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Warning- man disputing camping fees killed by State Parks Officer!


Parks officer shoots, kills man at Elephant Butte

Las Cruces Sun-News
Heath Haussamen
August 25, 2005

A state parks officer fatally shot a man Tuesday night at Elephant Butte Lake State Park during a confrontation over the man's refusal to pay camping fees.

It was the first fatal shooting by an officer at one of New Mexico's 32 state parks in at least 30 years -- since the creation of a formal parks law-enforcement program -- Parks Director Dave Simon said. The New Mexico State Police are investigating the shooting.

The slain man was described as an Anglo in his mid-50s whose truck and trailer had Montana license plates. Police would not release other information until his next of kin were notified.

The officer, Clyde Woods, a three-year veteran of the parks force, is on paid administrative leave pending the conclusion of the investigation, Simon said.

A spokeswoman for the parks division, Erica Asmus-Otero, said the shooting was, "as far as we know, in self-defense."

"The officer was doing his job, what he was trained to do," she said.

State police Lt. Jimmy Glascock would not confirm that, saying the investigation continues. When completed, it will be forwarded to the 7th Judicial District Attorney's Office in Socorro for a decision on whether charges are warranted.

The confrontation began just after 8 p.m. Tuesday at Lion's Beach, a busy area near the lake's visitors center, after the man became belligerent with a parks volunteer over a $14 camping fee he refused to pay, Asmus-Otero said.

The volunteer called for an officer, and the man was also belligerent after Woods arrived.

Woods attempted to apprehend the man for trespassing, Asmus-Otero said. The man placed his hands in his pockets and refused to remove them despite Woods' requests.

At that point, she said, the man "acted in a manner that our officer is trained to respond to," but would not provide more details, other than to say he was "aggressive" and "verbally abusive."

Glascock said police did not find "a firearm or knife" on or near the man's body after he was shot.

State Parks officers are fully certified law enforcement officers who attend the state police academy for training. Simon said officers are trained to focus on education and interaction with the public, rather than confrontation.

He said the "vast majority" of parks users "comply willingly with parks fees," which generate almost two-thirds of the state parks division's budget.

"Deadly force is always a last resort," Simon said. "The choice to use it is based on the risk the officer sees of imminent injury or death to the officer or to the public. Failure to pay fees would not have been a reason for this officer to do what he did."

Sun-News photographer Norm Dettlaff contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2005 El Paso Times



Contributed to by our friend:
Scott Silver, Wild Wilderness

"Two days ago, someone contacted me asking for help. He had been charged with the criminal offense of 'theft of services in the third degree' for failing to display a correctly validated recreation pass. He must now defend himself in court or face being saddled with a criminal record and having to pay a potential $5000 fine and/or serve a maximum one year in prison.

Today I read of a camper being shot and killed after refusing to pay a camping fee. What's happening?"


He said the "vast majority" of parks users "comply willingly with parks fees," which generate almost two-thirds of the state parks division's budget. "Deadly force is always a last resort," Simon said.

Bob Dylan said, "There's something happening here . . ."

--Webmeister Speik

Webmeister's note:  Scott Silver was one of the first activists to recognize the fundamental social impacts of Fee Demo. Please take the time to read our Fee Demo postings below. Congress must restore traditional funding to our public land management agencies and not sell our public lands and management services to private enterprise because of political pressure from a few influential Republican Congressmen!  --Webmeister Speik


Scott Silver sent me the following in an email on October 4, 2005

"The appended ‘Writers on the Range’ essay is titled, “What Can Cause a Ranger to Kill: Public agency zealousness in pursuit of user fees goes fatally awry.” In this essay, author, publisher, and former Park Ranger, Jim Stiles attempts to answer this disturbing question by drawing from his own experience.

From my experience as a user-fee opponent, I can unequivocally state that over-zealousness pursuit of user fees has become a major problem within the land-management agencies. Whether it contributed to the shooting death described below, is questionable. I sincerely hope it did not, but can not rule out the possibility that it did.

I would also state that the issue of recreation user fees has fundamentally altered the relationship between visitors to public lands and the managers of those lands. Fees have changed that dynamic to the detriment of all concerned.

I suggest that these costs do not compensate for the revenues received and that the problems which have already been observed are likely to grow if the user-fee paradigm is further expanded."
--Scott Silver

What can cause a ranger to kill?

Public agency zealousness in pursuit of user fees goes fatally awry by JIM STILES | posted 10.04.05 (Writers on the Range)

When Chief Ranger Jerry Epperson hired me to be a seasonal ranger at Arches National Park in Utah so many years ago, I wasn’t sure what my duties were supposed to be. So it seemed like a good idea to ask.

Epperson smiled wryly and said, “A ranger should range.”

So while all of us endured Park Service chores like collecting fees and working the information desk and cleaning toilets and admonishing the tourists for their often almost unbearable ignorance, we still preferred to range. We headed for the backcountry any time opportunity allowed.

To get to know a piece of land—for no other reason than the intimacy between you that it provided—was the greatest reward of all. We didn’t range for profit; we did it for our hearts and our souls.

Collecting fees was always the least pleasant of my duties. Its only advantage was the opportunity it occasionally provided for beautiful single women camping alone who were in desperate need of a bath, and who found my invitation for a hot shower almost irresistible. I was no chick magnet, but my hot water was.

But fast-forward 20 years, and employees of the various federal agencies collecting land-use fees are showing a zealousness for their work that is almost incomprehensible to me. I continue to read stories of park and forest rangers and BLM staffers who spend most of their day looking for fee violators, even to the point of searching once-empty dirt roads, watching for visitors without the necessary proof of payment taped to their windshields or stapled to their foreheads.

The almost fanatical quest for fees turned to tragedy in New Mexico a few weeks ago at Elephant Butte State Park, when a state park ranger shot a tourist during a dispute over a camping fee. According to a story in the Las Cruces Sun-News, the victim, a tourist in his 50s from Montana, became belligerent and refused to pay a $14 camping fee.

The ranger attempted to arrest the camper for trespassing, but the tourist put his hands in his pockets and refused to remove them. According to a spokeswoman for the state parks division, the man was verbally abusive and “acted in a manner that our officer is trained to respond to.” So Ranger Woods shot him dead. The dead man had not been carrying a firearm or a knife.

After the shooting, Parks Director Dave Simon said, “Deadly force is always a last resort.” He added that the “vast majority of park users comply willingly with park fees.”

I have my own deadly force story. One evening when the Arches campground was full, a couple of young men arrived after dark and tried to camp illegally in the picnic area. My first encounter with them was civil enough, and I told them they needed to leave. Twenty minutes later, I caught them again, when paid campers complained that they’d moved into their site. This time I was firmer, and their attitude was icier. A few minutes later, I could see their headlights creeping down the Salt Valley Road in search of an illegal campsite.

My self-righteous indignation has always been a quality I needed to work on, and on this evening it was in full bloom: How dare these jerks defy the order of a ranger! I found their vehicle tracks; it was 11 p.m., I was out of radio contact but determined to cite these violators. I walked into the darkness with my Maglite and service revolver snapped firmly in its holster. A hundred yards down the dry wash, the illegal campers were already wrapped in their sleeping bags.

When I advised them loudly that they had to leave immediately and that I was also issuing them a federal citation, the two men came unglued, leaping up from their bags, screaming. They called me every unkind word imaginable and in such a hysterical manner that I wondered if I was about to lose control of a situation that was barely 30 seconds old. One was particularly rabid and moved toward me in a way that felt threatening.

I was scared to death. I took a step backward and placed my thumb on the keeper of my gun holster. The young man saw the move and stopped. Then he screamed at me, “You take that gun out and you’re a dead man!” We stared at each other for five long seconds.

I reflected on his words, and I decided that, in fact, he was absolutely right. If I took my gun from the holster I knew I’d be the one shot dead.

“OK,” I said, taking a deep breath. “I’m going back to my patrol cruiser. I want both of you out of here in 30 minutes.” I backed off slowly, turned and walked back to the road. Had they been running up behind me, I would never have heard them; the sound of my heart pounding in my ears was deafening.

I sat in my patrol car for 20 long minutes, still shaken but happy to have my body intact. Finally, incredibly, here they came, packed up and in their car. One of them had calmed appreciably, and I handed him the citation. He even thanked me. His friend, however, was still out of control and kept slamming his fists into the roof of their vehicle.

Had I been a coward or a wise man? I decided that for once, I’d been the latter. I never again came even close to a confrontation like that.

I don’t know all the facts in the New Mexico shooting, but I would guess that fear and adrenaline and the rapid way events can unfold were the causes of the shooting. But a tragedy resulted that didn’t need to happen: A $14 fee can’t be worth a death.

--Jim Stiles is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He is the publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr in Moab, Utah.


"There's somethin' happenin' here
But what it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's goin' down"
--Bob Dylan




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