Jurors in a federal case against a man who allegedly assaulted a National Park Service ranger last fall can hear details of the officer-involved shooting that followed, a federal judge ruled this week.
Michael Sublie faces criminal charges stemming from a confrontation on his houseboat moored at the Kettle River Campground in September. Ranger Matthew Phillipson claimed he heard pops after he said Sublie shoved his partner, Joshua Wentz, from the boat's gangplank during an altercation about loud music being played after campground quiet hours. Phillipson fired, striking boat occupant Casey Hartinger in the side.
U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush is hearing the case. In a pretrial conference last week at the federal courthouse in Spokane, Quackenbush heard arguments from defense attorney Roger Peven and U.S. Assistant Attorney Tyler Tornabene on the admissibility of testimony about the shooting.
The government said the shooting followed the alleged criminal activity, and thus should not be discussed at trial because it might prejudice a jury. Peven said the alleged assault and shooting took place at the same time and information about both should be admitted at trial.
“I contend they were contemporaneous, at worst,” Peven told Quackenbush last week. He said the events transpired in less time than it took to recount them.
Quackenbush said he had to determine whether the testimony about the shooting, as Hartinger is planned to be called as a witness, “would generate more heat than light.”
In a written ruling issued Monday, Quackenbush ruled limited testimony about the shooting would be allowed. Any discussion of whether the shooting was justified, that Phillipson acted negligently or used excessive force will not be allowed in the courtroom as that is the subject of an ongoing internal investigation and the parties are mulling civil action, Quackenbush said.
“None of those issues are before this court,” Quackenbush wrote.
Peven had also objected to an investigative agent from the National Park Service being allowed to sit at the prosecution's table during the trial. Quackenbush disagreed with Peven, and the agent will be allowed to confer with Tornabene throughout the trial.
Another conference is scheduled for mid-May, with a jury trial expected to begin later that month. Sublie faces up to a year-and-a-half in jail if convicted.