Southern Utah News Articles
Whatever happened to Stephen McRae?
Facing federal charges, including one for allegedly using a rifle to damage a substation transformer in Kane County, Stephen Plato McRae is currently being evaluated at a federal psychiatric facility to see if he is mentally competent to understand the charges against him and can help in his own defense.
It was Sept. 25, 2016, when the Escalante man was accused of shooting the piece of equipment at the Buckskin Wash substation belonging to Garkane Energy Cooperative. The damage knocked out power to customers in Kane and Garfield counties for eight hours and took several months to repair at a cost of nearly a million dollars.
McRae was arrested in Escalante following an investigation by the FBI and Bureau of Land Management, participating as members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the Kane County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the original complaint, McRae was arrested on Oct. 28, 2016, after a search warrant was served on his Escalante residence based on information developed by investigators including use of a confidential source. Authorities found McRae, 57 at the time, allegedly in possession of a Springfield Armory, 30-40 rifle, found in a container along with ammunition. Because of a previous felony conviction in Texas, McRae was not allowed to possess the rifle. He was also charged with possession of marijuana.
In November 2016, McRae was charged in a federal indictment with allegedly shooting up the substation. The charge supersedes the weapons and drug charges.
According to court documents, following an initial psychological evaluation, McRae appeared in Salt Lake City before U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart. After hearing the evidence, which included the conclusions of two mental-health doctors, Stewart ordered McRae be further evaluated to determine if he could understand the charges against him, and he was ordered to a federal psychiatric facility.
After the latest evaluation order, McRae filed an appeal with the 10th U.S. District Court of Appeals asking for a dismissal of Stewart’s order.
While being considered by the appeals court in Denver, an additional appeal was sent by McRae to Stewart earlier, but was not included in the appeal. It was remanded back to the Utah court wanting to know why it was not included in the initial docket. The Utah court recommended the extension for McRae’s appeal to the 10th circuit.
Meanwhile, McRae asked to represent himself in the appeals process. The 10th circuit granted McRae’s request to represent himself in the appeal process and dismissed St. George attorney Aric Cramer. Instead, the court appointed a pair of federal defense attorneys to help McRae represent himself, with a deadline of March 28 to file their briefs.
Cramer said he is still acting as McRae’s attorney in any trial proceedings. McRae’s request for the appeal to Stewart was sent from the Salt Lake County Jail on Nov. 28, 2017, within the period that allowed him to file an appeal with the 10th circuit.
His request for the appeal was a short, rambling statement written on a postcard. In it, McRae likens himself to the protagonist in John Steinbeck’s novella, “The Pearl,” published in 1947. Considered by many to be a parable, the book examines the human character in regard to a huge pearl a Mexican fisherman finds and the trouble that follows. The book addresses the themes of human greed, materialism and the inherent worth of a thing.
In his postcard, McRae also writes: “It is with the greatest sorrow I have encountered unethical defense attorneys. I was raised to believe all defense attorneys were ‘closeted idealists.’” He also writes that he is indigent and lacks access to a law library.
Dan McClendon, chief executive officer of Garkane Energy, said the damage to the Buckskin substation included three shots by someone who knew what they were doing, causing cooling oil to leak. “It was devastating,” said McClendon, “but could have been worse.”
Because the company cannot tap into other power sources, it was necessary to bring in a mobile substation to restore power while it took several months for repairs at the substation.
“The mobile substations worked, and I am glad it did, because I didn’t have a plan C,” he said.
He said security has been improved at all the cooperative’s substations that service about 13,000 clients in four counties.
While insurance will help pay for the damage – estimated at nearly a million dollars – it would not cover the economic devastation a long-term outage could cause to the area from disruption of schools, hospitals, to residents.
McClendon said he is waiting until there is a conviction in the crime before paying out the $50,000 reward the company has posted.
Kane County Sheriff Tracy Glover said substations are a priority with his deputies in the field that includes improved video capabilities.