Trail in Berdoo Canyon

One of the most disturbing details of this case is the assertion by the investigating BLM officer that (knowingly or unknowingly) going outside of designated off-roading boundaries is sufficient justification for shooting an unarmed citizen.

by Marjorie Haun

Conservative leaders in Congress have been trying for years to pass legislation that would demilitarize federal agencies and properly give law enforcement powers back to local agencies such as sheriff’s departments and state patrol agencies. In 2017, former Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R. UT) unsuccessfully attempted to pass legislation that would strip all law enforcement powers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service. Most recently, Senator Mike Lee (R. UT) held a hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources addressing the ongoing abysmal record of abuse, aggression, overreach and coverups by law enforcement within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and sister agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Fish & Wildlife Service. The hearing highlighted particularly egregious acts which have occurred at the hands of BLM law enforcement manager Dan Love, and under the direction of William Woody (current BLM OLES Director) and Salvatore Lauro (former BLM OLES Director). Since Senator Lee’s meeting there have been at least two incidents in which BLM officers have used deadly force against citizens.

Since just the first of this year, federal law enforcement agents have been involved in a series of deadly encounters which include:

January 5: Forest Service officer kills unarmed man found on highway following car crash in Kansas

May 27: BLM officer kills man in Colorado desert during shootout

June 10: BLM officer shoots off-roader in California for “failure to submit to investigation”

This most recent incident resulted when some off-roaders in California simply strayed outside of designated boundaries on BLM-managed lands. It is alarming not just because there was no clear crime, but because the BLM agent resorted so quickly to deadly force against an unarmed citizen who posed no threat to him. KMIR reports:

An officer with BLM or the Bureau of Land Management officer shot a woman who was off roading on Berdoo Canyon off of Dillon Road. Riverside County Sheriff’s investigators responded Sunday at 11 p.m. but were in the remote canyon most of the day Monday.

“The preliminary investigation revealed at this time that the Bureau of Land Management officers responded to assist the Joshua Tree National Park Service ranger … with an illegal off roading failure to yield investigation,” said RSO (Riverside Sheriff’s Office Investigator) Armado Muñoz.

He says they were trying to get the off roaders to stop, “A Bureau of Land Management officer attempted to stop the off road vehicle and an officer involved shooting occurred at that time,” he said that adding the female hurt was a passenger, “adult female that was in the off road vehicle was injured as a result of the shooting and transported to a local hospital for treatment of the non life threatening injuries that she suffered and a male adult was also detained at the scene.”

A friend of the victim who did not want to be identified tells KMIR the couple was riding a side by side off road vehicle and the woman shot is a nurse and would never threaten an officer.

One of the most disturbing details of this case is the assertion by the investigating BLM officer that (knowingly or unknowingly) going outside of designated off-roading boundaries is sufficient justification for shooting an unarmed citizen. The KMIR report quotes the BLM Range Safety Officer (RSO) investigating the shooting:

Muñoz says armed officers patrol the federal lands and it’s important before you go off roading to know where you’re going, “Before you go out and use those vehicles to make sure that you are driving them in a place where it’s allowed … sometimes people go out and assume that it’s okay so we just encourage you to do some homework.”

Muñoz says the officer is on administrative leave until the investigation is complete. 

We reached out to the Bureau of Land Management who deferred us to RSO who is charged with investigating this shooting but did send us helpful links to off-roading and maps. 

*Emphasis added

The California case reveals a breathtaking level of arrogance within the BLM and its investigative apparatus. It appears that many federal officers feel entitled to use deadly force against citizens who may bend minor rules and regulations completely unrelated to public safety. This poses a threat to all Americans who seek to use public lands for recreation or other multiuses.

The January and June incidents both involved victims who were unarmed. Tragic and inexplicable, these events are powerful evidence that Congress needs to join Senator Lee in defanging what appear to be trigger-happy federal agents.

See related news:

Senator Mike Lee makes abolishing federal law enforcement election year issue

Utah Congressman introduces bill to strip police powers from BLM, Forest Service

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  1. The BLM is required to use local law enforcement because they do not have the freedom to detain and especially use deadly force. This story missed the killing of a homeless guy on a bike at Red Rock Utah and the BLM was responsible for the FBI setup and murder of Lavoy Finicum In Burns Oregon. The BLM will charge citizens under the DHS unconstitutional terrorism unjust laws.

    I sincerely hope the person shot is filing a wrongful use of deadly force law suit on the guy and the BLM. Ryan Zinke needs to disarm his storm troopers. Senator Mike Lee is correct.

  2. Demilitarizing and unarming Federal agents can be done at the local level by the Sheriff and doesn’t require the Federal Govt to write some new law or do anything.
    Outside law enforcement agencys have to get prior written approval by the Sheriff in order to be present and operate in said county.
    A sheriff in Northern California, sorry can’t recall the specific county, revoked USFS agents ability to carry firearms while on duty and on patrol in his county last year after the community expressed their outrage over multiple incidents that involved violent encounters by locals with USFS agents!

  3. Please check your sources. RSO is not Range Safety Officer it is Riverside Sheriff’s Officer who is the county sheriff for the area.

  4. Sometimes it is the fault of local law enforcement that these incidents happen. 1) they call them in as backup in situations where they should be handling it themselves.

    2) The stupid Sheriffs DEPUTIZE them and give them authority to act.

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