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Tuesday, June 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Houseboat owner’s trial to begin in incident with park rangers

A Kettle Falls houseboat owner is set to stand trial this week on accusations that he shoved a National Park Service ranger during a tense confrontation last September that included a ranger shooting another man.

Michael Sublie faces two misdemeanor counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer and obstructing justice stemming from the incident.

Park rangers Matthew Phillipson and Joshua Wentz approached the boat because of loud music being played through speakers shortly after the Kettle River Campground’s quiet hours began the night of Sept. 14.

Court documents say a drunken Sublie was belligerent and allegedly shoved Wentz off the boat’s gangplank. The ranger fell about 1 foot onto dry land.

Phillipson said he heard a popping noise and fired his gun onto the houseboat, striking Casey Hartinger in the side. Hartinger was on board standing near his 9-year-old son when he was shot, family members said.

In a federal courtroom in Spokane earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush urged the parties to avoid a costly and time-consuming trial, which is expected to begin Tuesday and last three days.

“The government’s got a pretty tough case here,” Quackenbush said at a pretrial conference May 16. The judge has ruled witnesses, likely including Hartinger, may acknowledge the shooting but may not opine about whether it was justified.

The National Park Service and Washington State Patrol, which handled the officer-involved shooting investigation, never publicly released the names of the rangers involved in the incident. Phillipson and Wentz were instead identified through court documents filed by the U.S. attorney’s office and both are expected to testify.

While Sublie was initially charged with petty offenses including violating noise rules, a grand jury returned an indictment on the more serious charge of assaulting a law officer in February.

If convicted of that charge, Sublie could spend up to a year in prison.

The case prompted an outcry among rivergoers in Stevens and Ferry counties, who said the shooting was the latest in an example of ongoing overzealous enforcement by federal law enforcement in the area. Dozens of supporters, including Hartinger’s father, held protests at an area National Park Service station and outside the Stevens County Courthouse in Colville last fall.

Hartinger has hired an attorney and is making plans to file a civil suit against the National Park Service, according to Sublie’s attorney, Roger Peven. That potential lawsuit will not be discussed during the trial, Quackenbush ruled. Hartinger was taken to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center after he was shot. He was treated and released the Monday following the Saturday night incident.

Prosecutors had asked if Quackenbush would render a verdict on the lesser charge of obstruction, but the judge denied that request and jurors will hear evidence on both charges.

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