April 1, 2014 in City, Region
Court documents: Park ranger fired on boat because he heard gunfire
National Park Service Ranger Matthew Phillipson fired on an occupied boat near Kettle Falls in September after his partner was shoved from a gangplank and he heard “pops” indicating gunfire, according to court documents.
Michael Sublie, the owner of the boat, has been charged with assaulting a federal agent and obstructing justice stemming from the incident at a rural Stevens County campground on the banks of the Kettle River on Sept. 14. Casey Hartinger, a passenger, was struck in the side by Phillipson’s bullet, prompting a multiagency investigation that until now has not publicly identified the Park Service rangers involved.
Court paperwork filed Tuesday by the government lists Phillipson as the shooter and Joshua Wentz as the ranger shoved by Sublie, who was approached for playing music too loud on his houseboat after quiet hours. Several residents were prompted in September to speak out against the National Park Service as a result of the shooting, claiming overzealous agents have responded with undue fervor to complaints in the area.
In a summary of the events that led to the shooting, outlined in court documents, prosecutors allege Sublie reacted belligerently to requests to turn down his music. The rangers said Sublie cursed at them, refused to give his first name and fidgeted with his pockets despite requests he show them his hands.
At some point, Wentz attempted to handcuff Sublie, who “jerked his hand away and then shoved Ranger Wentz off the gangplank,” according to allegations contained in the court record. Wentz fell roughly a foot into the mud, prompting the rangers to use a stun gun and pepper spray in an unsuccessful attempt to detain the boat owner.
Hearing several “pops” and cries of a gun, Phillipson fired his gun and hit Hartinger, who was standing near his 9-year-old son inside the boat, according to witnesses.
A search of the boat following the shooting revealed firearms, but they were locked away elsewhere on board at the time of the shooting, witnesses said.
Prosecutors called Hartinger’s shooting a tragic and unintentional action by Phillipson after Sublie “assaulted and obstructed Ranger Wentz.” Sublie pleaded not guilty to the charges and a jury trial has been tentatively scheduled for late May.
At trial, prosecutors want to keep jurors from hearing the details of the shooting, arguing it was a consequence, not a precursor, to Sublie’s alleged crimes.
Sublie is not in custody and has no other criminal history. If convicted, he faces up to a year and a half in prison on the charges.