Perspectives: Grand Canyon hiker criminalized; ranger’s abuse of power caught on video

Image by Brett Barrett, St. George News

OPINION – Look up the word “magnanimous” in the dictionary and Dennis Mitchell’s picture ought to be in the definition.

The Santa Clara resident’s friends describe him as a gentle, rational and good man, which makes it all the more disturbing that his encounter with a park ranger at Grand Canyon National Park left him in handcuffs.

Mitchell and his group of fellow hikers had just completed a 24-mile hike and were driving back to their other vehicle when a park ranger pulled them over. The ranger stopped them for alleged seatbelt violations since there were 10 people in the car and only eight seatbelts.

In the heat and the limited confines of the vehicle, Mitchell began to have severe cramping. He asked the ranger if he could exit the vehicle to stretch his limbs but was denied permission each time. As the cramps became unbearable, Mitchell began to open the car door to stretch his legs, and the ranger yanked him from his vehicle and arrested him.

When all was said and done, Mitchell received citations for not having all passengers in seat belts and failing to comply with the officers.

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How, in a free country, does the simple act of ferrying fellow hikers back to their vehicle snowball into criminal charges and a court appearance?

Mitchell will never be mistaken for an outlaw biker or MS-13 gang member on the prowl. But his failure to submit and obey the commands of an indifferent park ranger ended up with him being treated like a criminal threat. His medical condition took a very distant second place to the ranger’s desire for control.

Such encounters are becoming more common for visitors to the national parks.

A coworker recently related to me how members of his family were fortunate enough to get permits to hike the Subway in Zion National Park. The rules only allow a limited number of people to hike the trail each day. Group size is also strictly limited to minimize their impact on the environment.

My coworker’s mother was in one group, while his brother was able to hike with another group. Roughly halfway through the hike, his mother encountered a park ranger and asked if he had seen her son’s group. The ranger asked her name and then radioed one of his colleagues.

As the faster group of hikers came to the end of the trail, a park ranger asked each hiker if they knew my coworker’s mother. Every person who answered “yes” was handed a $180 citation. The rationale behind the citations was that, by knowing someone from another group, they had somehow cheated the system.

The tickets were later dismissed, but can anyone honestly claim that the rangers were solving a problem rather than simply creating one?

As tempting as it is to focus solely on power-tripping rangers, they are merely a symptom of a much larger problem. Park rangers, and other members of law enforcement, are increasingly trained to view and treat the public as a threat. That means everyone, without exception.

Perhaps this is why until just recently, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies were using “no hesitation” targets to train with. These targets depict lifelike images of grandparents, mothers, children, even pregnant women, all holding a handgun. The stated purpose for the creation of such targets is that law enforcement had requested them, “in order to give officers the experience of dealing with deadly force shooting scenarios with subjects that are not the norm during training.”

This is part of a larger authoritarian mindset that now permeates all levels of government.

It’s even more disturbing to see the reader comments on the KSL story seeking to justify and celebrate the manhandling of Mitchell. The comments reveal a social conditioning that leads some to applaud this abuse of power as a means of “keeping us safe.” They have been fooled into believing that the words “citizen” and “supplicant” mean the same thing.

Eric Peters explains, “People not only no longer chafe at being ordered around by buzz-cut barking goons – they have been conditioned to revere their tormenters as selfless heroes working ever-so-hard to “protect” them!”

Mitchell did not deserve to be arrested. He has taken the higher road of forgiving and moving on. But the problem remains.

We need peace officers not law enforcers. Until we understand the difference between the two, we’d better get used to being treated like criminals.

Ed. Note:  St. George News made inquiry of the National Park Service’s spokesperson for the Grand Canyon National Park  concerning the interest.  No response to our inquiry has been given.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Image by Brett Barrett, St. George News
Image by Brett Barrett, St. George News

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  • Gunther May 30, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    One would think that being on federal property that they could reap the full benefits of the constitution and freedoms that it provides. How wrong we are. When we set foot on federal land such as Zion, Grand Canyon, etc… it’s like stepping into another country and obeying any laws that they have invented to fulfill their needs and desires. Reading the story and watching this video made my blood boil. How can these officers(american citizens) choose to behave in that manner? What kind of training have they received to act like this? Why would they act like that? They had a totally harmless situation on their hands and blew it clear out of proportion. This is another sign of the times and the mindset that the current federal administration has choose to enforce on us. Pay attention people. This is scary behavior by “our” government. Be extra careful in Zion next time you are there, you could be next !!!

  • Police Misconduct May 30, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    More examples of how the political class treats everyone else as tax cattle.

  • quick2judge May 30, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Everyone seems so quick to judge before knowing the whole story. Notice the video starts with Mitchell on the hood…not when he is in his car. Maybe there’s a reason the video doesn’t show what happened before this…maybe Mitchell ignored simple commands that all officers use to try to ensure they and everyone else is safe.

    There’s obviously more to the story folks….whether the officer did do something wrong or Mitchell did…it’s obvious it isn’t all there in what you just watched and read! I can’t judge at all because I don’t see what happened prior to this.

    • Ken May 30, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      I would like to know the court date and where! If the case of abuse is proven then the ranger should be fired. Granted the federal offense of not having enough seat belts is ticky tacky and is used as a reason to pull over vehicles to hopefully find more violations. I also would like to see the video from the moment the ranger came to the window, the whole story isn’t being told! I don’t think the STG News should run such a piece without all the facts and even more when it is an “op-ed”.

  • Flygirl May 30, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    This is HIGHLY disturbing! I would like to know if the ranger is going to get any additional training. Obviously the Ranger kept escalating the situation. Rangers should be there to help not create fear!

    • My Evil Twin May 31, 2013 at 9:56 am

      We will never know what happens with the ranger, unless there is a law suit. NPS will cover it up as being “a personnel matter,” and hope it goes away.
      However, we really don’t have the full story here, so there is no way to really know.

  • Wow. May 30, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I am 100% not shocked about this, have you ever encountered the Ranger at Quail?

    • My Evil Twin May 31, 2013 at 9:57 am

      Well, for what it is worth, the ranger at Quail is a STATE park ranger. The article is about NATIONAL PARK Rangers. Two entirely different agencies.

  • Beenintrouble May 30, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Obviously these folks think that they are an exception to the rules or law. If old dude just walked 25 miles, he can surely sit in the car and control himself, or his “leg cramps”. Instead of throwing childish fits, everyone should have just shut up and followed orders. When an officer tells you to stay in your car, THEN STAY IN YOUR CAR!! This is so stupid. He’s lucky that they didn’t throw him to the ground with all the wiggling around he was doing. Waaa Waaa Booo Hooo. Poor me, said “victim”

    • Spencer May 30, 2013 at 7:19 pm

      You sir are a total moron. First of all if you have ever had a bad leg cramp and couldn’t stretch that leg out you might understand at the uncontrollable pain, I don’t care how tuff you are you are going to do anything in your power to stretch that leg. Next the statement about just blindly obeying law enforcments orders is disgusting. Just because they are law enforcment doesn’t mean they don’t also have to obey laws. If an officer of the law is breaking the law by taking away your civil rights illegally you have all the right in the world to disobey the officer. We don not live in a comunist nation or a monarchy where someone has total control over us. I think that the ranger and the officer that handcuffed that man should be arrested themselves and lose their jobs. Just remember they are paid to protect and serve, how were they protecting anybody or serving anybody by treating an American Citizen like this.

      • Ken May 31, 2013 at 8:42 am

        Exactly what civil rights were violated? You say the officers should be arrested and fired, so you were there and know the whole story? No excuses for bad conduct and after all the facts are known then judgement made.

    • Dave May 31, 2013 at 4:18 am

      Some people in the Country haven’t BEENINTROUBLE like you have.. We’ll probably find out later that he was having a bad day because his wife cheated on him.

      • My Evil Twin May 31, 2013 at 9:59 am

        Cops should not let personal problems interfere with how they do their duty.

  • Chinese Pillow May 30, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    I agree with Beenintrouble. The guy did a 24 mile hike and couldn’t muster the physical restraint to abide by a simple field interrogation. He noticed the symbol on his shirt wasn’t going to get him out of trouble so he started acting a spaz, resisting and being unpredictable. Police, regardless if they are city or Ranger, are trained to deal with unpredictable individuals in a certain way regardless of the college token on your shirt or how many un-seatbelted children and grandchildren you have shoved in your wagon.

    • dbcooperisalive May 31, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      Well you are totally wrong on this. I have had leg cramps after a hike. The pain is excruciating to a point where I had to have my son the driver pull over and help me. This “want a be” supercop is totally wrong. Luckily these people in the car were reasonable because this type of incident could of clearly gone the worng way if the people in the car were hot tempered. This one “Barney Fife’s” ranger was totally wrong.

  • Ann May 30, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    “If you throw a frog in boiling water it will jump out, if you place the frog in cold water and slowly heat it to a boil it it will not perceive the danger and be cooked to death.”

    Our Government is doing a good job of training us to think that violating our rights will keep us safe. Too many people with positions of authority have forgot how to treat us all as humans.

    • Spencer May 30, 2013 at 7:23 pm

      I agree this is exactly the problem today, we are being turned into mindless obeyers and told that if someone in power tells us to do something it is only for our own good. Hitler said many of the same things to his people, that putting the jews in concentration camps was for the good of the people and to many people listened to him and look where it ended. Never blindly accept what an officer of the law is telling to you if you think it is wrong, voice your opinion. If you see it happening to someone else be a witness with your eyes or your camera and make these dirty law enforcement officials pay for their abuse of power.

  • R. Shackleford May 30, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    Most Law enforcement have no idea how to deescalate a situation and with the use of cameras, they are getting nailed for their lack of training and or the drilled into them (stupidity) “officer safety” at all costs actions. This happens all the time with people with special needs or people with a medical issue, if they don’t obey an order or “act in a Standard Way” they can find themselves tazed (multiple times), or assaulted (or killed) by a cop…and unless their is very good video evidence internal investigations as well as other government officials (and the so called good 98% of cops) will give them a pass.

  • Mike May 30, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Obviously “Beenintrouble” has never had a severe cramp and should not comment on something they clearly don’t understand. I, on the other hand, have had and do experience severe cramps that are the product of back surgery. When one hits I’ll be damned if I am or even can sit in a car and not get out to stretch it out. It is also common practice to pull only the driver to conduct the stop and citation. The officer should have taken this route, this would have not undermined his authority and given the driver room to move and be more comfortable. I say the officer escalated the situation and should be suspended with out pay and possibly dismissed.

  • bender May 30, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Petty and thuggish behavior by law enforcement weakens the rule of law. We must be able to respect our cops and trust them to act reasonably and rationally. Not every interaction between law enforcement and the public needs to be viewed in terms of 9/11. This cop showed poor judgement and does not belong owning a gun and badge. Beenintrouble, what’s your line of work? You two sound like two peas in a pod… any openings for an idiot ex-cop?

  • leh May 30, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    These so called “Rangers” are bored and hoping for action and drama. When it doesn’t come to them they create it. Bet you anything that this officer was the class bully. If anyone knows him and can vouch for his intelligence and or character, I would like to hear it. Pay 20 or more freaking dollars to get into their park and they treat you like this? Despicable! The fact that they are referred to as “Rangers” should in no way be misconstrued with our Brave and Finest “ARMY RANGERS”! I’ll bet this officer would have pulled them over if he thought he smelled a fart coming from the vehicle.

  • 375ultra May 30, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    any person that takes an oath to protect the constituion and willfully violates someone elses rights has committed treason and should be hung from the nearest tree

  • Spencer May 30, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    I don’t think it will happen but they should get the badge numbers, get a lawyer and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. If they can abuse the system these people should use the system to sue the state, the national parks, the federal government, as well as try to bring criminal charges against the officers. The more of us that ignore this kind of abuse of power the worse it will get, until we no longer have any rights. Fight, write your congressmen, vote people out that support this kind of thing. If the people at the time of the revolutionary war were willing to let law enforcement walk all over them we would be a British commonwealth right now instead of a free country. We praise our forfathers for going against this kind of abuse of power but people now say that we should listen to the people in charge and blindly do what they tell us. We have become a people who are terrified to ever speak out and that will be the end of this once great country.

  • SADDAY May 30, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    This kind of thing happens all too often even in our local community. Many “Law enforcement” officers become egotistical, power hungry individuals who view themselves as Godlike and better than the rest with their few months of training on board. Just yesterday a St. George officer made a 10 year old girl pack up her lemonade stand and go home, real serving and protecting there! It looks like there are numerous individuals, including myself, who are law abiding citizens that have been the victim of law enforcement misusing their authority and trust they’ve been given all to prove what?! I’ve seen them outright Lie just to keep from looking bad to others while harming the innocent and losing their…my…Trust and faith in honest fair treatment and any feeling of protection from those that really are doing harm. There are those officers that do a great job at what they have signed up to do, SERVE AND PROTECT, but still there are those who insist on manipulating the system for their own misguided purposes doing unreconcilable damage to the community they are paid to serve. This is a sad story of total misuse and misjudgement by an officer. I hope this and the other local officers that l recently had misuse the system soon get weeded out.

  • yea yea yea May 30, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    Spencer, you just might be the moron. You cry more than the guy who can hike 20+ miles, but has bad legs. Whaaaa! You just do all your cryin’ from your lap top.

  • sweet jude May 30, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    I once reported a Washington city police officer for abusing his power, thanks to the constant communications I kept with the chief even though there was no concrete evidence to catch this officer, eventually he was let go. Persistence does pay! I am relieved still to this day

  • Trdlhtly May 31, 2013 at 3:26 am

    Its great to see are protectors in action, these guys probably had ancestors that shed blood for our freedoms and rights and they just crapped on thier graves. The cops new the whole time that the only thing these kids were a danger to was a case of Gatorade and a Bottle of Tylenol. If they don’t get fired the guy that didn’t fire them should be fired and someone with a brain should be hired to do it.

    • My Evil Twin May 31, 2013 at 10:04 am

      You are assuming that there is such a thing as a bureaucrat with a brain. Highly unlikely. . .

  • ajander June 1, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Lol….My first thought was they packed all the people into one car so they didn’t have to buy 2 passes!..(Unless me assumption is wrong)…Therefore overloading the car…I think everyone over reacted!…Since the man exited the vehicle it put the ranger at risk. He should have stayed in the car! Then someone in the car yelling we need an ambulance….Really?…lol,,,Good entertainment at any rate!

  • Jon Smith June 1, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    Oh, thank goodness! Now I can enjoy the park without worrying about the threat posed by those dangerous and surley retirees. Oh, Ranger – thank you! Oh – thank you! (Where’s the sequester when you really need it? Why is this zealots’ job essential to national security? )

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