I worked as a health inspector in Texas for a few years, but when I moved to Utah I found a job with a private company which was up to 75% travel, so I was never home. My daughter’s grades were bad, she’s in trouble all the time. Not having me around, I just couldn’t do that anymore. So I had to switch fields, and I tried to find other jobs that didn’t require traveling so much, but I didn’t have any luck.
Editor’s note: Libertas Institute opposes government intervention and regulation in the economy that disadvantages one industry in order to protect another—such has been the case with the agricultural growth of industrial hemp which faced opposition from competing industries with greater lobbying power. Hemp cultivation has been illegal under federal law since 1957 when a combination of interventionist factors effectively ended U.S. domestic hemp production despite centuries of successful use of the crop. This included confusion on the part of the Drug Enforcement Agency between industrial hemp (non-psychoactive variety of cannabis plants grown for their fiber) and “marijuana” (cannabis varieties high in THC grown for psychoactive drug use). The DEA remains confused to this day by including cannabis generally on the controlled substances list despite the recent farm bill which recognized industrial hemp as separate from marijuana and actually legalized research-based growth of the crop (Sec. 7606 of the Farm Bill, HR 2642).
Thus far, 32 states have considered pro-hemp legislation with 20 states enacting their legislation into law. Ten states (California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia) have passed industrial hemp farming laws and removed barriers to its production.
Colorado’s legalization for the agricultural cultivation of industrial hemp begins this year. Colorado farmer Ryan Loflin of Rocky Mountain Hemp, Inc. jumped out ahead of the regulation last year and in October 2013 he harvested the first domestic, commercial hemp crop in the U.S. in nearly 60 years.
The following is an edited transcription of an interview Libertas Institute conducted with Ryan Loflin about industrial hemp. The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.
Editor’s note: Libertas Institute has been closely following and influencing policy issues related to the use of police authority including task force raids, police militarization, and forcible entry warrants. Conventional wisdom suggests that law enforcement officials are at odds with those who champion civil liberties, but as this interview demonstrates, that narrative is not entirely accurate.
The following is an edited transcription of an interview Libertas Institute conducted with Christopher Gebhardt about these issues. Gebhardt is a 15 year police veteran and three-time SWAT commander in Utah. The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.
Libertas Institute: Describe for us your law enforcement service and experience.
Christopher Gebhardt: I started my career in Washington, D.C. working for the Metropolitan Police Department in 1990 where I finished as a Lieutenant. After that, I worked for a while in the corporate world before coming to Utah where I got back into law enforcement and worked in Utah law enforcement for seven years. I served a total of about 15 years directly in law enforcement.
LI: What type of experience did you have in SWAT?
CG: I was part of several SWAT teams here in the Salt Lake Valley. I started out as a base operator, got promoted, and worked as a team leader for several different teams and worked with a lot of the SWAT teams in the valley.
LI: What was the difference, if any, between your experience in D.C. and Utah? Were there any differences in police mentality, approach, or tactics?
Here it seemed the local police officers and deputies didn’t really dive into case law that much, or as much as I think they should.
CG: I think there was a big regional difference in approach in the Northeast compared to my experience in Utah. For example, the academy back east was much harder to get through. You had to be able to recite verbatim the 4th Amendment because it was much more embedded in the culture of law enforcement there. Case law was always being brought up and trained and instilled, whereas here in Utah, I think that is lacking a bit. Here it seemed the local police officers and deputies didn’t really dive into case law that much, or as much as I think they should.
Editor’s note: Libertas has been closely following the stories of birth fathers around the country who are defrauded by mothers who exploit weaknesses in Utah law to put their children up for adoption over the wishes—and without the consent of—such fathers. Recently, several of these fathers have filed a class action civil suit against the state of Utah.
The following is an edited transcription of an interview Libertas conducted with Rob Manzanares, one of the plaintiffs in the class action suit and one of the more notable cases in Utah. Manzanares has been involved in court battles for years, costing nearly half a million dollars, to win custody of his daughter, Kaia. The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.
Libertas Institute: Tell us about yourself and your story.
Rob Manzanares: My name is Rob Manzanares and I’m from Colorado. My story is about my love for my daughter. It begins in 2008 when I was living in a serious relationship with my former girlfriend—my daughter’s mother. We had moved in together and were planning on starting a family together. We took steps toward that end, probably faster than we should have, but we were definitely taking the right steps to become a family.
We found out we were pregnant about 8 months into our relationship. For me, that was the most exciting day of my life. I was 30 years old at the time and had just finished a masters degree. I was in between jobs and was figuring out what direction to take in my career. I always loved children and knew I wanted to have a family after finishing my education and so I was extremely excited to find out that we were pregnant. We sat down together and started making educated decisions on how to proceed with the pregnancy and how to raise a child together. My former girlfriend also had a six year old daughter from a previous marriage who was living with us. It was a really happy time around our household when we found out we were going to have a child.
Editor’s note: Libertas staff recently became aware of problems Christiansen Family Farms was having with regulation from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Recent puzzling enforcement actions by state regulators have effectively shut down their small chicken farm operation.
The following is an edited transcription of an interview Libertas conducted with Christian Christiansen of Christiansen Family Farms, a small family ranch where they produce beef, pork, and chicken.
Libertas Institute: Tell us about Christiansen Farms—how did you start and what do you do?
Christian Christiansen: We started toward the end of 2007 and at first all we intended to do was raise meat for ourselves. After raising one pig for ourselves, we thought “why not raise another and sell it to offset our costs?” So we started doing that and the person we first sold our extra pig to raved about how good it was. They told all their friends, family, and neighbors about it and they all started calling us and asking us to raise an extra pig for them, and we said “yeah sure, no problem!”
Editor’s note: The following is a lightly-edited transcription of an interview with Kimberlie Kehrer, former state school board candidate whose candidacy was terminated by an arbitrary process before she could appeal to voters. Click here to learn more about this process.
Libertas Institute: What led you to declare your candidacy for the state school board?
Kimberlie Kehrer: I had just resigned from being president of Wasatch Home Educators Network, an online group created to connect families that were looking for educational opportunities and resources for their children. The group had grown so large since I began that we needed to create a board. Families were leaving the public education system in droves and I had been involved with many of them finding solutions for their children. The parents of these children were educated and tired of a failing system.
Parents for Choice in Education sent out an email asking if I would participate in the school board elections for my area. I started listening to the online meetings for the Utah State Office of Education and reading various articles about their work. It appeared that the state office was interested in improving the state’s education standards, and I was all for improving these standards because through my experience I had seen how the system had been dumbed down.
I was initially hesitant to become a candidate because I was homeschooling one of my children at the time. I asked friends utilizing the various educational systems (public, private, or homeschool) what they thought and if they felt I would be able to represent them. I reviewed their opinions, reflected on my availability, responsibilities, current involvement, costs, and sacrifices needed to inform my large district. After serious consideration of what it would involve, I decided to do it. On March 15th, 2012, I went to the Provo county clerk’s office and declared my candidacy.
Editor’s note: The following is a lightly-edited transcription of an interview with Vanessa Sommerfeld, a Utah mother of four whose parental rights were terminated. Her story suggests the existence of massive corruption on the part of state agencies. While it should be noted that hers is only one side of the story, her guilt or innocence is actually irrelevant to the larger issue discussed in this interview. As you’ll learn below, pending legislation can help prevent similar atrocities from occurring in Utah to people like Vanessa.
Libertas Institute: Please describe your story.
Vanessa Sommerfeld: My ex-husband Dana was involved in a lot of abuse during our marriage—financial, emotional, verbal, sometimes physical, and then it went into sexual abuse. He was addicted to pornography for most of our marriage. He couldn’t hold down a job, we went through bankruptcies… it was a nightmare. We never had a dime. We were always moving.
We had four kids together. When we separated, he began to stalk me. He would call me and harass me, would come over and not leave the house, and the kids and I had to move because he wouldn’t leave us alone. Then he followed me to that house, he’d come to where I worked, and basically did everything he could to make my life difficult. I was working a full time and a part time job 12 hours a day, having previously been a stay-at-home mom. I was going to school on top of that, and was a scout leader, lots of things.
So I had to get stalking injunctions and protective orders, and he would still just violate them. So I was working at a homeless shelter in St. George, and he started calling my work and harassing my employer to get a hold of me. So they set me up with the Erin Kimball Foundation which is a domestic violence foundation. They moved us into hiding. My husband couldn’t get to us because he didn’t have a vehicle—the police had impounded it.