Colville-area residents protest park ranger shooting
A houseboat shooting by National Park Service rangers at a campground near Kettle Falls has dozens fired up
COLVILLE – Bob Hartinger stood next to his wheelchair-bound son, Casey, outside the Stevens County Courthouse on Friday morning, holding aloft a sign reading “My son was shot by N.P.S.”
“My stress level has finally come down a little bit,” the elder Hartinger said.
Twice this week supporters of Casey Hartinger and Michael Sublie, the Kettle Falls man facing charges in federal court after a confrontation with National Park Service rangers that left Hartinger wounded earlier this month, have gathered in protest of an agency they say is out of control in northeast Washington. The shooting Sept. 14 on Sublie’s houseboat has prompted an outcry in surrounding communities, with many calling it a dangerous overreaction to an end-of-summer cookout that had grown noisy and drew rangers to the Kettle River Campground.
“What happened should never have happened,” said Jerry Bramhall, a neighbor of Sublie’s who showed up to Friday’s demonstration in Colville that attracted about 50 people to the sidewalk outside the downtown courthouse.
Bramhall also held a sign, the placard naming the two rangers he believes were involved in the shooting: Josh Wentz and Matt Phillipson. Others at the demonstration, including some who were at the campground when the shooting happened, also said Wentz and Phillipson were the rangers involved. The National Park Service and Washington State Patrol, however, continue to refuse requests to officially name the rangers involved.
Both Wentz and Phillipson are listed as National Park Service rangers on the agency’s official website.
Dean Curtis, who has navigated the Kettle River on a houseboat of his own for about seven years, left the campground where the shooting took place about 6 p.m., he said. If local law enforcement had responded, rather than the Park Service, the situation could have been defused without incident, Curtis said.
“They’re always on you,” Curtis said of the Park Service. A local band planned to perform on one of the houseboats, but those plans were quashed by the Park Service and rangers were patrolling the campground throughout the afternoon, he said.
The two rangers involved initially attempted to board Sublie’s vessel at 10:17 p.m., according to an affidavit prepared by a Park Service investigator. Mandated quiet hours on the campgrounds, located about 3 miles north of where the Kettle River meets the Columbia River near the town of Kettle Falls, begin at 10 p.m., and rangers reported music that could be heard more than 100 yards away coming from Sublie’s boat.
Sublie became verbally and physically defiant when rangers confronted him, according to court records, and one of the rangers reported a strong odor of alcohol on his breath.
Sublie’s mother, Adabeth Schultz, said her son’s attitude doesn’t surprise her.
“My son does stand up for his rights, and I’m sure he came across a little bold,” said Schultz, who was among the demonstrators outside the courthouse Friday. “But that’s how he’s been taught – to stand up for his rights.”
Schultz secured her son’s boat after it was searched by authorities, she said. The two guns found on the boat were “in a case, in a back room, on a shelf,” and inaccessible at the time of the confrontation, Schultz said.
Sublie and Hartinger declined this week to discuss specifics leading up to the shooting because of pending litigation. Sublie said he has hired Roger Peven, a Spokane attorney specializing in criminal defense at the federal level, to represent him in court. Peven previously defended Kevin W. Harpham, who is serving 32 years in federal prison for his attempt to detonate an explosive device at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in downtown Spokane in 2011.
No charges have been filed against Hartinger, who was released from Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center two days after the shooting.
Laughing in exasperation, Bob Hartinger joined his fellow demonstrators condemning the Park Service for painting his son and Sublie as criminals.
“I think they’re totally in the wrong,” Hartinger said of the agency. “They’ve been bashing my son and Michael … yet they’re remaining silent.”