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Federal judge says witnesses can talk about houseboat shooting in assault case

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.

Study: mercury contamination affects even fish in national parks

FISHING — National parks in the Western United States and Alaska are some of the most pristine landscapes and waters on the planet, yet results of a four year study indicate that mercury contamination affects fish even in these protected areas.

It's important to note that 96 percent of the affected fish had low levels of contamination and are considered safe for human consumption.

However, the National Park Service says:

Mercury has been discovered in fish in some of the most remote national park lakes and streams in the western United States and Alaska. Mercury levels in some fish exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health thresholds for potential impacts to fish, birds, and humans.

The information about mercury, and its appearance in 21 protected areas considered to be relatively pristine and removed from environmental contaminants, is in a recently published scientific report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service.

Read on for more details from the NPS.

Houseboat owner says he was recorded following shooting

The owner of a houseboat charged with assaulting a National Park Service ranger during a dispute about loud music before another opened fire, injuring a guest, says he was recorded secretly after the shooting.

Michael Sublie has been charged with assault and obstruction of justice stemming from the Sept. 14 incident at the Kettle River Campground just northwest of Kettle Falls. According to court documents, rangers Joshua Wentz and Matthew Phillipson approached Sublie's boat - moored for an end-of-the-summer party, witnesses said – after 10 p.m., established quiet hours on the secluded, federally owned property.

Wentz used pepper spray and a stun gun in an attempt to subdue Sublie, then was pushed from the gangplank, according to court documents filed last week. Phillipson opened fire with his service weapon, striking passenger Casey Hartinger in the side.

Hartinger was standing near his children, aged 10 and 14, when he was fired upon, according to court documents.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Tyler Tornabene asked a judge to preclude all evidence of the shooting from jurors' ears, arguing Phillipson fired after the commission of the alleged crimes. But Sublie's attorney, Roger Peven, said in filings Tuesday the events occurred simultaneously, and it would confuse jurors to divide the two.

“The shooting happened literally during the middle of the interaction between Mr. Sublie and Ranger Wentz when Ranger Phillipson discharged his weapon,” Peven wrote.

Peven also alleges that Sublie was surreptitiously recorded by National Park Service rangers during a discussion with a local police officer who responded to the scene. Sublie was placed in a National Forest Service patrol car when he spoke with the officer, whom he knew, according to court documents. Peven wrote rangers placed a recording device in the car to keep tabs on what was said.

Hartinger received medical attention from medical technicians already present at the scene, according to court documents. He was later treated at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane and released. He has not been charged with any crimes in the incident.

A jury trial in the case is tentatively scheduled for May. Sublie, who is not in custody and has no other criminal history, faces up to a year-and-a-half in prison if convicted.

Trial delayed for boat owner in Kettle River Campground shooting

Michael Sublie will not be back in a federal courtroom until January to face charges of obstructing a federal law officer and violating National Park Service noise restrictions during an incident in September when a ranger fired and struck a partygoer on Sublie's boat.

Citing the ongoing investigation by multiple agencies into the shooting, both the government and Sublie requested a continuance for a hearing scheduled Tuesday afternoon. U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Rodgers approved a delay of the hearing until January, with an expected trial date now scheduled for February.

Sublie pleaded not guilty to all charges shortly after the Sept. 14 confrontation, the details of which remain under wraps by the Washington State Patrol and Investigative Services Branch of the National Park Service, who are both looking into the incident. A Spokesman-Review request for investigative materials was denied via email earlier this month by the WSP because of the ongoing investigation.

Sworn statements filed in court said Sublie became verbally confrontational when two rangers attempted to board his boat investigating excess noise. The standoff turned physical, and Sublie shoved one of the rangers off the gangplank, according to court documents.

Friends and family of Sublie and Casey Hartinger, the man who was struck in the ribs by a bullet fired by a ranger, say the incident occurred following an end-of-the-summer party held by local law enforcement and emergency services personnel. A rally was held supporting Sublie and Hartinger outside the Stevens County Courthouse last month.

The Park Service and WSP continue to withhold the names of the two officers involved in the shooting incident. Supporters of Sublie and Hartinger have identified the rangers as Josh Wentz and Matt Phillipson.

U.S. attorney asks for more time to investigate Kettle River campground incident

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Spokane petitioned the U.S. District Court last week to provide more time to investigate the events that led to a National Park ranger shooting a Kettle Falls man on a houseboat last month.

Michael Sublie, the owner of a houseboat currently moored on private property along the Kettle River branch of the Columbia, faces federal charges after Park Service rangers approached him for excessive noise at a remote beach Sept. 14. According to investigators, Sublie was verbally and physically defiant when rangers attempted to board the vessel and turn down the music.

Several demonstrators who turned out for a rally in support of Sublie and Casey Hartinger, the man shot by park rangers, said the incident followed an annual gathering attended by area law enforcement and hospital staff at the beach, and the shooting is just another in a list of grievances they share against the Park Service's law enforcement efforts.

In documents filed Sept. 26, Assistant U.S. District Attorney Tyler Tornabene said his office needed more time to collect investigative reports from various agencies involved in the case. The Washington State Patrol and Investigative Branch of the Park Service are looking into the circumstances leading to the shooting and examining whether there was any professional misconduct on the part of the rangers.

An initial order required the Attorney's Office to provide all discovery to defense counsel within 14 business days of the arrest. Tornabene wrote that timetable would be insufficient to complete the investigation.

“The United States is mindful of its discovery obligations and intends to fully and timely comply with those obligations,” Tornabene wrote.

Sublie is due in court for a pretrial status hearing later this month. Hartinger has not yet been charged in connection with the incident.

Shooting Story That Crashed SR.com

Here's the story that crashed SR.com & Huckleberries this morning after a link was posted on The Drudge Report. The SR.com link now has 673 comments:

The Kettle Falls man shot by park rangers at a campground over the weekend had been standing alongside his 9-year-old son when the bullet tore into his torso, family members say. Few details of the shooting have been disclosed by the National Park Service or investigators with the Washington State Patrol. The shooting injured Casey Hartinger, 43. It happened after a Saturday night confrontation between rangers and another man who owns a houseboat that was moored at the Kettle River Campground within the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. At least one park ranger boarded the houseboat in response to a noise complaint/Kip Hill, SR. More here.

Question: Do you understand why people are so excited about this story?

Lake Roosevelt boat fueling ends Sunday

BOATING — Lake Roosevelt's on-water fueling and minimal services will end for the season on Sunday (Sept. 30) at 5 p.m. at Keller Ferry and Seven Bays.

Info: (509) 725-7229 or (509) 647-5755.

Take your best shot at natural landmark photo contest

OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHY — People in the Inland Northwest are sitting pretty for participation in a photography contest associated with the 50th anniversary of the National Natural Landmarks Program.

Steptoe Butte is among the closest national natural landmarks to Spokane, but many other photogenic sites are available within a day's drive.

Click here to see winning photos from last year's contest, which are featured on the Landmarks Program's 2012 calendar.

So far, the country has recongized 591 national landmarks representing an array of natural features, including dinosaur tracks and fossils at the Morrison-Golden Fossil Areas, Colo., and  bioluminescent waters at Puerto Mosquito, Puerto Rico. Travel to Arizona to see the national landmark highlighting the largest impact crater known in the United States at Barringer Meteor Crater.

National natural landmarks include features on private, state, municipal, and federal lands. Program participation is voluntary and not all landmark sites are open to the public.

PDO Water Trail to be unveiled at open house

BOATING — Three years in the making, a Pend Oreille River Water Trail plan covering 70 miles of the river in northeastern Washington will be served up — along with snacks and beverages — at an open house meeting Thursday (Aug. 4), 5 p.m.-7 p.m., at the Camas Center, 1821 N. LeClerc Rd., northeast of Usk, Wash. (See map.)

This the plan focuses on the Pend Oreille County stretch of the river, including Z Canyon and Peewee Falls. The entire river is 130 miles long originating from Lake Pend Oreille in the Idaho Panhandle flowing northwesterly — unusual for a major U.S. River — until it joins the Columbia River in southeastern British Columbia.  

Maps of the Water Trail will be on display and smaller maps will be shared.

Kayaks will be displayed by Bear Naked Adventures of Newport, Wash..

Other exhibitors include U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, PORTA, WSU Extension, Map Metrics, National Park Service, Kalispel Tribe and Pend Oreille PUD — all partners of interest to future Water Trail users.

The concept plan for the Pend Oreille River Water Trail will be available.

Take a survey during the August public comment period.

Info: Susan Harris of PORTA (509) 447-5286, email susan@porta-us.com.

Spokane firm gets contract to upgrade Stehekin Landing ferry facility


View Larger Map

Spokane business Wesslen Construction has won a $1 million contract with the National Park Service to uprade the ferry-landing faciliies at the Stehekin Landing on Lake Chelan.

The contract came through a competitive bid process.

Wesslen will provide universal access at the Stehekin Landing for  passengers traveling via the commercial ferry system. The park service is spending more than $2 million this year to improve the services and facilities at Stehekin, at the low end of Lake Chelan.

The popular Rainbow Mist Trail is also being upgraded to provide universal access to Rainbow Falls.

Seven firm made bids on the job. Wesslen has a history of doing marine projects in remote areas. A recent project was the Agnes Creek Bridge reconstruction.

The work is likely to take place February through June, and the new structure should

Park Service looking for new manager for Stehekin Lodge

You too can run a lodge in the beautiful Lake Chelan area.

The National Park Service is looking for bids from people interested in running the Shehekin Landing Resort, also known as Stehekin Lodge, on the headwaters of Lake Chelan in north central Washington.

On Oct. 4, people who have a hankering can tour the site and look over the concession facilities. The event requires advance registration, arranged by calling (509) 682-4921 no later than noon, Friday Oct. 1.

The goal is to find a facility operator who will focus on resort services for the peak summer months, with the option of maintaining the facility for the full year.

The current operators, Cliff and Robbie Courtney, don’t plan to rebid. The National Park Service is asking for a 10-year contract for the lodge.

For more information on the Stehekin opportunity, go to http://www.nps.gov/commercialservices.