For years, Tamika Pledger worked in the neighborhoods of Kansas City, Kan., to earn the moniker of community activist.
Now, during the 10 months since being charged with inadvertently killing a teenage pedestrian in a traffic crash, Pledger has taken her activism to a different venue — the courtroom.
Demonstrating an unwillingness to let the case run its normal course, she has filed motions challenging the criminal charges filed against her and the legality of the proceedings in Wyandotte County District Court.
Her preliminary hearing, now set for Oct. 29, has been delayed several times, in part because Pledger asked for time to hire an attorney before one was appointed for her. That attorney withdrew when Pledger hired another lawyer. Then that lawyer withdrew. After a further delay, a third attorney was appointed to represent her.
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The slow pace of the case and some of the statements made by Pledger have left the family of Tierra Smith, the girl who was killed, angry and frustrated, according to statements they made in court. Family members declined to comment for this story.
Pledger’s basic contention is that Wyandotte County officials do not have jurisdiction to prosecute her. She alleges that no judge signed the affidavit to support the charges against her.
But she also appears to be embracing some of the tenets of the sovereign citizen movement, which at its core rejects the legitimacy of federal and local governments and their laws.
In March, she filed a writ to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. In it, she stated that Tamika Pledger was making a special appearance in the case on behalf of TAMIKA PLEDGER.
That distinction between names written in capital and lower case letters is a typical tactic of sovereign citizens, reflecting their belief that the government has set up a “straw man” corporate entity for each citizen.
Those straw men are referred to in official documents by names in all capital letters and are used by the government as collateral in dealings with other countries, according to those who adhere to the movement.
In her writ, she referred to Tamika Pledger in the document as “I AM.”
“I AM a flesh and blood living human being and/or woman, not a corporation nor a legal ‘person,’ nor a surety for one,” she wrote. “I AM not standing under the alleged charges; nor do I consent to be prosecuted by STATE OF KANSAS.”
A Wyandotte County judge found no legal basis for the document and denied her writ. She is appealing to the Kansas Supreme Court.
She did not respond to a reporter’s question about whether she considers herself a sovereign citizen. Instead, she provided a video that describes the straw man theory.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said her filings show “all of the hallmarks” of a sovereign citizen.
“They think they are immune to most laws, especially federal law,” Potok said.
Though the sovereign citizen movement initially was racist and anti-black, many black people in recent years have embraced some its theories and beliefs, Potok said.
Those sovereign citizen tactics “cause an incredible clogging of the court system,” he said, but never have succeeded in the courts.
“Those motions have absolutely no grounding in the law,” Potok said.
Pledger, who was running for a seat on the board of commissioners of the Unified Government in Wyandotte County at the time of the crash in January, also alleges that her prosecution is politically motivated.
In a recent conversation on local radio, host Darla Jaye asked Pledger why she believed she was being railroaded.
“Because I’m Tamika Pledger,” she responded. “This is political.”
The fatal traffic incident occurred Jan. 30 at 13th Street and Troup Avenue in Kansas City, Kan.
Pledger’s daughter and other relatives were among a group of teens who had gotten off a school bus before they were confronted by another group of teens looking for a fight.
Pledger’s daughter called her and said they were about to be attacked.
Pledger got into her car and drove to the location. As she crested the top of a steep hill, her car ran into four teens. Tierra Smith, 16, died a week later from her injuries.
Wyandotte County prosecutors charged Pledger with involuntary manslaughter and three counts of aggravated battery.
Though prosecutors do not allege that the incident was intentional, they contend that Pledger drove in a reckless manner. An accident reconstruction estimated she was traveling at more than 50 mph. The posted speed limit is 20 mph.
Pledger says that prosecutors rushed to file charges without fully investigating all of the circumstances. She said the affidavit does not even mention other vehicles stopped in the street that she had to swerve to avoid.
She said the cars and people blocking the street are “contributing negligent parties” to what happened, yet no one else has been charged.
“It was just too quick,” she said of the investigation. “They didn’t interview half of the witnesses.”
Since then, officials have been using the media “to nail me,” she said.
But prosecutors have said very little about the case outside the courtroom, while Pledger has been reaching out to the media.
In May, she held a press conference during which she addressed the Smith family: “I’m sorry. It was an accident.”
That prompted a judge to order her jailed for a week for violating the court order against having direct or indirect contact with victims.
Last month, she emailed a 10-page statement outlining the evidence in her case and a recounting of all court proceedings since the incident. She also provided proposed guidelines to how criminal cases should be handled.
Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerry Gorman declined to comment on issues raised by Pledger in her pretrial filings and statements.
“Any responses we need to make will be done in the courtroom,” Gorman said.