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Watch out for the rangers

Travelling to and visiting Yosemite National Park. How to get there, what to see or do, and other Yosemite trip advice.

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Watch out for the rangers

Postby archive » Sun Jan 21, 2007 4:17 pm

Author: ??
Date: 12-20-04 08:57

Breaking Law Is No Walk in Park

Some Yosemite visitors and workers say rangers can be overzealous in
enforcing rules. Officials say their good deeds far exceed any lapses.

By Julie Cart
Times Staff Writer

December 13, 2004

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — The evening had begun so well. After wine and dinner at the elegant Ahwahnee Hotel last year, Australian tourists Margaret and Andre Vischer stepped into the frigid High Sierra night and into their rental car.

As they drove through the first dark intersection, neither of them noticed the park ranger's vehicle. Andre, 58, recalled seeing a stop sign and lightly touching the brakes but not coming to a full stop.

After they were pulled over by the rangers, Vischer said he told them about the bottle of wine he and his wife had shared during their four-hour dinner. Both Vischers were given Breathalyzer tests. Andre's blood alcohol registered .08, the minimum at which a person is considered legally drunk. Margaret tested at .06.

Andre was frisked, handcuffed, read his rights and taken away by two rangers. Another ranger drove the couple's rental car while Margaret remained at the side of the road where a male ranger frisked her, handcuffed her and took her to Yosemite's small jail to spend the night. There, she was fingerprinted, photographed, questioned and told to strip, shower and put on an orange jumpsuit.

When Margaret asked why she was being jailed even though her blood-alcohol level was under the legal limit and she was not driving, she said rangers told her they considered her a danger to herself and others. The next day she was released without being charged.

The couple spent Margaret's 60th birthday a few days later at the park's federal courthouse, where Andre pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and paid a $2,500 fine.

"The whole thing was totally intimidating and humiliating and totally unnecessary," Margaret Vischer said in a recent telephone interview from the couple's home in Sydney.

Cam Sholly, Yosemite's deputy chief ranger, said the decision to arrest Margaret Vischer was discretionary. "This was a fine line between taking someone into custody for their own safety and releasing someone whose judgment is impaired to a degree that they could be a danger to themselves," he said.

But Margaret Vischer's story has a familiar ring to other visitors, employees and defense attorneys with similar accounts of alleged overzealous policing in a place where people come to relax and expect to be treated like guests. Most of the people who have questioned the conduct of park rangers acknowledged doing something out of line. Nonetheless, they contend that the treatment by park rangers was out of proportion to the minor infractions they committed and out of place in a national park.

Beth Shilliday, a 35-year-old assignment editor for KTLA-TV Channel 5 in Los Angeles, said she was treated for a concussion and bruises after rangers threw her to the ground while arresting her on suspicion of drunk driving and possession of a small amount of marijuana. Her car and others were stopped during a search for a missing child in August.

Park officials told The Times, which like KTLA-TV is owned by the Tribune Co., that Shilliday was intoxicated and uncooperative, and whatever injuries she suffered she caused herself. Shilliday has pleaded not guilty and her case is pending in Yosemite's federal court. Meanwhile, the park has launched an internal investigation into the rangers' behavior.

Leah Sesto, an 18-year-old clerk in the park in 2000, said she was dragged out of bed by rangers and arrested on suspicion of being drunk a few hours after friends had escorted her to her room. "It was the first time I'd ever had anything to drink," said Sesto, who described herself as "a goody-goody church kid."

She pleaded guilty to being under the influence of alcohol.

Interviewed at the park, Yosemite Supt. Mike Tollefson vigorously defended his rangers, saying their daily unheralded efforts to save lives and keep the park and visitors safe far outstrip occasional judgment errors.

"I would adamantly disagree that there is a zero tolerance policy in this park," Tollefson said. "We certainly have problems periodically. Of the complaints we get, law enforcement is the minority, but we take those the most seriously."

Despite its bucolic setting amid towering granite walls and waterfalls, Yosemite National Park is subject to the same social ills that police contend with elsewhere. In the mid-1980s, a report from the Interior Department's inspector general found a prostitution ring operating at the Ahwahnee Hotel and estimated that 85% of the park's commercial workforce used illegal drugs.

Five years ago, three tourists and a nature guide were slain just outside the park. In October, a manhunt for another multiple killer led to a remote section of the park where the suspect started a 2,000-acre fire before fatally shooting himself.

"If you let your guard down, we might lose a ranger here in Yosemite. I don't want that to happen," Sholly said.

Today, 50 full-time rangers are responsible for enforcing the law in the 1,200-square-mile park. They deal with assaults, thefts, arson, illegal hunting and vandalism. Park officials said there have been more than 4,600 citations this year and 306 arrests, higher than last year's tally but well below the record high of 846 arrests in 1992.

**Tollefson said he stresses the importance of getting out of patrol cars and interacting more with visitors. "Our job here is to educate and to articulate why the park is important," he said.

Yet much of the criticism of law enforcement practices in the park centers on the way rangers respond to people who question why they're being stopped.

"One of the things I see as a pattern is people being arrested for mouthing off to rangers," said Carrie Leonetti, an assistant federal public defender who represents people arrested in the park. "Time and time again I have clients tell me that they are arrested for asking questions such as, 'Am I being detained?' "

John Reynolds, former director of the Park Service's Western region, which includes Yosemite, said in a recent interview that the park has long had a reputation for no-nonsense policing.

"Yosemite was upsetting from a number of points of view," said Reynolds, who resigned in 2000. "There was a fair amount of concern — unsubstantiated concern — at the regional office level."

Employees of the park's concessionaire say rangers shadow them waiting for the slightest infraction and talk about "sleeping with one eye open." Climbers who gather here to scale the park's famous granite walls joke about "getting tooled in the Valley."

Tollefson acknowledged there have been conflicts with climbers, whom he said "are at the edge in a variety of ways."

A chat room on a website for park rangers offers a different take on those relations.

"Search the pack and get the drugs," reads one anonymous entry. "Who cares if you have consent. No one is going to believe a Deadhead over a Ranger. Worthless scumbag deserves what he gets."

Drugs and alcohol figure into many arrests in the park, said Sholly, pointing out that there are as many as 20 establishments in Yosemite where alcohol is served or sold at various times of year.

He said rangers would be derelict if they were not on the lookout for drunk drivers, given the park's winding roads, distracting scenery and wandering wildlife.

Yet critics contend that rangers, at times, can pose the greatest threat. Don Squires, an Alameda County Superior Court judge, said he witnessed such an incident in the summer of 2000.

According to Squires and official reports, a group of British soldiers was drinking beer at a crowded outdoor cafe in Yosemite Valley. The young men were singing raucously, Squires said, but he and his wife, who were chaperoning several young children, saw nothing but bonhomie on a "lovely afternoon."

However, after a patron complained that one of the soldiers "mooned" someone in the crowd, Squires said rangers quickly intervened, hogtying and striking one of the soldiers as they dragged him off the deck.

"It was an excessive use of force and an outrageous abuse of authority," Squires said. "I was stone-cold sober just a few feet away with an uninterrupted view, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was a terrible thing for kids to see."

The soldier pleaded guilty to being under the influence of alcohol, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

It's not always visitors who run afoul of Yosemite rangers.

Park workers complain they have been charged with public drunkenness simply for drinking a beer on the front steps of employee dormitories or as they walked from their rooms to nearby bathrooms. One young woman was stopped after leaving a party in July and charged with "internal possession' of alcohol," a reference to the contents of her stomach. The charge was dismissed.

Stories like that abound in the valley, said Greg Johnson, vice president of the local Service Employees International Union, which represents concessions employees in the park.

Tollefson disagreed. "I don't think we have rangers hiding in the bushes waiting for concessions employees to do something wrong," the park superintendent said.

Yet some employees say fear of harassment causes them to live outside the park, entailing longer commutes and higher rents. "I moved away from my home of eight years because of it," said Bryan Kay, 33, who lived and worked in the valley and volunteered on the park's search and rescue team. "I packed my bags. I said, 'I'm moving to America.' Now I commute an hour and a half to my job."

Re: Watch out for the rangers
Author: norm
Date: 01-16-05 20:14

The common theme with these experiences with the Park Rangers appears to be law breaking. Drunk driving, drunk in public, drug violations etc... The same laws that the public EXPECTS and DEMANDS that City Police enforce. I for one am glad that the Rangers are proactive in enforcing the law.

My wife and I live just outside of Yosemite and are frequent visitors. We don't want our lives in danger from drunk drivers. Nor do we want to enjoy the grandeur of Yosemite in the company of drunks, rowdies, thieves and druggies.

Vacation is not an excuse to disregard laws, safety and decent behavior. If you can't accept that, then stay out of "my" Yosemite.

Thank you Rangers!

Re: Watch out for the rangers
Author: D... a DNC employee
Date: 02-15-05 16:41

Employees DO often seem to be targeted by the Rangers... and the tourists often get away with a lot more....

A good example of Rangers letting tourists literally get away with "murder" AND causing the deaths of living beings both human AND non human....

Everyday tourists feed and offer food to ground squirrells, coyotes, raccoons, bears, jays, ravens and just about any other bird or animal that is seen ... because they're so cute! AND because they want to get a really good picture.

Here is what happens though. Because the birds and animals get really fat on human food, thier body and mother nature says "well... there must be an ample food source!!!!" So they have more babies. which means there are more, for example, raccoons. Which means the mountain lions come down from the mountains because of all the "food". which means the mountain lions walk through the Curry Village area looking for all the fat raccoons. Which means the Rangers get nervous and kill a mother mountain lion and her cub. This DID happen.

Another example. In April and in October... the bears create havoc because there are SOOOOOO many people practicing VERY poor food storage... or leaving food out so they can see bears. There are SOOOOOO many people doing this that the Rangers can't stop it.... sooooo what happens is....

The bears get harrassed and chased and have noisemakers fired at them and have beanbags shot at them AND GET SO SCARED that they run up a tree where they try to hide. Then the sun comes up and people gather around the tree to take pictures of the bear... so the bear gets stuck up in the tree without water and without food... because he's too scared to come down.

Another example... climbers come in from all over the world to climb Yosemite walls... and because lots of people like to think they are such AWESOME climbers... there are THOUSANDS of dollars spent every summer doing rescues. And yes, this includes pulling dead bodies off El Cap because the people figured that they didn't need to heed warnings of storms approaching.... and people talk about how sad it is that they died.

The purpose of this post... stop nitpicking on the EASY to catch and EASY to prosecute problems and start eliminating the bigger problems of IDIOTS causing problems in the park.

Do you need to be rescued... sorry... we'll do it... but its going to cost you ALOT. Want to feed that bear... go ahead... but its going to cost you a thousand dollars. A bear broke into your car... sorry... you had food in it... here is your thousand dollar fine. You got a picture of the coyote... great! but here is your thousand dollar fine because you fed it...

Increase the fines and kick repeat offenders out of the park and a lot of problems will start going away...

Re: Watch out for the rangers
Author: Jennifer LaDuca
Date: 02-17-06 18:53

In the winter of 2005 I parked my car along HWY 41 looking for the trailhead that leaves the park heading toward the S.fork of the Merced River. I parked there to hike along the trail a couple of times and also parked near Alder Creek.
I was later in the Wawona grocery store buying bread and milk and there was a ranger at the register talking to the cashier. I left and walked up to the Wawona Hotel where I was parked. The ranger drove over to me and stopped me as I was getting into my vehicle. He told me my vehicle had been spotted parked along highway 41 in "suspicious areas". I had no idea there are any "suspicious areas" in Yosemite. I told him I had parked near a trailhead! This ranger was a serious freak and I have heard that he got in plenty of trouble harrassing people in Wawona. This is the ranger who shot the wild turkey last spring near employee housing in Wawona. I was really disappointed to be questioned with no probable cause.
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