The U.S. Park Service is refusing to identify the rangers involved in a campground shooting near Kettle Falls earlier this month.
The Washington State Patrol, which is assisting the investigation into the shooting that wounded a man on a houseboat, also is refusing to identify the rangers.
The continuing secrecy comes as public angst over the Sept. 14 shooting at Kettle River Campground appears to be growing. Demonstrators, for example, picketed Wednesday outside a Kettle Falls ranger station where members of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ staff met with Park Service officials for a previously scheduled tour while friends and relatives of the man shot in the confrontation are publicly accusing the rangers of endangering children and overreacting to a noise complaint.
Although specific details are generally withheld during the investigative portion of a shooting probe, identities of the individuals involved are typically disclosed along with other basic information such as when and where it occurred.
It’s still unclear what prompted rangers to open fire, hitting 43-year-old Casey Hartinger in the ribs. Hartinger was released from Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center last week, and while documents indicate he’s being investigated for potential assault charges, he’s not been arrested.
Documents filed in federal court accusing the houseboat’s owner, 41-year-old Michael Sublie, of interfering with law enforcement, said two rangers, identified only by their initials, responded to excessive noise at a beach about 9 miles upriver from the Kettle Falls District Ranger Station. A scuffle occurred when one of the rangers attempted to board the vessel and Sublie, who is described in court records as having been physically and verbally defiant, prevented him from doing so. But there is no discussion in the documents of the shooting that followed.
Breean Beggs, a Gonzaga University law professor and attorney who has represented multiple clients alleging excessive use of force by law enforcement, said the refusal to identify the rangers involved in the confrontation is odd.
“It’s hard to know what the legitimate reason could be,” Beggs said.
The Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office have accountability policies in place to identify officers using deadly force within 72 hours of the incident. State laws designed to foster greater government accountability also require disclosure but don’t specify how quickly the information must be made available to the public.
A spokeswoman for the Park Service said the agency’s Investigative Branch is conducting an internal investigation to determine whether there was any misconduct by its employees. But the Park Service also considers the findings of that review to be secret. The two rangers involved have been removed from law enforcement activities with the Park Service per agency protocol, she said.