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New state law to protect federal park rangers

POSTED: May 20, 2013 12:26 a.m.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Ranger Ken Weiner is still suffering physically from when he was attacked last year at Burton Mill Park.

Corps rangers are not law enforcement officers, and prosecutions didn’t used to fall under state law. But a new state law prompted by Weiner’s attack makes obstruction of a corps ranger a Georgia misdemeanor and violence to the ranger a felony.

The Army Corps is a federal agency charged with building and maintaining the country’s infrastructure with a focus on environmental sustainability. Tim Rainey, operations project manager at Lake Lanier, said that going through federal court prosecution means a lot of sentencing guidelines. He said he was expressing his personal opinion.

“I think the (sentences) are just too light, Rainey said. “From my perspective, if someone assaults one of our rangers, I don’t care who it is as an individual — I do for their health — but to me I see that assault as against the agency, not the individual. We want the punishment to be fitting and we want it to be a felony.”

Rainey said he hopes state and local government workers, such as park rangers and code enforcement officers, will also fall under this law.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed the law May 6. It defines a park ranger as someone other than a police officer employed by the state, local governments or the U.S. who enforces park rules. Conviction of a state felony under this law could mean a sentence of at least one year up to five years.

“There was a gap in Georgia law,” Weiner said.

Charlie Brown Jordan, 24, of Suwanee, is accused of tackling Weiner as he was writing Jordan a citation for alcohol and punching him in face. Weiner went to grab his pepper spray, his only weapon, and Jordan allegedly grabbed the ranger’s right wrist.

Weiner sustained injury to the arm and needs surgery on his wrist. He has about 80 percent use of his arm and has to wear a splint when he works, he said.

Alcohol is banned at all 46 Lanier recreation facilities and has been for nearly 30 years. The purpose is to keep the lake family friendly. Between 6 million and 8 million people visit the lake recreational areas each year, Weiner said. Most people would consume alcohol responsibly, but there would be more incidents involving alcohol.

“We have problems with it, even with our alcohol ban,” he said.

Corps rangers protect people from the park, people from people and the park from people, Weiner said. Rangers educate visitors about water safety, respond to lake emergencies and enforce park rules and regulations.

“We want to promote a safe family atmosphere,” Rainey said. “Somewhere where you can have a good time, bring your kids (and) don’t have to worry about that stuff.”

This law gives similar protection to non-law-enforcement officers, and Weiner said he’s happy about that. The rangers’ uniforms look similar to police officer uniforms and that can make them more vulnerable. Society’s becoming more violent, Weiner said.

“We don’t have powers of arrest, we don’t carry weapons other than pepper spray,” he said. “My pepper spraying of the guy who (allegedly) attacked me was the first time a corps ranger had used it since the pepper spray was authorized widely in the corps in 2002.”

The most common violations at the Lanier recreational areas include failing to display fee permits, dogs in the south end of Lake Lanier, where they’re not allowed, and alcohol, Weiner said. Rangers can issue verbal warnings, written warnings, order people to leave the park and write mandatory court appearance tickets.

“We write quite a few citations at Lake Lanier,” he said.

The tickets go to the U.S. District Court in Gainesville.


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