Catron man builds bombs
One Catron County man from the Reserve area is facing four felony explosives charges following his tangle with police this past autumn.
According to the New Mexico Courts case lookup website, Tod Bartels is scheduled for arraignment Monday in 7th Judicial District Court on four fourth-degree felony charges of possession of an explosive or incendiary device, as well as aggravated assault upon a peace officer, a third-degree felony; aggravated battery upon a peace officer, a fourth-degree felony; aggravated fleeing of a law enforcement officer, a fourth-degree felony; criminal damage to property, a petty misdemeanor; and four misdemeanor charges: resisting, evading or obstructing an officer; driving while license is suspended or revoked, not DWI-related; no proof of insurance; failure to display a registration plate and failure to register a vehicle.
Assistant 7th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Burwell said he cannot comment on an ongoing case, but noted Catron County is “still the Wild West.” Although it is the largest county in New Mexico in land area — at over 6,900 square miles — it has fewer than 4,000 residents and five deputies patrolling for the sheriff’s department, plus the sheriff and undersheriff.
According to the statement of probable cause filed in Catron County Magistrate Court on Nov. 2, 2012, New Mexico State Police Patrolman James Hammond began an investigation of Bartels on Oct. 29, 2012, when Bartels was driving on state Road 435 in Reserve. Bartels was seen parked at Catron County Magistrate Court in a white 1994 Jeep Cherokee that had no license plate displayed.
Hammond was familiar with Bartels and knew he had been driving the Jeep with no registration, and that Bartels had previously displayed a Texas registration plate expired in 2006 on his Jeep. Bartels had been ticketed and warned several times about the violations.
When Hammond made contact with Bartels and requested his identification, Bartels ignored his request several times. Bartels allegedly admitted to driving, saying he had driven to court that day and had to drive to get groceries. When Hammond said the vehicle would be towed, Bartels allegedly responded negatively and profanely, telling Hammond he would have to Taser him.
Bartels allegedly fled to his Jeep and used it to ram another NMSP vehicle driven by NMSP Agent Jeremy Vaughan, who authored the probable cause statement. Hammond drew his sidearm and demanded Bartels stop the Jeep and get out.
“[Expletive] off!” Bartels allegedly yelled back.
Bartels then threw a pair of binoculars onto the passenger’s side floorboard of the Jeep, and said, “Don’t shoot, I’m unarmed.” The probable cause statement reports Bartels was armed with two knives at that moment, as police would soon discover.
Hammond was led to believe Bartels had planned his response to being approached by law enforcement because Bartels was smoking a cigarette during the entire incident and mentioned receiving advice from his attorney that being beat up by law enforcement would be helpful to him. Hammond holstered his sidearm and opened the Jeep’s driver side door. Bartels then allegedly grabbed the interior handle of the door and pulled it shut, slamming the patrolman’s hand in the door. Hammond opened the door again and handcuffed Bartels.
Bartels allegedly fought back and resisted arrest until Hammond drew his Taser and gave Bartels three seconds to surrender. Bartels then cooperated and was taken into custody.
Police allegedly found two double-edged throwing knives in Bartels’ pockets. Hammond had been told Bartels was an expert knife thrower.
Once he arrested Bartels, Hammond began a vehicle inventory of Bartels’ property in the Jeep. In Bartels’ pants pocket, police found a multi-colored notebook that allegedly contained handwritten notes about building explosive devices, building chemical weapons and attacking aircraft.
The notes described how to build four or five different explosive devices, including the components necessary to build them and several diagrams.
One diagram depicted a metal gas can made into a device. Another depicted a 55-gallon drum with explosive material pointed at low-flying aircraft, specifically a helicopter; the device design uses debris projectiles shooting at the rotary wings in order to cause a helicopter to lose lift and crash.
A third diagram showed a trip-wire-type device that would be buried in the dirt. A fourth showed how to build a short-range grenade.
There were also notes about using three different types of “tablets” mixed together to make mustard gas.
Police secured the multi-colored notebook at the Catron County Sheriff’s Department. The Jeep was towed and secured at the New Mexico State Police impound yard in Quemado.
Oct. 30, 2012, Vaughan and FBI Special Agent Richard Wilson went to conduct an interview with Bartels, who refused to be interviewed by state police but agreed to be interviewed by the FBI.
After receiving the Miranda warning, Bartels allegedly told Wilson he was approached by Hammond at Magistrate Court in Reserve the day before and that he sustained a possible arm injury while “wrestling” with the patrolman.
Bartels also allegedly told the agent he had been contacted by a “militia,” which the FBI calls a “sovereign citizen group.”
Bartels allegedly had two notebooks containing information about rocket propellants. He had allegedly built a device with a propellant made of aluminum, petrochloride and sugar and planned to test the device in the near future.
Bartels allegedly told the Wilson he copied a lot of information in the notebook from the Internet. He provided a home address on the 30 block of Cedar Street in Rancho Grande Estates, Reserve. Later, he ended the interview and refused to discuss the case further.
Hammond was contacted, but he had already found the alleged rocket propellant device and photographed it. It was a silver metal tube with foil on each end that appeared to be the improvised explosive device Bartels had described during his interview with Wilson.
A Catron County Sheriff’s deputy shared with Vaughan a conversation the deputy had with a relative of Bartels about three weeks before the incident at Catron County Magistrate Court. The relative had warned the deputy that deputies need to be careful because Bartels carries explosives on his person.
On Oct. 31, 2012, Vaughan obtained four search warrants from 7th Judicial District Court to search Bartels’ residence on the 30 block of Cedar Street, including all the vehicles, outbuildings and curtilage on the property; Bartels’ multi-colored notebook; Bartels’ campsite, including a motorhome, camping trailer and camouflage colored Chevrolet pickup; and the white Jeep Cherokee impounded at the NMSP impound yard in Quemado.
Upon service of the search warrant on Cedar Street, officers found many notes and documents about building explosive devices. Further notes and documents communicated Bartels’ extreme displeasure with two particular Catron County Sheriff’s deputies, Patrolman Hammond and Harris Towing, of Luna.
Police also found notes depicting sovereign citizen ideals such as attacks against the United States and the need for “counter-attacks.” Plans and diagrams for the counter-attacks were also found. Many of the documents were mixed with mail and court documents for Bartels.
According to the probable cause statement, all of those documents and notes were found in a drawer at the Cedar Street residence. The owner of the Cedar Street residence identified the drawer as belonging to Bartels.
The homeowner said Bartels comes to her residence often and she no longer wants him around. She told police that she asked Bartels on several occasions not to come to her house, and that he does not live at the Cedar Street residence.
Police found a black Chevrolet Blazer, with no visible vehicle identification number and no license plate, in the yard near the front door of the Cedar Street residence.
The homeowner said the Blazer belongs to Bartels also, and he had parked it in her yard over two years ago. Police found a large plastic luggage box in the passenger-side back seat that contained items that could be used for a methamphetamine production lab. It did not appear to be actively cooking meth so was deemed safe to remove from the property for further inspection.
A U.S. Forest Service captain helping with the search noticed a large amount of paperwork in the front passenger seat with Bartels’ name on it. The homeowner said everything in the Blazer belonged to Bartels. Police secured the vehicle and removed it to the NMSP impound yard for further inspection.
Police then commenced their search of Bartels’ campsite, where Bartels’ motorhome, camp trailer and Chevrolet pickup were parked. Once inside the motorhome, Vaughan, Wilson and Catron County Undersheriff Ian Fletcher saw what appeared to be materials in various stages of being modified into explosive devices. Once they found what appeared to be a homemade hand grenade with a match trigger, they immediately left the motorhome and called the NMSP bomb team for assistance.
The next morning, Nov. 1, 2012, members of the NMSP bomb team arrived at the campsite to continue the search. When they finished searching, they used additional explosive charges to neutralize two IEDs found in the motorhome. The remains of the two IEDs were collected as evidence in the case.
The FBI, NMSP and the Catron County Sheriff’s Department continued the search, finding numerous tubes, electrical components and powders that appeared to be for building explosive devices. More papers were found documenting the planning and preparation of explosives.
Police then obtained an additional search warrant for the contents of the black Blazer and went to the NMSP impound lot to search it and the white Jeep Cherokee. NMSP meth team members joined the search and examined the alleged methamphetamine production lab. It was deemed to be such a lab, but police found no combination of items that would meet the statutory requirements for charging Bartels with a methamphetamine violation.
When the search of the two vehicles was complete, police had found a black plastic tube that appeared to have been modified into a case for an IED, as well as the item allegedly described by Bartels as a rocket motor, which Hammond had photographed. It was a silver tube, about three inches long, with foil inside both ends. Police found it contained black powder that seemed to be a type of flammable gun powder.
Numerous court documents for Bartels were found in a cardboard box in the Blazer, along with plans, diagrams and notes about building explosive devices. Further notes described Bartels’ displeasure with three particular Catron County Sheriff’s deputies, Patrolman Hammond and Harris Towing — the same people (plus one deputy) complained about in the notes at the Cedar Street residence. There were also notes outlining attacks against the United States and how to “counter-attack.” Once police completed the searches, a NMSP sergeant was contacted to release the vehicles to their owner.
On Nov. 2, 2012, Vaughan called the sergeant with the NMSP bomb team. The sergeant said he removed three completed IEDs from Bartels’ campsite — a homemade hand grenade, PVC pipe bomb with match initiator and a steel canister with gunpowder and a fuse — and rendered them safe, plus confiscated a fourth device, which had not been identified as of the time of the probable cause statement.
The statement of probable cause also refers to an incident on March 8, 2012, when Hammond initiated a traffic stop on the same white Jeep Cherokee for expired registration. On that day, a civilian told Hammond about Bartels driving around without registration, and that Bartels was wanted on a Grant County arrest warrant. The civilian said Bartels would flee if law enforcement tried to stop him.
Hammond then saw the Jeep drive by, so he initiated a traffic stop. The Texas registration was placed on the windshield and was clearly visible as expired in 2006. When the patrolman ran the license check on Bartels, he found Bartels had an outstanding arrest warrant from Grant County as the civilian had said.
Hammond requested backup out of concern Bartels would flee. When Catron County sheriff’s deputies arrived, Bartels rolled up his driver-side window, locked his doors and refused to turn the Jeep’s engine off. Hammond coordinated officers in surrounding the Jeep. Bartels allegedly told one deputy that he could escape into the woods if he wanted to, and that he would never be found if he chose to escape into the woods.
Bartels allegedly refused to give deputies the keys to his Jeep. Hammond demanded the keys, and Bartels eventually gave them to the patrolman. He then refused to exit the Jeep, and Hammond requested a tow truck. The tow truck arrived about half an hour later; by then Bartels had calmed down and become compliant.
The outstanding arrest warrant was “extradite Grant County only,” police discovered via the National Crime Information Center. Bartels was released and the Jeep removed.
A different NMSP patrolman stopped the same Jeep driven by Bartels in September 2012, according to the probable cause statement.
During that incident, Bartels allegedly refused to recognize state authority over the registration of vehicles. He was driving the Jeep with the 2006-expired Texas registration plate. The probable cause statement reports Bartels had apparently purchased the Jeep and refused to register it in his own name.