The Story of a Dinosaur Named SUE (cont.)
Part 4 - The Raid & Seizure
I was taking a shower in my residence directly behind the Institute, at 7:30 AM on Thursday, May 14, 1992. I had just turned off the water when I heard Lynn, one of our preparators, call out my name. "You'd better get out here Pete. The place is crawling with FBI agents." All I could say was "are you kidding?"
I quickly finished dressing and went outside. I passed several agents, who wore blue jackets with the large yellow letters, 'FBI', printed on the back. As I traversed the 50 feet to the back door of the Institute, these agents were surrounding our complex with yellow police ribbon, with the warning, "SHERIFF'S LINE DO NOT CROSS", written in bold black letters.
When I walked into the office, I was met by the confused looks of my fellow workers.
There, too, were dozens of FBI Agents, Sheriff's Officers, and a Park Ranger, Stanley Robins (who had served with me on a State Historical Society - Task Force on Paleontology and later admitted to having spied on the Institute since July of 1990). All told, there were approximately 35 law enforcement officers present, all with guns and sour looks. These special agents, whose tasks usually involve investigating such heinous crimes as murder and drug trafficking, were in Hill City with one purpose in mind . . . the apprehension and arrest of a dinosaur named SUE.
Agents William Asbury and Charles Draper handed me a search warrant, signed by William Asbury and the Federal District Judge. The search warrant demanded that we surrender:
Mr. Asbury said, "This can be real easy, or real hard, depending on whether or not you are willing to cooperate".
Shaking, I asked them to indulge me for a few minutes; to please close their ears if what I was about to say offended them. I then proceeded to read them "the Riot Act" and told them I did not see how it was possible for them to come into our place of business and seize our property, without due process of law. I told them that the worst thing they could possibly do to SUE was move her. I asked them to consider leaving her where she was, and promised to give any guarantees necessary to avoid damage to this important fossil. I then told them I was a law abiding citizen and the most important thing to me was the safety of the fossil. I would, of course, cooperate. Then I called our lawyer.
When our attorney, Patrick Duffy, arrived on the scene, the investigators had already begun rooting through our files. They were everywhere in our 20,000 square foot facility. They were in our office, in our large storage areas, in "Rex Hall" (where SUE and STAN were stored). They were even in our dead storage area, where we kept our records from more then ten years ago. No corner was safe from these people. We felt violated.
Andrew Leitch, a dinosaur specialist from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, had spent months negotiating with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for access to a large CAT scan (Computerized Axial Tomography). The CAT scan is used by NASA to examine various pieces of equipment, such as the engines of the space shuttle, for defects. A CAT scan allows the taking of multiple X-rays, like slices of bread. These x-rays are then reassembled by computer to yield three- dimensional images. We had planned to transport SUE's skull to Huntsville, Alabama within the next week, to submit SUE to this non-destructive CAT scan analysis. In essence we were to get, for the first time in history, a look at the minute details of the inside of the skull of Tyrannosaurus rex.
Pat and I talked at length with Charles Draper, explaining to him the importance of this research, and the expense and effort on the part of dozens of people who coordinated this project. Mr. Draper seemed sympathetic to our plight and spent a great deal of time on the telephone, talking to the powers that be, in an attempt to allow the CAT scanning to take place. Dr. Robert Bakker, NASA officials and National Geographic Magazine personnel all implored the Department of Justice to reconsider their action, which would stop this research and jeopardize the safety of one of the most important finds in paleontological history. All to no avail.
Acting U.S. Attorney Kevin Schieffer had organized this raid and seizure of SUE. He said, SUE was "the property of the U.S. government. Period!" The night before, he had sent out press releases and called a press conference for the morning of the 14th in Rapid City, 30 miles away. Now with the television cameras in Hill City, filming the raid, he arrived to give several television interviews in front of the Institute. Finally, Mr. Schieffer granted Pat and I an audience. Again we pleaded our case. "It is too dangerous to move this dinosaur. Let the specimen stay where it is and we will make any guarantees you demand. Above all, please let the scheduled CAT scan proceed as planned. Let the research continue while you make your investigations into our alleged wrong-doings". Drew Vitter, the Mayor of Hill City, who along with the entire community had helped plan, and looked forward to the new Museum, implored the Acting U.S. Attorney to reconsider his action. Mr. Schieffer said "no".
As Pat and I walked away, Pat asked me, "Did you see what I saw?" I said, "You mean the television makeup that Schieffer had smeared all over his face?" "Yes", said Pat. "Isn't that a bit bizarre?" I asked. It was at this point, the first protesters, preschool children, began to arrive.
SUE T. rex Story
|Meanwhile, the "experts" Schieffer had brought in to pack our precious dinosaur, were at work wrapping SUE's bones for transportation to Rapid City. Leading this group was Dr. Phillip Bjork, Director of the Museum of Geology at the School of Mines, where SUE was to be incarcerated. This packing, which entailed the plaster jacketing (using a method similar to one used by doctors to immobilize a broken arm) of nearly every individual piece of the ten tons of material, proceeded for the next three days.
On the second day of the seizure, the National Guard arrived to help load and transport SUE to her cell. While the boxes and crates were being loaded, dozens of schoolchildren and townspeople surrounded the semi-trailer truck, holding signs and chanting: "DON'T BE CRUEL - SAVE SUE". One of the FBI agents, when called a name by an eleven year old girl, threatened to "throw the children to the ground and arrest them", if they got out of hand.
The third day of the seizure was one of the saddest days in my life. While I worked to help package the skull, the National Guard loaded the crates enclosing the larger blocks which contained remains of SUE. Witnesses observed the rough handling and jostling these well-meaning, but inexperienced, soldiers gave the bones. Those members of the Institute who were not busy with the packing, began to cry. As we loaded SUE's skull, the now nearly 200 protesters - townspeople, schoolchildren, news people, workers, and even some of the soldiers wept freely. As tears poured from my own eyes, I felt a deep and profound sadness. It was as if a member of my family had died.
The time between the loading of the last crate and the departure of the convoy of National Guard and Law Enforcement vehicles seemed like an eternity. The mourners held each other as we waited in silence. As the convoy finally began to roll away, people began to sing our national anthem. No one could believe this was really happening.
After the kidnappers had gone, and we had a few days to recover from the initial shock, we began to assess the damage. Our files had been rifled through. Many documents were missing - victims of the seizure. Not only did they take every document relating to SUE; they also removed many documents which were unrelated to any aspect of their search warrant. They removed virtually all of our research notes, drawings, photographs and videotapes. They removed bookkeeping records, telephone records, letters (including letters, waiting to be typed to schoolchildren who had visited the STAN dig) and even our confidential client-lawyer files.
In addition to absconding with SUE, they took any fossils which were collected anywhere near the time when we collected SUE. But mostly they had taken SUE. They had taken SUE, the largest, most complete and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex. They had taken SUE, on whom we had spent two hundred thousand-dollars and five thousand hours in preparation. They had taken SUE, the centerpiece of our new Museum. They had taken SUE, who was not just a thing, but was one who had once been alive. They had taken SUE and had imprisoned her in a steel tank, in a boiler room and machine shop, at the South Dakota School of Mines. We had to get her back!
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