A jury will have to decide whether to convict a Kettle Falls man of assaulting a federal agent in an incident where witnesses agree only that a bystander was shot.
Seven men and seven women were selected Tuesday morning to try Michael Sublie, who was arrested in September on the Kettle River Campground northwest of the Stevens County town.
Two National Park Service rangers are expected to testify Sublie was drunk and disobeyed multiple requests to turn down loud music before shoving one of them off a ramp. Sublie and others on the boat will say one of the rangers boarded the vessel without permission and that no physical contact occurred.
Ranger Matt Phillipson opened fire on the boat after prosecutors say Sublie and two of his friends swore at the rangers and refused to comply with simple commands in a “combative mode.” Defense attorney Roger Peven said the shot was taken in spite of Sublie’s cooperation.
“He’d never been told to do anything he didn’t do,” Peven said in his opening statement Tuesday.
Judge Justin Quackenbush, who had asked Peven and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tyler Tornabene to seek resolution of the case before trial, admonished both attorneys about their overly long opening statements. In their introductions, the attorneys disagreed about whether Sublie had been drinking prior to the confrontation, what eyewitnesses would testify and whether music was playing at the time Phillipson and his partner, Joshua Wentz, approached.
Tornabene said the shot that was fired and hit Casey Hartinger could be attributed to a “chaotic scene” and spotty radio reception in the area, where signals are lost in dense trees and rolling terrain. Jurors must instead focus on the alleged conduct that led to the shot and prompted the charges, he said. Hartinger is expected to testify.
The shooting was “the tragic incident that occurred after the defendant shoved Ranger Wentz,” Tornabene said. Peven, the defense attorney, said eyewitnesses would testify they couldn’t see if the shove occurred.
Campers and boaters knew each other at the Kettle River landing, Peven said, and several paramedics were there celebrating a wedding anniversary and the end of summer when the incident occurred. Those medical personnel provided first aid to Hartinger while rangers ran to a patrol vehicle to call for help, because their personal radios had lost reception, Tornabene said.
Testimony began Tuesday afternoon and is expected to last a couple of days. Sublie is expected to testify, as are people who were on nearby houseboats and the rangers involved. Several supporters of the Kettle Falls man sat in the gallery as the trial commenced.
Sublie is charged with the assault as well as interfering with a federal agent. If convicted of the assault, he faces up to a year in prison.
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