Attorney seeks dismissal in arrest by park rangers

FEDS: Lawyer echoes claims that park agents used too much force.

January 7, 2011 

Jim Wilde, 70, sits handcuffed Sept. 16, 2010, on the bank of the Yukon River after National Park Service rangers arrested him on four misdemeanor charges.

PHOTO BY FRED SCHENK

FAIRBANKS -- The attorney for an Alaska man charged with disorderly conduct following what National Park Service rangers said was a routine boat safety check on the Yukon River is seeking to dismiss the case.

Bill Satterberg, the attorney for 70-year-old Jim Wilde, told a federal judge at a hearing Thursday in Fairbanks the park service overstepped its authority, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

It's the same argument the state has made in the past, based on language in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

But the park service claims it has jurisdiction on state waterways running through federal lands, including the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, based on amendments made to federal regulations in 1996.

Wilde was arrested last September after he refused to let two rangers board his boat in the Yukon River for a safety check, claiming the boarding itself was unsafe before heading to shore.

The case has attracted the attention of Alaska's political leaders, who say the park service's actions violate the ANILCA. Both U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Rep. Don Young publicly berated the park service following Wilde's Sept. 16 arrest.

Young, who met last month with National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, accused the park service of "blatantly misinterpreting the law" and said Wilde's arrest was the result of an "egregious abuse of power."

Murkowski, who asked the park service for a full review of the arrest shortly after it happened, said rangers "overreacted" and called the circumstances of the arrest "questionable" and the behavior of rangers "provocative."

Gov. Sean Parnell also jumped to Wilde's defense by filing a friend-of-the-court brief on Wilde's behalf two weeks after his arrest, citing language in ANILCA that he said prevents "unwarranted intrusions by federal agents" on navigable state waterways. The state also filed a petition with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to amend or rescind federal regulations the park service claims give the agency enforcement powers on state-owned, navigable waterways.

Heeding Satterberg's advice, Wilde has not spoken publicly about his arrest.

According to charges filed in federal court, Wilde threatened, resisted, intimidated and intentionally interfered with a park ranger during an official duty, then fled when ordered to halt.

Satterberg called the arrest the result of "badge-heavy park rangers" who he said pointed a shotgun at Wilde and rolled him around in the mud before hauling him away in handcuffs.

Satterberg has asked for a ruling on his dismissal motion before trial, set for Jan. 18.

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