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'Sovereign citizen' killed during full-frontal assault on Georgia courthouse

Published time: June 06, 2014 20:05
Edited time: June 07, 2014 08:34
Police officers along with Forsyth County sheriff deputies investigate the scene at the Forsyth County Courthouse following a shooting incident in Cumming, Georgia June 6, 2014. (Reuters / Tami Chappell)

Police officers along with Forsyth County sheriff deputies investigate the scene at the Forsyth County Courthouse following a shooting incident in Cumming, Georgia June 6, 2014. (Reuters / Tami Chappell)

A shootout with a police deputy kept a man armed with explosives and an assault rifle from entering a courthouse in north Georgia on Friday morning. The deputy was injured; the suspect was killed.

The gunman, who police identified as Dennis Marx, was due in court to plead out on drug and weapons charges at the Forsyth County Courthouse in Cumming, Ga.. Authorities described him as “a sovereign citizen,” part of an anti-government group that has been tied to violent attacks on law enforcement around the country.

Marx drove his silver sport utility vehicle over the curb and through flower beds before coming to a stop in front of the courthouse flagpole. “It was on the courthouse as far as it could go — up to the stairs,” witness Kim Stephens told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A deputy performing a routine sweep of the courthouse approached the armed man who was still in his car. Marx began firing through the windshield, hitting the unnamed officer in the leg. He then threw out homemade spike strips so cars could not approach the building before beginning a “frontal assault” on the building, which included throwing gas or pepper grenades, police said.

Marx was carrying buckets of homemade explosives and ammunition, smoke grenades, supplies and water. "He came here with the purpose of occupying the courthouse," Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper said during a press conference. "Mr. Marx's intention was to get in that front door and take hostages.”

The SWAT team, which was on its way to a separate incident, arrived at the courthouse within 37 seconds, WSBTV reported. Deputies both in and outside of the building engaged in a roughly 90-second shootout with the gunman, police said. Marx was shot and killed, despite wearing body armor, according to WISTV.

The actions of the wounded deputy prevented Marx from entering the building. "When the deputy engaged him outside, it saved lives," Piper said. "The entire situation was solved by that deputy's actions."

The courthouse and nearby businesses were evacuated, but the situation was quickly contained, WBSTV reported. The FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation were joined by bomb-sniffing dogs and a Gwinnett County bomb squad and hazmat unit as they canvassed the area for potential explosives, the Journal-Constitution reported.

Marx was well-known to the authorities, who were concerned about explosives, as “sovereign citizens are known to be involved with explosives,” a law enforcement official familiar with the situation told the Journal-Constitution.

The gunman’s former attorney told WBSTV she had withdrawn from the case on Thursday because Marx was not satisfied with her negotiating skills. She said he was a gun buyer and trader who was in court for marijuana and firearms charges. The attorney said she asked the man to undergo a psychological evaluation, but he refused.

Authorities believe Marx booby-trapped his home with explosives, where they say he has not lived in for 10 days.

The deputy, a 30-year veteran, was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and “is expected to be okay,” the sheriff’s office wrote on its Facebook page.