The investigation of an Aug. 18 clash between Acadia National Park rangers and a group of revelers is not yet complete, so final judgment on the conduct of law enforcement officials should be withheld. But a statement by a supervising ranger who was at the scene of the conflict, which was released to the Bangor Daily News, suggests one of the rangers succumbed to a rage that worsened the situation.
The revelers, as has been reported, worked at the park’s Jordan Pond House and climbed Day Mountain at night as part of an annual tradition. The outing was more party than hike. Alcohol and marijuana, apparently, are also are parts of the tradition.
It’s easy to imagine some of the 40 revelers being uncooperative when the rangers showed up on the mountaintop, which park officials allege. But the rangers should have anticipated such a reaction and planned to address it within the context of the alleged offenses. Law enforcement officers are often outnumbered in such situations, and they are trained to take control.
“Yelling in a loud tone,” as the supervising ranger said, describing his colleague’s response, was, indeed, likely “fueling the atmosphere.”
The first concern of rangers responding to a report of a party – which may or may not have been illegal – should be the safety of those on the mountaintop. According to one of the revelers, one of the rangers was rough with a young woman. One of the men in the group expressed his displeasure with the ranger’s behavior and – the man alleges – the ranger responded by shoving him to the ground, where he banged his head on a rock and was rendered unconscious.
What makes this scene – as reported thus far – worthy of scrutiny is that it is an aberration. Rangers working for the federal Department of the Interior are assumed to be the cream of the crop. The jobs are likely coveted by law enforcement officers because of the good pay and benefits, a spectacularly beautiful work environment and because rangers rarely have to deal with angry and obnoxious drunks, which are the stock in trade of most municipal police officers.
Further disconcerting is the rangers’ apparent lack of perspective. A group of revelers, likely familiar with the terrain of Day Mountain, which is accessible by a wide, gently rising carriage path, are not a threat to the safety and security of others in the park. The partiers may have been a danger to themselves, but rangers could have addressed this concern by persuading them to leave the mountain peacefully.
Law enforcement officers often rely on discretionary decisions to not charge offenders because it results in a “no harm, no foul” outcome. This may have been such a situation.
Finally, if just one of the rangers was “out of control,” as observed by his supervisor, the park’s cadre of rangers should not be painted with this broad brush.
Acadia National Park inspires reflection and contemplation of nature. The park’s power to do so should rise above the conflict on Day Mountain in August.