Phil Francis, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, told Cong. Rich Boucher in a recent meeting that my run-in with the Parkway Police during FloydFest "never hapened" and also claims the Park Service did not send their Criminal Interdiction Team goon squad to the area last summer to harass attendees at the event.
He’s a liar.
Francis says the Parkway only dispatched some "extra rangers" to help with traffic. If that is so, why was the sign above erected near the festival site? It was part of the CIT unit’s stepped up enforcement action and I shot the photo above on the first day of the festival.
Chief Ranger John Garrison confirmed to both me and Todd Foster, managing editor of The Bristol Herald-Courier, that the CIT unit had been dispatched for FloydFest weekend. Park Rangers based in our area have told me they know the Ranger who threatened me with arrest and local attorney Jonathan Rogers was able to identify the Ranger based on my description.
The CIT team swooped into the area with orders to make arrests and intimidate attendees of FloydFest. They targeted male drivers with long hair and females driving alone. Their flimsy excuses included missing license plate bolts or items hanging from rear view mirrors. They searched cars, backpacks, coolers and luggage. They used threatening language and harassing tones.
When I tried to photograph these abuses, a member of the CIT unit threatened to arrest me under the USA Patriot Act.
The Park Service’s so-called "investigation" into the incident consisted of two phone calls followed by quick denials from the Chief Ranger, who was not even in the country during FloydFest. Garrison later claimed I have not returned phone calls from him when he had not, in fact, called me. When I confronted him with this he quickly denied making the claim to another reporter and admitted he was out of the contry. No one from the superintendent’s office ever attempted to contact me for additional information.
This wasn’t an investigation. It was a whitewash. Foster and Garrison lied to me, they lied to Cong. Rich Boucher and they lied to the public. Francis promised Boucher that the Park Police will meet with FloydFest.
In an editorial today, The Herald-Courier reports:
They agreed that before next year’s festival, July 24-27, Boucher will sit down with the superintendent, his chief ranger, FloydFest organizers, local business owners and the Floyd County sheriff.
"It is important that our region retain its reputation for friendliness which encourages people to travel from many states and other nations to attend the festival," Boucher says. "FloydFest provides an important annual boost to the tourism economies of Floyd and Patrick Counties," says Boucher, a Democrat who represents Virginia’s 9th District. "I want to help promote its continued growth, and having in place an understanding about how law enforcement activities will occur during the next festival and festivals thereafter is a constructive step in achieving that goal."
We commend Boucher for conducting this examination and arranging next year’s sit-down. But we remain somewhat skeptical of what the results will be. That’s because a Boucher representative sat down with the parkway folks before this year’s festival to talk about concerns stemming from the 2006 event. And the complaints of aggressive law enforcement grew.
We also question the veracity coming from the parkway hierarchy.
I don’t have to question the varacity of the Parkway superintendent, the chief ranger or the CIT team that the superintendent claims wasn’t here to make over 300 traffic stops during last year’s FloydFest. I know they are liars.
Some of those cases were recently thrown out by a federal magistrate who said the stops lacked probable cause. The next time one of the Parkway’s gesttapo-like Rangers gets in my face I will stick my camera in theirs, push the button to its motor drive, and capture their actions at 10 frames a second.