2016 will be the tenth year Lawyers for Burners has helped the Burning Man community defend itself against arrests and citations by law enforcement at the Burning Man Event. If you received a citation from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or where arrested or cited by Pershing County Sheriff, Jerry Allen, please fill out a feedback form on the top left tab. Lawyers for Burners is collecting information about law enforcement encounters at the Event and will respond with legal information and assistance in obtaining representation by an attorney.
Lawyers for Burners strongly recommends local criminal defense lawyer:
John B. Routsis
515 Court Street, 1st Floor,
Reno, NV 89501 Office:
John is a very skilled and generous Nevada attorney who has successfully represented scores of Burning Man participants in BLM and Pershing County cases every year. John has obtained very fair results for participants, and his professional fees are very reasonable: much lower than most Reno attorneys. For most BLM citations, he charges a flat fee of around $500 and can make the court appearance for you so that you don’t have to travel back to Nevada. He will also work with low-income participants on alternate fee arrangements. If you are interested in John’s services, contact his office directly and tell John that you received his contact information from Lawyers for Burners.
Alerts for 2016
1. Entering the Event and Driving on Gate Road
Take great care while entering the Event and while driving to your camp on Gate Road, the outer ring of the Event. In recent years, the BLM has shifted its drug enforcement efforts from patrolling inside the Event to stopping vehicles as they enter the Event. The BLM has used motor vehicle stops as a pretext to search vehicles for drugs. Once your vehicle is stopped, the BLM typically has a drug dog nearby to “sniff” your vehicle and “alert” to the presence of drugs.
Participants reported being stopped for ticky-tacky motor vehicle infractions like driving 13 mph when the speed limit was 10 mph or for an “obstructed” rear license plate. Once stopped, participants reported being asked if they had any drugs and whether they would consent to a search of their vehicle. Some Participants reported that after they said no, the officer went back to his vehicle and immediately returned with a drug dog. Many of those participants reported that it seemed like the officer caused his dog to “alert” even without the presence of drugs. Canine officers are often accused of training their dogs to alert on command or cue: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2015/08/04/federal-appeals-court-drug-dog-thats-barely-more-accurate-than-a-coin-flip-is-good-enough/?utm_term=.b9a548a33250
This “alert” by the dog can become probable cause to search Participant’s vehicle. If the BLM finds drugs in your vehicle, the BLM will most likely issue you a citation for $525. If you wish to contest the citation or plea bargain the citation to a non-drug offense, contact Lawyers for Burners through the feedback form on this site. Be polite but know that you do not have to consent to any interrogation or search. Try to enjoy the rest of the Burning Man, and Lawyers for Burners will assist you after the Event.
2. Back to the Future with the Pershing County Sheriff
In November 2014, Pershing County elected Jerry Allen as its new Sheriff. Pershing County is a rural and conservative county with a total population of only 6,800 people. Some of the citizens of Pershing County, including Sheriff Allen, don’t like Burning Man. In an August 25, 2015 article in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Allen stated, “Burning Man brings nothing to Pershing County except for heartache.” Allen also claims that Burning Man “taxes” the county’s resources. Although Burning Man annually pays Pershing County $240,000 (of which $196,000 goes to the Sheriff’s Office) plus meals, fuel, housing and other in kind payments, Sheriff Allen wants more money. Sheriff Allen wants to hire another 100 deputies to work at the Event in addition to the 34 deputies he hired in 2015. According to Allen, he needs “the personnel to issue citations to 70,000 naked people on the playa.”
True to his statements before the 2015 Event, Sheriff Allen’s deputies arrested 45 people last year. This was a six-fold increase from the seven people arrested in 2014. And there was no increase in crimes against persons or property in 2015. Of the 45 arrests, six were for battery and the rest were for drugs. It’s as if Sheriff Allen took out his frustrations with the Burning Man Event on a small number of its participants.
Another new development in 2015 was Sheriff Allen’s issuance of misdemeanor citations for “drugs which may not be introduced into interstate commerce” NRS § 454.351. “Drugs which may not be introduced into interstate commerce” is a rarely used section of the Nevada Health and Safety Code designed to criminalize possession of drugs (like Laetrile) not specifically enumerated in other code sections. Possession of enumerated drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, mushrooms etc. are felonies in Nevada and the Sheriff could only arrest (not issue citations to) participants in possession of those drugs.
Lawyers for Burners believes that Sheriff Allen issued misdemeanor citations for “drugs which may not be introduced into interstate commerce” for the purpose of raising money for his county. The citations imposed monetary penalties which are paid to Pershing County. Lawyers for Burners believes that Sheriff Allen is attempting to extract revenue directly from participants to augment the funding he receives from Burning Man: funding which Sheriff Allen declared was insufficient.
The relationship between Burning Man and Sheriff Allen is evolving and could be improved over time. Lawyers for Burners urges participants to give feedback to the Burning Man organization through Law Enforcement Feedback Forms and post-event feedback on the Burning Man website. The Pershing County Sheriff’s new and aggressive law enforcement tactics have caused great misfortune to a few, randomly selected participants. And Lawyers for Burners urges the rest of the Burning Man Community to voice their concerns about Sheriff Allen.
3. Burning Man Appeals BLM’S 2015 Law Enforcement Costs
One of the most galling aspects of law enforcement at the Event is that the BLM forces Burning Man to pay for all of its law enforcement activities at the Event. This means that participants’ ticket revenue is paying for the motor vehicle stops and drug dogs which produce the majority of criminal cases at Burning Man. The BLM charged Burning Man $940,000 in 2015 just for law enforcement personnel costs. This is in addition to the $196,000 Burning Man paid to the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office and the additional hundreds of thousands of dollars paid directly to vendors for law enforcement equipment and support services. Thus, the BLM, along with its trusty Pershing County deputies, conduct an annual turkey shoot at Burning Man, and the turkeys have to pay for the guns, bullets and lodging.
After the 2015 Event, Burning Man filed an appeal and challenged, in part, the amount BLM charged for law enforcement. Details about the appeal appeared in local newspaper coverage: http://www.rgj.com/story/life/arts/burning-man/2016/07/08/burning-man-demands-27m-blm/86491286/
Lawyers for Burners supports Burning Man’s cost appeal. The BLM is entitled to be paid for its additional costs associated with protecting public safety at the Event. But those cost should not include self-initiated drug enforcement campaigns like the turkey shoot that occurs every year on Gate Road. The BLM should fund its own drug enforcement campaigns and justify such expenditures as fiscally responsible uses of federal law enforcement resources.
THIS INFORMATION IS PROVIDED AS A COURTESY FROM LAWYERS FOR BURNERS AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL REPRESENTATION. THIS IS LEGAL INFORMATION, NOT LEGAL ADVICE, WHICH IS AN INTERPRETATION OF THE APPLICABLE LAW TO SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES. WE URGE YOU TO CONSULT A LAWYER FOR LEGAL ADVICE OR REPRESENTATION ABOUT A PARTICULAR LEGAL QUESTION OR ISSUE YOU MAY HAVE. LAWYERS FOR BURNERS RECEIVES NO COMPENSATION FROM ANY RECOMMENDED ATTORNEYS. LAWYERS FOR BURNERS IS SEPARATE FROM BURNING MAN PROJECT. THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THIS UPDATE ARE THE AUTHOR’S OWN AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF BURNING MAN PROJECT.