A National Park Service ranger said he thought he heard gunshots during a confrontation on a Kettle River houseboat last summer and returned fire and shot a man, according to court records in a case where locals have criticized federal agents as overzealous.
Yet the “pops” Ranger Matthew Phillipson said he heard after his partner was shoved from a gangplank on the beached boat were not proven to be gunfire. A shot fired by Phillipson that September night injured Casey Hartinger, a passenger on the boat where loud music blared after quiet hours.
The shooting prompted a multiagency investigation in which federal charges were filed against the boat owner while the government refused to identify the rangers involved.
Michael Sublie, the owner of the boat, is accused of assaulting a federal agent and obstructing justice stemming from the fracas at a rural Stevens County campground on the banks of the Kettle River.
New court papers filed Tuesday by the government list 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 agents have responded with undue fervor to complaints in the area.
Prosecutors allege Sublie was belligerent and refused to turn down the music on his boat. The rangers said Sublie cursed at them, refused to give his first name and fidgeted with his pockets despite requests he show his hands. Wentz attempted to handcuff Sublie, but the boat owner “jerked his hand away and then shoved Ranger Wentz off the gangplank,” according to allegations contained in the court record. Wentz fell about a foot into the mud, prompting the rangers to use a stun gun and pepper spray in an unsuccessful attempt to detain Sublie.
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 onboard 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.