EAST MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Some strange things are happening at 600 S. Shady Grove Road in East Memphis where a vacant home worth more than $3 million sits on nearly four acres behind 15-foot-high brick walls.
A bank that foreclosed on the property two years ago found a thick chain and padlock on the gate earlier this week with five signs declaring "Private Property/Keep Out."
A red flag with green star in the middle was drawn on a poster board, while another sign said "Moorish American National Republic" and included statements "pertaining to sovereign citizen rhetoric and beliefs," according to a police report.
Sovereign citizens generally believe they are not subject to federal and state laws and taxes, and in some cases reject the American currency, Social Security identification, driver's licenses and other government documents.
"The name Abka Re Bey was signed to one of the Private Property signs on the gate," according to a police report that said a real estate agent selling the property was outside the locked gate
Wednesday. "He saw two females in their late teens wearing all-black clothing sneaking up to the front gate through the bushes in front of the house. ... (He said) that when the subjects saw him, they ran back inside of the house."
Police are not sure who the squatters are, but Tabitha R. Gentry, who calls herself Abka Re Bey, filed "transfer of inheritance" papers with the County Register's Office in January, "giving Notice of my rightful ‘Claim' to my property" on Shady Grove.
She was arrested at the house early Friday morning, and faces charges of aggravated burglary, criminal trespass and theft of property $6,000 or more. Her bond was set at $2 million.
Details of her arrest were not immediately available.
The rambling papers include discussion of "rights of indigenous people," "the Moorish Divine Movement of the World" and Gentry/Bey claims to "seize this land ... in the name of Allah, the Most High Creator of the Heavens and Earth."
County Register Tom Leatherwood said Thursday the filings themselves carry no legal weight.
"Our office is just a public bulletin board, so to speak," said Leatherwood, who said such filings by so-called sovereign citizens are not new. "Anybody doing a title search would realize that this lady does not own this property.
"It's just all kind of bizarre."
The 9,000-square-foot home with five bedrooms and seven baths has been vacant since Renasant Bank foreclosed on it in 2011. The mansion has a market value of $3.2 million, according to the County Trustee's Office. Last year's property tax of $32,160 was paid by the bank.
A Renasant spokesman said Thursday the bank would have no comment on the occupation of the home.
Such filings of documents and takeovers of property by sovereign groups are part of what authorities call "paper terrorism."
Police have told bank representatives that sovereign citizens can be heavily armed and that they typically refuse to obey authority figures such as police and military personnel. In 2010, two West Memphis police officers were shot to death after making a routine traffic stop of a man and his teenage son who were active in the sovereign citizen movement. They were killed later in a shootout with police.
David Peck, who lives near the Shady Grove residence, said a bank representative he saw outside the house told him they are trying to determine how to get the squatters out of the house.
"It's just amazing to me," said Peck, a semiretired commercial real estate developer. "I just wonder how they picked this house."
On the Moorish American group's website, members describe themselves as descendants of ancient Moabites in Africa and say they were original inhabitants of North America who were enslaved by European colonists.
Last August, Gentry/Bey and a companion identified as Unas Sebkhet Re El filed a suit against two Memphis police officers claiming they were mistreated and wrongly arrested in a traffic stop and that the officers taunted them and laughed at their "Moorish Nationality."
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, black Americans are a small but growing portion of the estimated 300,000 sovereign citizens nationwide who see themselves as a nation within a nation.