A Las Vegas couple who killed two police officers and a good Samaritan last year had been on the radar of a nearby fusion center whose mission was to thwart dangerous extremists.
It’s difficult to tell whether the fusion center dropped the ball. But this much is noteworthy:
A group of armed members of the “patriot movement” was more concerned about the couple than was the fusion center.
The case began to unfold in February 2014 when Nevada authorities took a call from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
A former Indiana resident named Jerad Miller, the motor vehicle agency warned, was angry that his suspended license had been confiscated during a traffic stop in Nevada and had threatened to “start shooting people” if they tried to arrest him.
The information was relayed to the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center, a fusion center in Las Vegas. Capt. Chris Jones, the fusion center director, told The Star that three detectives — one assigned to the fusion center from the state Department of Public Safety and two from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police — went to Jerad and Amanda Miller’s apartment. Jerad Miller stepped outside, Jones said, and quickly closed the door behind him.
Jones said Miller apologized and said he’d made the threat because he was frustrated with the BMV for not telling him his license had been suspended.
“For the 20 or so minutes that we interacted with him, he didn’t display any aggression toward the detectives, he didn’t display any anti-police ideologies,” Jones said.
Amanda Miller also came outside to talk and closed the door behind her, Jones said. The detectives asked for permission to search the apartment but were denied.
“While suspicious, it’s not enough for us to go and get a warrant signed by a judge,” Jones said.
In mid-April, the Millers turned up at the site of a highly publicized standoff between supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and federal authorities who were trying to round up his cattle for years of grazing on government land.
Mike Vanderboegh, a former militia leader and longtime figure in the patriot movement, told The Star that the Millers were there at least three days. It didn’t take long, Vanderboegh said, for others at the site to become wary of the couple.
“He said he was a convicted felon but that he didn’t believe the government was constitutional,” Vanderboegh said. “And he sure as heck had a nice semiautomatic pistol on his hip.
“We had a lower camp that we referred to as the ‘fruits and nuts camp,’ and that’s where we referred them to.”
Vanderboegh said he summoned two members of the Oath Keepers group who also were at the ranch, and they all decided that the Millers needed to go.
“He didn’t meet our smell test,” he said of Jerad Miller.
Las Vegas police had two more encounters with the Millers. In April, the couple talked to police as witnesses to a domestic disturbance case in their apartment complex. The couple talked to police again on May 31 after Amanda Miller called to report that their neighbor had been a victim of a crime.
In those cases, Jones said, “both of them willingly provided voluntary statements. They showed no aggressions or any kind of anti-police ideology.”
On June 2, Jerad Miller posted on Facebook that it was time to prepare for war: “To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed.”
Six days later, the couple barged into a pizza restaurant and gunned down two Las Vegas police officers as they were having lunch. The Millers covered one body with a Revolutionary War era “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and a swastika and pinned a note on the other body saying the attack was the start of a revolution.
Then they went into a nearby Wal-Mart, where Amanda Miller shot and killed an armed customer who tried to stop them. When authorities surrounded the couple, Amanda turned the gun on herself as Jerad was shot to death by police.
Some wonder if the fusion center blew an opportunity to prevent the rampage. When authorities visited the Millers in May, they didn’t know the couple had made the trip to Bundy’s ranch.
Jones said no one at the standoff alerted authorities about Jerad Miller.
“If we’d known he was in our jurisdiction and possessing a firearm illegally and had these anti-government notions, certainly we would have followed up on it,” he said.
Miller, who was a convicted felon, was prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm.
The investigation into the shootings found that Miller espoused a mixture of ideologies, including the militia and sovereign citizen movements, Jones said.
“He aligned himself with militia in that he felt the federal government was oppressive,” he said. “He also aligned himself with a lot of sovereign ideologies in that he believed the federal government overstepped their bounds, that they had limited jurisdiction with respect to state rights.”
Jones said, however, that it would have been “completely impossible” for authorities to predict that the Millers would become violent.
Mike German, a former FBI agent who specialized in domestic terrorism, said it’s hard to know whether that’s true.
“They have this model of radicalization, so the fact that the person would talk nicely to them is a sign that there’s ‘no problem,’” he said. “Well, guess what. I talked to these kinds of guys, I hung out with them, I lived with these guys. Some of them were nice guys, some of them were fun to talk to. But they were also dangerous criminals.”