The Federal District Court in Roanoke has repeatedly slapped down arguments by Blue Ridge Parkway rangers who claim they had the right to stop and search vehicles in a Gestapo-like manner during last year’s Floyd Fest. The court said the Rangers lied.
In fact, the federal courts have also expressed outrage and anger at the behavior of the Park Police’s Criminal Interdiction Team during the annual music event.
Consider these comments in a recent federal ruling on a stop by Park Rangers:
The court cannot find, even under the relatively low Terry standard, that the government has met its burden and that the search in this case was legal. No reasonable articulable suspicion existed to justify the prolonged detention and questioning of Moore. Ranger Gagnon testified that as he approached the vehicle, Moore placed both his hands outside of the vehicle, demonstrating his willingness to cooperate. Moore’s continued cooperation, talkative demeanor and friendly attitude does not suggest that crime was afoot. Finally, Ranger Gagnon testified that Moore was breathing heavily, sweating, and taking his hat on and off during the stop, but the video does not bear this out. Review of the video shows that Moore did not take his hat on and off in a nervous manner as the Ranger testified. Instead, Moore took his hat off once when Ranger Gagnon ordered him out of the truck. Rather than appearing nervous, shifty, or suspicious in any degree, Moore appeared cooperative and friendly on the video. Furthermore, in the video, Ranger Gagnon explicitly states to Moore that he wasn’t "sweating when [he] got out of the vehicle" and only began sweating after the Ranger patted him down and found the marijuana pipe.
The video shows that Ranger Gagnon requested Moore’s license and ordered him to exit the vehicle immediately after Moore told Ranger Gagnon that he was at Floydfest. At this point in the stop, a mere twenty-five seconds into it, the only activities that Ranger Gagnon witnessed to provide any basis for a reasonable articulable suspicion were Moore’s placing of his hands out of the truck’s window as Ranger Gagnon approached vehicle and Moore’s statements that he thought he had his lights on, was looking for a place to get coffee, and that he just left Floydfest. Ranger Gagnon does not ask any questions about why Moore had his hands out of the vehicle or otherwise mention it, thus leaving Moore’s statement as to where he had been as the only possible source of suspicion. In contrast to the Ranger’s testimony, on the video Moore does not seem nervous, his responses seem perfectly normal, and there is no indication that he is breathing heavily.
Thus, the only basis for any suspicion that the court can glean from the video is Moore’s statement that he had been at Floydfest.
A review of hearings from the many tickets issued by the Criminal Interdiction Team shows the vast majority of them were dismissed because the Park Rangers did not have any real reason to stop the cars except for, as the court noted, that the drivers "had been at Floydfest."
Park Superintendent Phil Francis, in a meeting with Congressman Rick Boucher, lied outright by claiming the CIT unit had not been dispatched to FloydFest, a lie that contradicted statements by his own Chief Ranger and evidence presented in court.
Of course, Francis also lied to Boucher by claiming my encounter with his storm troopers never happened. He also claims the video camera in the ranger that threatened me with arrest was not working.