A Crescent City man has filed a federal lawsuit against Redwood National and State Parks and the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office after he says two unidentified federal park rangers held him at gunpoint, ordered him to the ground and arrested him on Jan. 22, 2016.

William Paul said he was walking his dog on a trail in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. He said his dog sensed someone and ran ahead of him to greet them when he saw two park rangers “with their legs spread and both hands on their guns.”

“That was my first encounter with them,” Paul said. “It just progressed to they put me on the ground and arrested me for resisting. Resisting what, I don’t know.”

Although he couldn’t comment on Paul’s complaint because of the lawsuit, Greg Morse chief ranger at Redwood National and State Parks said leashed dogs are allowed in the park, but are not allowed on park trails.

Rangers who find unleashed dogs in the park or dogs on trails can give a written warning or a citation, Morse said. In some cases the dog’s owner may be arrested, he said.

“Does it come to that, not usually, no, but it is an arrestable offense,” Morse said. “But for the most part, it is a misdemeanor that occurs within the park and we have to deal with it. We have a lot of resources that we have to protect...”

In his complaint, filed Dec. 20, 2017 by his friend Marie Hartwig, Paul alleges he was approaching his truck when he heard someone yell “stop right there or we’ll shoot.” The two park rangers, one male and one female, held Paul at gunpoint and ordered him to put his dog in his truck and his keys on the hood, according to the complaint.

Paul’s truck was the only vehicle parked at the trailhead, according to the complaint.

According to his complaint, the rangers informed Paul his dog was required to be on a leash. Paul told the rangers he had a mental disability and could not understand what was going on, that he was just walking his dog.

Two additional park vehicles arrived on scene with four more rangers, according to Paul’s complaint.

According to Paul’s complaint, the rangers asked him to raise his shirt so they could see that he was unarmed and asked if they could pat him down. Paul complied to both requests. But he objected when rangers told Paul they were going to put their hands under his waistband.

“At that moment, Mr. Paul recalls one of the defendants stating that he was resisting arrest,” the complaint reads. “The next thing he recalls is lying face-down on the ground with Defendants #2 and #3 driving their knees into his back, pushing his face into the mud, pulling his arms behind his back and handcuffing him.”

According to his complaint, Paul remained handcuffed and forced to stand in the rain for more than an hour while the rangers searched his vehicle without his consent. The rangers emptied Paul’s pockets, placing the contents, including his money, onto the ground, and put him into a patrol car, according to the complaint. When Paul asked the rangers if they would pick up his money, they refused, according to the complaint.

According to his complaint, when he arrived at the jail, deputies told Paul that his truck had been impounded and his dog was at the Del Norte County Animal Control. Paul expressed concern, stating that his dog had salmon poisoning and needed medication.

At the jail, Paul, who was still wet from the rain, was placed in a cell with only a toilet and a cement bench, according to the complaint. In his complaint Paul stated he was in shock and could not recall everything that had happened after that. He stated he does not recall being fingerprinted or having a mugshot taken. According to the complaint, Paul believed he was held at the jail for more than eight hours and was never allowed to make a phone call.

According to the complaint, when he was released from jail at 1:30 a.m. Jan. 23, 2016, Paul asked Del Norte County sheriff’s deputies how he could contact animal control to let them know that his dog had salmon poisoning and could die without her medicine. According to the complaint, they scoffed and said the dog pound was closed until Monday and that “she would just have to die.”

Paul was released from the jail and doesn’t remember walking seven miles from the jail to his home on Howland Hill Road.

According to the complaint, Paul’s friend drove him to the tow truck agency and lent him money to retrieve his truck.

The complaint alleges that Paul, already on a fixed income, was forced to borrow more money on Monday to get his dog out of Del Norte County Animal Control.

When he appeared in court, Paul spent several hours sitting through other cases only to be informed by the judge that he had no charges before him, according to the complaint. According to the complaint, there was no court file for William Paul.

“Mr. Paul states, on information and belief, that the charges indicated on his jail release form were never given to the District Attorney for prosecution because he had committed no crime,” the complaint states.

According to Hartwig, the case is still an open case. Not all the defendants have been served yet, she said.

Other residents have complained about overly-aggressive federal park rangers.

Terry and Fran McNamara filed a complaint with Redwood National and State Parks against two park rangers who, they say, handcuffed and threw Fran McNamara to the ground near Walker Road on Thanksgiving Day last year. The McNamaras’ dogs were loose and they expected to receive a ticket.

Mike Coopman, a local fishing guide, said he and a client had a negative encounter with two national park rangers about two years ago near Society Hole along the Smith River. Coopman, who had his Labrador retriever with him, said his client had parked his car in an area near the riverbank, and when they arrived after a day of fishing found the rangers running their plates.

“They said it was improperly parked and my client kind of said, well this is where I parked,” Coopman said. “I said we’ve been parking here for 25 years that I know of or longer as I’m a local resident. The park rangers got real offensive. It was a point of posturing, hands on their guns, just really on the offense.”

Coopman said his client started to escalate the situation as well, forcing him to calm things down.

Following that meeting Coopman said he contacted Del Norte County Supervisors Chris Howard and Gerry Hemmingsen and met with state park and National Park Service officials.

“I invited several of the guides and a couple members of the community,” Coopman said. “Basically we were told that the two officers that had confronted us were brand new to the area and they were on guard because we had a dog present ... and the dog was not on a leash.”

Coopman said park officials told him they would try to fix the problem and while he hasn’t had a problem in two years, he hasn’t encountered a ranger in the last two years.

Hemmingsen said things are better between local fishing guides and the Redwood National and State Park officials following that meeting. He said the adversarial relationship between the two parties has largely been resolved.

Hemmingsen said he has heard of other complaints regarding aggressive park rangers. It typically involves dogs not on a leash, he said. But Hemmingsen said he hasn’t reviewed any body cam footage.

“I can’t tell you who’s right or wrong, I’m not trying to pick sides, without actually being there,” Hemmingsen said. “Usually once the dog is corralled then they usually ask them do they have a gun in their vehicle and if they do then they really get on edge about it.”

Morse, who attended the meeting between Howard, Hemmingsen and the fishing guides, said it was a “good meeting” and the issue was resolved. The rangers that confronted Coopman and his client still work for Redwood National and State Parks.

There are rangers with both the National Park Service and California State Parks working within the boundaries of Redwood National and State Parks, Morse said. Fifteen national and state park rangers are spread out between Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods and Jedediah Smith Redwoods state parks, he said.

National Park Service law enforcement rangers obtain their training from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Morse said.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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