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A Man Who Allegedly Posed As A Federal Officer At A Protest Will Go To Trial To Face Charges

Police realized the 28-year-old was not a real federal officer after a newspaper published a photo of him with a Nazi tattoo, court documents said.

Posted on October 10, 2020, at 1:30 p.m. ET

John Locher / AP

People protesting the death of George Floyd block traffic along Las Vegas Boulevard, May 29.

A former Marine with a Nazi "SS" tattoo on his arm is set to face a jury next month on charges of impersonating a federal law enforcement officer during a George Floyd protest in Las Vegas, the Department of Justice announced Friday.

Zachary Sanns, the husband of a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer, pleaded not guilty in a federal courthouse via video call Friday. His jury trial is scheduled for Nov. 30.

Sanns allegedly told police he was a federal agent as he lined up with real police officers who were setting up a "skirmish" line during a protest on May 30. The 28-year-old wore a tactical vest with patches that identified him as a federal officer, a ballistic helmet with night vision goggles, a gun belt with a handgun, Taser, and carried an AR-15 rifle as he faced off with demonstrators that day.

But police did not figure out that Sanns had been allegedly impersonating a federal officer until the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a picture of Sanns at the protest, wearing his tactical gear and with an "SS" tattoo on his arm, the symbol of a Nazi unit during World War II.

According to court documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News, Sanns behavior and the way he was dressed and equipped was "nearly identical to how a plainclothes local and federal enforcement officer would be in this situation."

But Sanns' presence at the front line with an AR-15 slung to his side caught the attention of a deputy chief with the metro police, who went up to Sanns and told him, "I don't need you on the front line with an AR-15."

Still, according to the complaint, the deputy chief assumed Sans was an officer and saw what he believed was a federal badge. When he asked Sans who he was with, the 28-year-old native of New Jersey said he was a "federal officer." Sans then identified himself as being with HSI, or Homeland Security Investigations, which the deputy chief believed.

Another assistant sheriff with the department had also approached Sanns, but allowed him to keep working with police officers after Sanns told him, "I'm with the State Department, they deployed us out here."

Sanns was seen going to a different area of the protest after he had been approached by the assistant sheriff and was not spotted again.

But according to the complaint, he continued to present himself as a federal officer. Sanns also had a history of deploying into the field with his wife on her calls for service and had tried to include himself during department trainings.

Although the internal investigation with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was not sparked until Sanns' picture at the protest was published in June, court records indicate officials at the police department had been aware Sanns had been responding to police calls with his wife for some time.

One of the supervisors for Sanns' wife told investigators he had grown frustrated that Sanns was, "continuously coming to the police station, showing up on his wife's assigned calls for service, and [had] repeated attempts to include himself in department training."

He had also tried to file a complaint with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department alleging he had seen officers blowing kisses to his wife and using profanities against him.

However, an internal investigation determined that there had been no reason for Sanns to be out with his wife at the time and that the allegations were false. When Sanns was told that the investigation was closing, he became angry and at one point said he worked with the CIA, the investigation states.

Bridget Bennett / Getty Images

A demonstrator confronts police during Black Lives Matter protests along the Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 29, 2020.

Police determined Sanns was not a federal law enforcement officer. Instead, he had served as a Marine from Jan. 2011 to April 2016 and worked briefly as a US Navy contractor in Dec. 2019.

While serving a search warrant at his home on June 9, court documents state that Sanns claimed he had never identified himself as a federal officer at the protest and denied placing himself on the skirmish line with other officers. Instead, he said he was an "off the books contractor for a federal agency,"

Sanns then said he had been at the police station when a call was made for officers to respond to the protest, and he had asked a sergeant if he needed help.

Sanns claimed the sergeant told him, "they could never turn down help from someone like SANNS."

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