Unlawful Arrest by YNP Rangers? You be the Judge...


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Mick K

Northern Sierra
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 12, 2014 - 11:44am PT

SACRAMENTO (CN) - A visitor to Yosemite National Park can pursue a malicious prosecution claim against three park rangers who allegedly groped her breasts and crotch during an unwarranted search, a federal judge ruled.
Michelle Mazzetti was in a park campground with friends when Yosemite park rangers approached them to address complaints about a vehicle whose male occupants had been acting disrespectfully and driving too quickly through the campground, according to Mazzetti's complaint.
The rangers - including defendants Christopher Bellino, Brendan Bonner and David Sanchez - rounded up Mazzetti and her friends at a picnic table and questioned them.
Mazzetti says Bellino and Sanchez told them they were not free to leave and threatened to use handcuffs. After a few minutes, one of the male members of the group admitted that he had been driving the vehicle.
Mazzetti told the rangers that she had just walked up from the river, had not been in the vehicle, and did not want to be part of the investigation. The rangers ordered her to sit down, then asked for her identification. When Mazzetti got up to retrieve her identification, Bellino and Sanchez grabbed her, she says.
Mazzetti claims Bellino threatened her with a Taser, and that the rangers continued to physically and verbally threaten her, though they had no reason to believe she had been involved in any criminal activity.
An audio-video recording shows that after Bellino threatened Mazzetti with a Taser, he told Bonner that Mazzetti was being "uncooperative," but that she had begun being cooperative. However, Bellino and Bonner still agreed to arrest Mazzetti and take her to jail, the complaint states.
The rangers walked Mazzetti - who was wearing shorts, a bathing suit top, and a loose fitting T-shirt with its sleeves cut off -to one of their vehicles, where they handcuffed her, she says.
Ranger Michael Hastings was sent to watch the other members of Mazzetti's group at the campsite, while the other rangers decided to search Mazzetti. Although Bonner stated that a female ranger would be on duty soon, he and Bellino moved Mazzetti to the other side of the Ranger's video, out of the view of her friends, to search her, according to the complaint.
The two rangers allegedly taunted and touched Mazzetti and ran their hands through her hair. Bellino told Mazzetti he would have to search her breasts, at which point Mazzetti was placed in a stress hold and Bellino and Bonner groped her, Mazzetti says.
Mazzetti says she screamed at them to stop and that they were hurting her. Bellino told Mazzetti he had to search her groin area and the rangers forced her to the ground, the complaint states.
The video shows Bellino and Bonner grabbing Mazzetti's bare knees and prying her legs apart so that they could touch her groin, while Mazzetti screamed for them to stop, according to the complaint.
The two rangers removed Mazzetti's shoes and put her in the back of the ranger vehicle.
Mazzetti claims that Bellino, Bonner and Sanchez filed false reports, failed to provide exculpatory information and failed to identify witnesses who could support her version of events.
Mazzetti was charged and prosecuted for interference, failing to obey a lawful order, disorderly conduct and unreasonable noise. But a magistrate judge ruled that the rangers had no reason to stop Mazzetti and that she had been illegally arrested.
The judge acquitted Mazzetti of all charges except for unreasonable noise, based on Mazzetti's continued screaming after she had been placed in the rangers' vehicle. The U.S. attorney dismissed that charge on appeal.
The rangers claimed that Mazzetti's claim of malicious prosecution should be dismissed because it faults the rangers for not including a verbatim transcript of statements and actions that were recorded in videos, which were admitted in the criminal trials as joint exhibits.
The rangers' report disclosed the videos as evidence and no information was actually withheld from Mazzetti or the prosecutor, the rangers said.
Furthermore, they argued that people who participate in an investigation or file a report are generally precluded from liability for malicious prosecution claims under the presumption of prosecutorial independence.
But U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii didn't buy it.
"Despite the reference to the video in the rangers' reports, and the content of the video itself, the court cannot find that dismissal is appropriate at this time. The presumption may be rebutted in several ways, including omissions of key facts, improper pressure/influence by an officer, and misleading reports," Ishii wrote in the Nov. 5 ruling.
"Here, the events surrounding the prosecutor's decision to bring charges are entirely unknown. There is no indication of when the prosecutor saw the video, what contact the Rangers had with the prosecutor, what influence or role they had with respect to the prosecutor's decisions, what the prosecutor reviewed in deciding to pursue charges, which portions of the reports (if any) the prosecutor relied upon, or why the prosecutor decided to press charges at all."
Ishii also pointed out that not all parts of the video are clear, as faces are not always visible and some of the comments made by Mazzetti's group cannot be clearly heard. Nor does the video explain that the driver in the speeding vehicle was male and that the passenger was also male.
Nor does the video make clear whether Mazzetti kicked at the rangers before they told her that they were going to search her breasts.
"The rangers are attempting to obtain a dismissal based on what amounts to a defense. The defense is rebuttable, however, and there has not been adequate discovery surrounding the prosecutor's decision to prosecute. Without the benefit of discovery on this issue, the court will not dismiss the malicious prosecution claim at this time," Ishii wrote.
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Aurora Colorado
Nov 12, 2014 - 11:51am PT
+1, I hope she kicks their asses.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Nov 12, 2014 - 11:55am PT
Judge Ishii seems to think there is enough info, but what does he know?

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Nov 12, 2014 - 11:57am PT
Get the man in line. It's still our park, supposedly...

Trad climber
greater Boss Angeles area
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:01pm PT
Too many cops. Not enough crime.

The County Sheriff should patrol Yosemite, just like they patrol the rest of the county.

Nov 12, 2014 - 12:03pm PT
Kinda sounds like BS.
The Larry

Moab, UT
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:04pm PT
That was dirty Sanchez.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:07pm PT
A visitor to Yosemite National Park can pursue a malicious prosecution claim against three park rangers who allegedly groped her breasts and crotch during an unwarranted search, a federal judge ruled.

I'm gonna go with the federal judge's decision to tool the tools. I think
he knows more about the law than all of us combined. That said it sounds
like Manzetti deserved a good whoopin' for aggravating the situation.
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Aurora Colorado
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:18pm PT
Dirty Sanchez?

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:21pm PT
Regardless of the outcome of this case I do feel that the rangers are more aggressive and show less diplomacy in YNP than in other parks that i have visited.
While i am aware that YNP deals with issues more complex than many other NPs, i still feel that there is a culture within the ranger force in YNP that contributes to the many confrontations between rangers and visitors.
Around eight years ago i arrived with my partner in late afternoon at Camp 4. We were looking for a place to sleep before hiking up to the NW Face of Half Dome. Luckily, we ran into some Chilean climbers who had additional space in their campsite. I purchased a $5 permit as per camp regulations.....i was doing everything by the book.
It was perfect weather so i decided not to pitch my tent and slept out in the open instead. I attached my permit to my sleeping bag and fell asleep. At 4:00 am i was awakened by someone kicking my bag. I awoke in the pitch dark and was blinded by a bright light beam shone directly into my eyes. Surprised and confused i quickly started getting out of my bag to defend myself only to have the perpetrator identify himself as a ranger and threaten me. I calmed down when i realized i wasn't being assaulted and asked him what the problem was. He told me that he couldn't see my permit ( i had rolled over while sleeping) and thought that i was sleeping in Camp 4 illegally.
Why he had to confront me in such an aggressive way in the middle of the night is beyond me. Had he come by at first light i would have still been in my bag and he could have checked my permit. He would also have been able to find those persons, if any, that were there illegally.
I travel extensively to climb and always obey the rules set by land managers. Yosemite....by a large margin, is the most unenjoyable venue i use in regards to camping. Something should be done.
Culture....be it a corporation, small business, non profit, or National Park is set by those in charge.

Nov 12, 2014 - 12:24pm PT
The Rangers wear video cams on their uniforms, and can selectively emphasize what they record based on how their direct their cam and it's ability to record audio. They can shout, "Please stop resisting", to someone selectively off cam, and their voice drowns out the the person off cam. They can then say a person was resisting arrest, when in fact they were not.

Perhaps the climbers should wear GoPros and have their iPhones in record mode clipped to their shirts to provide another perspective?

More cases like this need to come to light to instill needed change. Who hasn't been tooled in the Valley? It's a drag.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:31pm PT
Who hasn't been tooled in the Valley?

Uh, the vast majority of law-abiding people who don't drive around campgrounds
at high speed? Those people deserved a tooling but unfortunately it seems
it got out of hand.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:32pm PT
Check my post Reilly.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:43pm PT
Jim, I don't disagree with you that the Yose tools are straight outta Compton.
But it always takes two to tango, as you well know from years in Argentina.
It just goes wrong when the lead dancer is a klutz. In this case it seems
that both parties were klutzes, or worse.

This summer in SEKI I had a bum battery and wound up spending some serious
quality time with the resident 'tool'. First he picked up the wife and I
while we were hitching back to our car. Then he gave me another ride back
to the car where he jumped the batt. Super mellow dude. I actually brought
up the seeming differences between Yose and SEKI. He told me not to fool
myself in that SEKI is only 70 miles from Fresno and they get plenty of losers,
just not as many. But I am sure he goes strictly by the book.

Ice climber
hartford, ct
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:43pm PT
Just wait until they get their MRAP's... You don't know tooling yet....
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Aurora Colorado
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:44pm PT
Yosemite should be designated a wilderness area and handed over to the NFS. Failing that, I'd like to figure out some kind of legal challenge to the prohibition on (free) backcountry camping. Cramming people into campgrounds, not just in Yosemite but everywhere, really degrades the experience. For those who just love Camp 4, imagine if the same social scene was up in the talus below el Cap.
Mick K

Northern Sierra
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 12, 2014 - 12:44pm PT
This is an excerpt from the Appellate Court's Ruling:

Rangers Bellino, Bonner, and Sanchez drafted false and misleading reports, failed to provide exculpatory information, and failed to identify witnesses who could support Mazzetti’s version of events, even though the rangers had such information. Bellino recommended charging
Mazzetti with violations of 36 C.F.R. 2.32(a)(1) (interference), 36 CFR 2.32(a)(2) (failing to obey a lawful order), 36 CFR 2.34(a)(2) (disorderly conduct), and 36 CFR 2.34(a)(3) (unreasonable noise). Based upon the rangers’ reports, Mazzetti was charged with and prosecuted for violations of the above Class B misdemeanors.

A bench trial was conducted before Magistrate Judge Seng. Magistrate Judge Seng ruled that the Rangers had no reasonable suspicion to stop Mazzetti and that Mazzetti was unlawfully arrested, that Mazzetti’s Fourth Amendment rights had been violated, that there was no grounds for threatening Mazzetti with force, and that Mazzetti had engaged in constitutionally protected speech. Magistrate Judge Seng acquitted Mazzetti of all charges except for a violation of 36 CFR 2.34(a)(3), based on Mazzetti’s continued screaming after she had been placed in the Rangers’ vehicle. However, on appeal, the U.S. Attorney dismissed the 2.34(a)(3) charge against Mazzetti.

John Duffield

Mountain climber
New York
Nov 12, 2014 - 01:04pm PT
I googled, oh my...


Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
Nov 12, 2014 - 01:24pm PT
There is not enough context here, and either party or both may have acted in a manner to cause the situation.

For example, imagine that the lady was really obnoxious and obstinate (which is not too far of a stretch if she was associated with the people who were in the car acting in the manner described, if that part is also true). Imagine that her actions were reasonably interpreted as trying to escape/evade the LEOs when they asked her to stay. If she's kicking and screaming or pulling away when they touch her, then they escalate to maintain physical control, and are obliged to search her for weapons to ensure their own safety.

Now imagine another scenario where she is unlucky wrong place, wrong time... and the LEOs really are just power-drunk abusive jerks, and they act in a horrifying manner toward her and her screams are a consequence of her horror at being abused by the people who are supposed to protect her.

It could be some mix of both of these. Can't judge anything based on what is presented.

Social climber
Nov 12, 2014 - 01:30pm PT
Wow, that is a wild story. And is happend 3.5 years ago.

Pretty clear that those boys should not have a gun, badge, authority. Hopefully that they are moved to garbageman duty soon.

Just google this stuff and you can find all the court records easy.


The damning material starts about page 16. The judge simply says there was NO REASON for ANY of the people in the campsite to be suspected of a crime or detained. Bellino and his jack booted buddies were clearly outside the law. It is like they were never trained or taken a constitution class.

All these filthy rangers did was a BAD job and should be held accountable.

Michelle's rights as an American were certainly violated.
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