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Court Watch #52: Park Ranger Problems
Who's in charge in saving a life? Plus: Justice Department closes a 1968 case, MIT Media Lab drama, building bribery, loan fraud, sextortion, and a war on Christmas in...November?
Welcome to Court Watch #52. In this issue, we’ll cover bribery, loan fraud, sextortion, the founder of the MIT Media Lab having a real estate disagreement with his son, and a war on Christmas in November, among other things. But before we get to all of that, let’s talk about a turf battle that escalated quickly between local law enforcement and the national park system in Utah.
A contentious search-and-rescue mission at a Utah national park ended in a deputy sheriff filing an assault charge against a national park ranger. Sarah “Sally” Sprouse is the chief ranger of the Capitol Reef National Park. In the past, the local police department in Wayne County, Utah and the National Parks had a cooperative search and rescue agreement that the Parks would run point on all operations. Alas, it had expired by June of 2021. That’s about when an individual fell while rappelling off the Cassidy Arch Canyon and authorities sprung to action to save the climber. According to court records, Chief Sprouse attempted to set up an incident command center and take lead on the rescue. However, a deputy sheriff with Wayne County believed they had command. The details are debated, but according to the Justice Department, Chief Sprouse “attempted to coordinate with the deputy sheriff to set up an incident command structure. Her attempt failed and the deputy sheriff walked away from her. In another attempt to set up a command and gain information of the emergency rescue operation, Chief Sprouse placed her hand on the deputy sheriff’s shoulder to get his attention.”
Fast forward to two years, when the Utah Wayne County district attorney’s office filed assault charges against Chief Sprouse regarding the incident. It’s not clear from the charging documents why the long delay from incident to criminal charge.
The Justice Department made a motion this week to move the case from state to federal court, arguing that the supremacy clause means federal officers are “immune from state prosecutions for actions reasonable and necessary in the discharge of their federal responsibilities”.
You know who won’t fight a park ranger over saving a life? Court Watch. Subscribe because of that.
Representatives from the Utah U.S. Attorney’s office and the Wayne County District Attorney declined to comment on an ongoing case. A discovery hearing is set for early December.
In the meantime, maybe Court Watch readers should avoid the Utah parks if you like climbing and the option of being rescued by all instruments of government.
Now onto the rest of this week’s dockets.
Bob the Briber: The feds have charged a civil engineer with making bribes to a San Francisco building inspector.
Threats: Let’s just put them all in one section. A Lone Star man in prison was charged with threatening a Texas federal judge. A Georgia man was charged with threatening Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and her staff. A Pennsylvania man was charged with making repeated death threats to an unnamed congressman. His defense: “He advised he was not making threats, but warning Congressperson 1 of premonitions”
History repeats: A Missouri man stole $80,000 from a local museum.
Jeep-ers: When borrowing your buddy’s car to smuggle people into America, make sure you know how to work the headlights.
Cold Outside: A log cabin in Lake Tahoe allegedly has a snow problem.
Keep an eye on: A former law enforcement officer accused of sexually assaulting a woman he was assisting after a car accident is being investigated for other potential assaults in his previous law enforcement positions. Also, the fact that there was a two-week delay between when he was fired and when the FBI was alerted to the crime was unceremoniously dropped from the criminal complaint.
Naughty: There’s a war on Christmas in November.
No: A Texas man was sentenced to ten years for beating his ex-girlfriend with a dumbbell.
Oh: Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the MIT Media Lab, is suing his son and daughter-in-law over a $6 million French real estate deal.
Don’t mess with Mom: A Nigerian man was charged with running a far-reaching “sextortion” ring on SnapChat. According to charging documents in Idaho, the man would pose as an attractive woman and get young male college students to send nude pictures. He would then demand thousands of dollars in exchange for not posting them online. The mother of one of the victim’s helped the feds crack the case which brought in $2 million in ransom money and turned victims into money mules.
Boy Math: A man who said he was simply coming back from the U.S. to get $200 from an ATM was found with $25,000 hidden in his car at the border.
Red flags: The CEO of a financial firm in California was accused of running a multi-million-dollar loan fraud.
Billion Dollar Baby Mama Drama: Justin Rohrlich has a fun writeup of some court drama in the lottery.
Cold Case Closed: In what might be the oldest case available on PACER, the Justice Department has dropped a 1968 embezzlement case against a John Doe finding that the case is “no longer viable for prosecution”. We were super curious so we asked the Southern District of Florida’s U.S. Attorney’s office for comment. They declined the opportunity. Perhaps someone at the Justice Department took to heart Preet Bharara’s op-ed in The New York Times?
Thanks for reading. A scheduling note, we won’t publish next week because the courts will be closed for a few days for the holidays, and we’ll be enjoying some turkey. But heads up, lawyers, we’ll still be watching, so don’t try to sneak one past us.
Which U.S. Attorney’s Office will drop a case from 1967 to upstage SDFL? Subscribe to find out.