I wanted to share with the readers of El Dorado County an unfortunate experience I had with a U.S. Forest Service “Law Enforcement” officer in early June. For the sake of space reduction, I will not recount all of the details of the encounter, but the short of it was that myself and two friends were a short way up Wright’s Lake Road past Ice House reservoir doing some target shooting. After a half-hour or so, we were accosted by two USFS Law Enforcement officers (a male and a female) and their K9 partner. Right from the start, the male officer was openly hostile and confrontational (his German shepherd however, was the friendliest of the three, seemingly most delighted to meet some new people and promptly relieving herself in the middle of our little impromptu gathering). The belligerent male, whom I’ll call “Officer M,” began shouting at us that we were on Sierra Pacific Industries private property and were trespassing. He reiterated this repeatedly, loudly and forcefully.
After respectfully and thoroughly obeying literally to the letter every command given us and answering every question asked of each of us, I ended up in handcuffs, was told I was going to jail, and was mirandized without ever being told what crime I had committed and with what I was being charged. I would reiterate that the three of us were absolutely compliant and respectful throughout the entire engagement. The turn for the worse happened after Officer M completely misunderstood something and completely overreacted (the fact that I would later be released underscores my having done nothing wrong).
Over the next several minutes and after a very intimate frisking and multiple conversations with persons on his radio, my criminal status was downgraded from going to jail, to then being merely charged with a Class A misdemeanor, then down to a Class B misdemeanor, then to no charges at all but having my gun seized and being declared a “public nuisance.” Eventually, after still more consultations (education?) on the radio, the now kindly ranger uncuffed me and gave me my gun, a very friendly smile and polite handshake and said he was letting me and my public nuisance go free. He really wanted to nail me for something but in the end it was he whose hands were tied.
At home after doing about five minutes of research on the SPI Website, I discovered that their “Recreational Use Policy” states that their lands are open to most forms of recreation (which include hunting and shooting) and the only specific prohibitions were woodcutting, campfires or camping. Officer M was dead wrong. Dead, flat wrong. We were not trespassing. His entire premise for approaching us was off base from the beginning. A U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement officer with a gun, badge and an antagonistic attitude doesn’t even know the use policies of the land he is supposed to be “protecting?” There was indeed a public nuisance that day, and it was him.
I’m left to try and figure out if this officer was simply ignorant, untrained, or if he is on a campaign designed to drive the public off public lands through harassment and intimidation. It can only be one of those three choices. Either way, this must stop. If “We The People” fail to stand up against this kind of abuse of power, it will continue and only get worse. This particular officer happens to have a bad reputation amongst users of the National Forest and has had several similar complaints.
I tried to file a formal complaint with this officer’s supervisor, a captain in the local office, and was told that there exists no “formal” means of filing a Formal Complaint. Hmm. That sounds a little fishy, doesn’t it? “Just jot down the experience and we’ll take it from there.” And that’s where it ended. No documentation, nothing in this officer’s file, just a “verbal reprimand” (read: “Hey, cover your backside better next time”) for telling me I was going to jail without telling me why. My thought during the ordeal was, “Well, I’m not coming up here anymore.” Then I decided just the opposite. I’m not going to let an uninformed power-tripping almost-LEO harass me off public lands. I’ll be back. After all, I’m the public.
PATRICK D. MCATEE, SR.