Feds start probe into park ranger brutality claim

Posted Aug. 25, 2008, at 9:27 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 28, 2011, at 12:30 p.m.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — The National Park Service has begun its investigation into allegations that a ranger used excessive force last week when dealing with a large party of hikers atop Day Mountain, according to an official with the agency.

Jill Hawk, chief ranger for the service’s Northeast region, said Monday she didn’t know how long it would take to investigate allegations that the unnamed ranger assaulted one of the hikers while he was handcuffed, knocking him unconscious and fracturing four bones in his face.

Hawk said there are on average between five and 10 special investigations of alleged ranger misconduct a year in the National Park Service’s Northeast region, which comprises Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, West Virginia and the six New England states, including Maine. Such investigations can be about anything from alleged fraud or credit card misuse to allegations of excessive force, she said.

Hawk said in her three years as the chief ranger in the NPS’ Northeast region, there have been only two other claims in the region of rangers using excessive force. NPS determined that both of those claims were unfounded, she said.

“It’s not a common occurrence,” Hawk said of such claims.

The allegations in Acadia stem from an incident that occurred on the park’s Day Mountain in the wee hours of Aug. 18. A group of about 40 hikers, many of whom work in Acadia at the seasonal Jordan Pond House restaurant, took a moonlight hike up the mountain around midnight. The hike is an annual tradition for Jordan Pond House employees, people who went on the hike have said.

According to park officials, they received a complaint about the hikers and went to the area to investigate around 1:30 a.m. They found the group at the top of the mountain, detained them and checked their identification, and cited half a dozen or so on charges of possession of alcohol by a minor and possession of marijuana.

Tim Wild, a 31-year-old waiter at the Jordan Pond House, says one of the rangers assaulted him on Day Mountain after he had been handcuffed. He said he complained when one of the rangers forced a woman in the hiking party to the ground and that the same ranger then threw him to the ground, knocking him out. He said he was later treated at Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor for the facial fractures.

Wild acknowledged that he had used profanity when he verbally objected to the rangers’ actions and that others in the party also had complained about being detained. He said he had consumed a beer earlier in the evening and that others had beer with them on the hike. The primary purpose of the event was to hike and socialize with co-workers, not to party or otherwise consume alcohol, he said.

When interviewed about the incident, Wild had a radiology report from Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor that appeared to back up his claims about having fractured facial bones.

According to information posted on Acadia National Park’s official Web site, alcohol consumption or possession of open containers is allowed in the park in most areas. It is not allowed at public buildings or facilities with the exception of the Jordan Pond House restaurant and its nearby staff housing, the “Laws & Policies” section of the Web site indicates. It is not permitted in parking lots, vehicle pullouts, or at Sand Beach, Echo Lake, Lake Wood, or specific locations along the southeast shore of Long Pond.

Drinking is not banned on Day Mountain, but being under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances while in the park is illegal, as is possession of alcohol by anyone under 21 years of age, according to the Web site.

Wild has said he is not sure of the name of the ranger that he claims assaulted him. Acadia officials have said that all of the rangers who handled the Day Mountain incident remain on active duty pending the outcome of the investigation.

Citing the NPS investigation, officials at Acadia have declined to comment on Wild’s allegations. Len Bobinchock, deputy superintendent at Acadia, on Monday directed all questions related to the investigation to Hawk.

Hawk declined Monday to identify the investigator who has been assigned the task of looking into the excessive force claims in Acadia.

“We don’t release the names of our investigators,” she said.

According to Hawk, Acadia has nine year-round, certified law enforcement rangers and 14 more who work during the busy summer season. Permanent, year-round rangers receive 18 weeks of program training at a Department of Homeland Security federal law enforcement training facility in Glencoe, Ga., and an additional 12 weeks of training in the field. After rangers get their field training at an NPS site, they are assigned to work at a different NPS facility from where they trained, Hawk said.

Seasonal rangers undergo approximately 335 hours, or eight weeks, of training at one of nine law enforcement academies in the country before they begin work for NPS, according to Hawk. All rangers, whether year-round or seasonal, are trained in jurisdictional issues, the federal criminal code, firearm use, defensive and physical control tactics, criminal investigations and building search and seizure procedures, among other subjects, before being assigned to work at an NPS facility, Hawk said.

Jon Holder, a Bar Harbor attorney who is representing Wild in the case, said Monday that his primary focus now is addressing the criminal charges that have been filed against his client, which include disorderly conduct and interfering with agency functions.

Katherine Junkert, another Jordan Pond House employee who was on the outing, also is facing charges other than possession of alcohol or drugs. She has been charged with disorderly conduct, failure to obey a lawful order, and being under the influence of alcohol in the park, Acadia officials have said.

Holder said Wild so far has been unable to return to work since the incident because of his injuries and that he has consulted with a physician in Bangor about further medical treatment.

What kind of action Wild might take in pressing his allegations of excessive force likely will depend on the outcome of the NPS investigation, according to Holder. He said NPS officials have started interviewing witnesses but that it likely will be some time before the whole incident is resolved.

“It’s not quick,” Holder said of the option of pursuing litigation.

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