A man was arrested in Pasco County on charges he held a woman against her will for more than three months after she came from Texas to study a group he founded that purports to help reunite children with their parents.
Angela Yeager, a 43-year-old Texas woman, spent more than three months inside the Polk City home of Ronnie Davis. She told deputies she wasn't allowed to leave.
Davis, 48, is a sovereign citizen, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, meaning he rejects the rule of government. He also founded Polk County-based Bears Law and Forensic Science Team, which offers to help reunite children and parents after they've been separated by the Department of Children and Families.
According to an arrest warrant, Yeager was doing research online about assisting people with family legal issues when she found Davis, whom she contacted. He invited her to visit and study under him in exchange for doing farm and legal work, the warrant said.
Yeager left Texas and arrived July 9 or 10 at Davis' compound — a 2-acre farm in Polk City with livestock where members of the organization work and stay, according to the warrant. She was expecting to have a bedroom. Instead, she was given a sleeping bag and pointed to the floor.
Yeager told detectives that Davis later said he would make her his wife, which she said wouldn't happen. She then started looking for a way out, detectives said.
"Angela said Ronnie is constantly telling everyone who is living at the residence that he will kill them and the only way to leave is in a 'Body Bag' or at minimum on 'Crutches,' " the warrant said. "Angela said Ronnie implied that if anyone was to leave or come on the property, they were to be shot on site."
Yeager was able to escape in late October, according to the warrant. She couldn't be reached for comment.
Davis was taken into custody Nov. 22 in Lutz and charged with armed kidnapping and armed false imprisonment. A Polk County sheriff's deputy was following Davis' car at the time and asked Pasco deputies to pull him over.
Deputies first took Davis to the Land O'Lakes Detention Center before he was transferred to the Polk County jail, where he remained Monday, held without bail.
Erin Dybedahl, who said she has lived on the Polk City property since June, rejected the allegations made against Davis in the warrant.
"I have never once been threatened," Dybedahl told the Tampa Bay Times. "I have always been free to come and go as I pleased. I have seen nothing but kindness and compassion and caring from everyone here. I don't comprehend where these allegations have come from."
Dybedahl said she liked Yeager, but "didn't trust her."
Another member, Thomas Nelson, told the Times that Yeager left of her own accord. He said Yeager wasn't contributing.
"She wasn't educating herself in law, and she wasn't being part of the team," Nelson said.
Around two dozen people were living on the property when Yeager was there, Nelson said, and all were free to come and go.
Nelson said Bears Law takes "thousands of calls a day" from people worldwide who have concerns about their children's custody, and the group doesn't accept money. The owners of the house — Jack Haynie and Lisa Littlefield, according to Polk County property records — pay the bills, he said.
Nelson said group members don't call themselves sovereign citizens because they disagree with the term, believing a person can't be both sovereign and a citizen at the same time.
"What we reject are statutes, codes and ordinances," Nelson said.
Polk County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Carrie Horstman said deputies had been aware of the organization but never had any trouble with its members before. They've been cooperative during the kidnapping investigation, she said.
Horstman defended the investigation into Yeager's allegations, saying it's not uncommon for members of a group to rally around a suspect after an arrest and call into question a victim's credibility.
"If we didn't feel she was (credible), we wouldn't have had the probable cause and wouldn't have been able to get a warrant," she said.
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @josh_solomon15.