Two San Juan Island men were handcuffed and put in the back of a police car by National Park Ranger Barry Lewis. The arrests were made at different times and locations, but both arrests started with dogs off leash.
Karl Mueller paid $75 for one count of dog off leash and was found guilty in Federal Court for one count of interference with an agency function, which is a class B misdemeanor — he was fined $1.
“It was like a 500 pound chunk of cement lifted off my shoulders,” Mueller said.
Garrett Holmes settled out of court by paying a fine and the count of dog off leash and count of interference with an agency function were dropped.
“What is most frustrating is that I’m not going back there until he’s [Lewis] gone,” Holmes said.
For the Acting Superintendent of San Juan National Park, Steve Gibbons, it’s reassuring that the National Park’s actions were upheld at Mueller’s trial, but he is disappointed that things — from the initial incident to the trial — escalated to this outcome because most of the time the park offers a positive experience.
“We would prefer to not have arrests — it’s a last resort,” Gibbons said. “We want to make positive contacts and provide visitor education, 99 times out 100, people are just unaware of the rules.”
At the park
In the spring, Mueller was walking his dog off leash at the National Park when Lewis informed him that dogs must be leashed.
The situation escalated later when Mueller saw the ranger’s hand resting on his gun, and Mueller, also admits to using an abundance of four letter words.
When Lewis began writing a ticket, he asked for Mueller’s Social Security number, which Mueller initially refused to give, but later rapidly fired off the numbers and Lewis arrested him.
In a similar situation, over the summer, Holmes had a picnic at the park with his family including his wife and two kids. He said his “goofy” one-year-old Lab was running around for a few minutes before leashed to a table. Then Lewis appeared, informing Holmes that he had broken park law. Holmes admits that he has an “Irish temper,” but remembers speaking very calmly to the ranger.
Holmes hadn’t visited the beach in six months and said he didn’t know about the new stricter enforcement of leash laws.
Then Lewis asked for his identification, and Holmes gave a false name.
“I knew I screwed up the second I said it,” Holmes said. “He runs my name and asks me if that’s my real name. I say, ‘no,’ and then I give him the right name.”
Then Holmes recalls Lewis asking him to take off his shoes and cap, searching him, handcuffing him and that’s when his seven-year-old daughter Katie started crying.
Holmes has a parks and recreation degree, a Masters in Wilderness Management and was trained as a backcountry ranger in Oregon.
“He had a great opportunity to just give me a little education, and say look there are new signs,” Holmes said. “And then give me a warning.”
Gibbons said he is concerned because these arrests can fracture the relationship between the community and the park. In an effort to improve that relationship, Gibbons has been making an effort to personally communicate with the community. The park has posted more “dog on a leash” signs and will improve park informational bulletin boards. Lewis has started a ride along program for any interested citizens to understand how the National Park operates.
The park will continue to dismantle large log structures on the beach as they have always done, but will not write citations for building the driftwood forts, said Mike Vouri, chief of interpretation and historian at San Juan National Park.
The park will continue to strive for positive resolutions and Mueller is welcome back at the park anytime, said Vouri.
“We want the community to come to the park,” Vouri said. “We don’t want them to be afraid.”
Lewis was unable to comment, at time of press, as he was on vacation.
Holmes didn’t want a misdemeanor on his record, so he hired a lawyer and prepared to go to trial, but the prosecuting attorney gave him the option of settling outside of court.
Mueller has been in court each month since April, the final trial was Nov.1.
“What happened to me was his form of humiliation, but he went against the wrong person,” Mueller said. “I don’t need a lot, but my pride and honor means a lot. I feel vindicated.”
Before the trial, Mueller couldn’t sleep and he’d often wake at 2 a.m., running the incident over in his head, asking himself, “Could I have done things differently?”
Mueller said he couldn’t have done anything different because Lewis approached him with his hand on his gun.
In his closing arguments, Mark Kaiman, Mueller’s lawyer, told the judge, “Mueller was a war hero, a wounded warrior who brought the scars from Vietnam combat home with him.”
Mueller said he likes living on the island because it helps him manage his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — everyone knows him, and he can take walks in the beautiful scenery of the National Park. He recalled the judge saying to Lewis, “There are a lot of vets out there with PTSD and I find it hard to believe that you didn’t know that you needed to back up and defuse the situation.”
Kaiman said the judge had to fine Mueller because technically he was guilty, but he sent a message with a $1 fine that things could have been dealt with better.
“He’s [Lewis] enforcing the letter of the law in a field of law, and he doesn’t want to shuck his responsibility,” Gibbons said. “In hindsight, anyone can say I could have said or done things differently. We all learn from these experiences.”