The Feds Arrested an Old Woman Who Tried To Sell a Moon Rock. No Joke.


The line, “I’ll give you the moon and stars" has taken on an entirely new meaning for an elderly woman who's now being allowed to sue the federal government for arresting her when she tried to sell an actual piece of the moon.

Sounds far-fetched, but it’s true. As The Mercury News (of San Francisco Bay area) reports, 74-year-old Joann Davis owned a small moon rock and a bit of the heat shield from Apollo 11 encased in Lucite that Neil Armstrong had given to her late husband as a gift when he worked for NASA. When recently faced with the death of her daughter, the fatal illness of her son, and her need to raise her grandkids, she considered selling the memento, and called NASA to inquire about it. 

But instead of simply informing her that selling space program memorabilia is (for some insane reason) illegal, NASA arranged a sting operation to forcibly take her moon rock. Writes Bob Egelko for the San Francisco Chronicle:

She and her second husband, Paul Cilley, met with federal agents headed by Norman Conley at a Denny’s restaurant in Lake Elsinore (Riverside County), with other plainclothes agents and sheriff’s deputies seated nearby. After Davis placed the paperweights on the table, Conley identified himself as a government agent, and another agent took the moon rock paperweight, the court said. Meanwhile, a sheriff’s deputy grabbed Cilley by the neck and bent his arm behind his back….

She claimed the agents then treated her to a taste of federal “hospitality.”

After reading Davis her rights, the court said, Conley took her to the parking lot for questioning that lasted between 90 minutes and two hours. She said later that she had told the officers she needed to use the restroom but was turned down before the interrogation.

Davis was not allowed to use a bathroom, and she ended up wetting her pants right there in the parking lot. She was eventually released, with no charges filed. But Davis was, as one might expect, not pleased by having been treated in such a shocking manner, and she decided to bring suit for false imprisonment.

Initially, a U.S. District Court judge rejected her lawsuit. But now, the usually pro-government 9th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has found in favor of her appeal, and ruled her suit against Conley and the feds can proceed.

According to the court, she should be allowed to have her day in court for her suit, because, if her depiction of events is right, she was subjected to an “unnecessarily prolonged and unnecessarily degrading” interrogation that kept her in the parking lot  for “two hours while she stood wearing urine-soaked pants... in view of the public.”

All this over a piece of the moon given to her late husband, a NASA engineer, by the guy who walked on it, as a way to say, “thanks.” She was never told selling it was illegal, never asked to talk to a lawyer, nothing. She was thrown into a sting and held against her will while federal agents watched her wet her pants.

We often hear stories of federal overreach that are far worse than this. Lives are lost, homes are taken, constitutional strictures are broken. But this particular story is raising many hackles due to the brazen arbitrariness of the agents and the completely innocent behavior of the woman forced into the degrading situation.

So, tax money paid for the moon mission, tax money paid the salaries of all parties involved, and now, tax money will be used to try to fight the 74-year-old woman who wound up with a small momento of the occasion. 

Perhaps the bureaucrats and government lawyers ought to get back to terra firma.

MRC Merch