An Ames man, who says a train gang has come to Ames and is accused of threatening to kill three men, two who were homeless, is now running a write-in campaign for Story County Sheriff.
Michael R. Nootz, who has charges pending for harassment and assault while displaying a weapon in July, is running on a platform that consists of eradicating the area of a gang of hobos that illegally ride rail cars on trains that pass through Ames and live under Ames bridges.
Nootz, who has worked for Union Pacific and other railroads for 35 years, is telling people that members of the Freight Train Riders of America have been arrested in Boone County and were later dropped off at the Boone and Story County line by law enforcement, something that he would put an end to as sheriff.
“They are criminals,” Nootz said of the travelers.
Ames Police CMDR. Jim Robinson said police are aware that Nootz has been passing out fliers and after one of Nootz's Duff Avenue neighbors complained, told him that he had to leave people's property when they asked him to.
Nootz's campaign literature goes on to name six men who have been arrested for trespassing on the railroad's property since the summer of 2011 and a seventh man who was hitchhiking in Boone County.
Electronic court records show that the men have been charged with trespassing and a range of other crimes including stowing away in Boone County. The seventh man was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia after he was searched before being given a ride to the county line, according to Boone County Sheriff reports available online.
The Freight Train Riders of America gang isn't listed on the FBI's National Gang Threat Assessment, but it is listed in a research paper, “Problem of Gangs and Security Threat Groups (STG's) in American Prisons Today: A Special NGCRC Report” about prison gangs available from the National Criminal Justice Reference Center.
Nootz said he has been on leave from Union Pacific since July due to the charges pending against him.
He currently faces two counts of first-degree harassment and two counts of assault while displaying a weapon.
According to initial reports, Nootz allegedly pointed a gun at vagrants and also gave them documents about the freight train gang and a section of the Iowa Code stating it was legal to kill stray, untagged dogs six months or older and told the men to leave the area.
Nootz said he did see the men but never pointed a gun at them. He said he was simply searching for “tramps” he had seen in Ames days earlier with stray dogs, but never found them.
His case is currently scheduled for a jury trial Nov. 27, which Nootz said he will pursue.
While Nootz believes he will win his case, he doubts that he will win his write-in campaign against incumbent Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald. But he said his campaign will at least bring awareness to the Freight Train Riders of America's presence.
Nootz said all he wants is for law enforcement to follow the law. He said if officers killed the vagrants' dogs, which an Iowa code section on dogs and other animals allows, word would spread and the illegal train riders would pick a different route.