Courts

Journalist Enters Closed Public Park, Finds Self in Federal Court, Ends Up Scrubbing Toilets

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Here's a story to really make you question where "criminal" and "justice" fit into the criminal justice system. Zach Bowman is an editor at RoadandTrack.com, an automotive magazine. Last October, he decided to ride a motorcycle in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was closed due to the federal government shutdown. This year, he almost went to jail for it.

Bowman makes light of the situation in an Esquire article last week, but he chronicles an uncomfortable instance of law enforcement going overboard on victimless crime, seemingly just to make an example of someone. He writes:

Rangers don't take kindly to publicly mocking the government shutdown by riding a motorcycle through a closed national park. That's especially true when you write a piece about it. I'd netted three citations for my efforts, including traveling the wrong way on a one-way road, ignoring a public closure, and operating a motor vehicle off of designated trails.

He wasn't putting any lives at risk, since not even the rangers were there. They only found out about Bowman's stunt after he published his article about it. Two weeks passed before the citations came in the mail:

Combined, these were good for up to 18 months of incarceration or $15,000 in fines. To make matters more endearing, the offenses occurred on federal land, which meant each was a genuine misdemeanor, the kind that go in the box under "HAVE YOU EVER BEEN CONVICTED OF A MISDEMEANOR" on job applications and unpleasant conversations with in-laws.

His lawyer worked a deal by which he did community service. "I swapped 40 hours of my life, plus 10 hours of commuting, for two perfect hours in a park I've loved all my life." Those 40 hours were spent scrubbing park bathrooms, among other dirty jobs.

Bowman figures that "everyone should have to deep clean a public toilet at least once, just to get a first-hand feel for how horrible humanity is as a species."

It's great that he documented the shitty experience, but I think he missed the point (and a great metaphor for dealing with government); No one "should have to" do manual labor just because lawmakers couldn't agree on a budget and a few park rangers couldn't take a joke.

Bowman's an entertaining writer nonetheless. Read his full account here, and his other writing here.

NEXT: Gay Egyptians Worry the Government Has Been Using a Hookup App to Track Them

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  1. Reading Road & Track on a taxpayer time should also get you 40 hours of unpaid toilet scrubbing.

  2. Imagine if he was an octogenarian veteran trying to visit a memorial to his own war. Release the hounds.

  3. “How dare you make fun of our ridiculous park-closing publicity stunt?”

  4. I think he missed the point

    I briefly RTFA. I think he absolutely got the point.

    OBEY

    1. What other point is there?

  5. MUH PARKS

  6. Modern puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, is breaking the law.

    1. They’re not afraid that someone is breaking the law; hell, they do it themselves all the time. It’s the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, isn’t respecting their authoritah.

      1. I’m still missing something. With no govt, who has authoritah over the parks?

        1. That’s why you can’t go in – no one to give you permission.

  7. How the hell do they even write him citations for something they didn’t witness? (Other than pure spite, that is.) IANAL, of course, but it seems like a lawyer should have been able to say, “Did you witness my client going the wrong way on a one-way road? No? You didn’t? So you admit that you had no evidence when you wrote the citation.”

    1. Well, he did self-incriminate by writing about it, and it sounds like he documented it with photographs.

      Having said all that it’s totally a FYTW situation.

      1. Yeah, but he could say, “I was making it all up. The pics were photoshopped”

        1. 3D renders.

    2. This is my question as well. If Bowman came out and said, “I was just lying about being in the park,” how do they actually prosecute him?

      Did they pull the NSA off the task of getting Lerner’s emails to have them pull the GPS location of his phone during that time period?

      1. Lying about being in a federal park you weren’t actually in is a felony.

        1. Fuck. Looks like the gubbment is one step ahead of me AGAIN!

      2. I think for Bowman, going through the prosecution is the point. It really expresses how ridiculous the government has become.

    3. I’m curious to know who signed the citations.

  8. Freaky, I just got served an ad for “custom badges and wallets” with an accompanying picture of police-style badges.

    Badges? I don’ need no stinkin’ badges.

    1. Did you remember to disable cookies while you were browsing bearcops.com?

      1. I am perhaps the only gay man on the planet who doesn’t have a cop fetish.

        1. I guess I kinda know how you feel, being the only lonely hetboy who doesn’t find lesbians particularly interesting.

      2. …but that was still funny, PM.

  9. Can’t recall who, but some Democrat said the shutdown harmed the economy because craft brewers couldn’t get federal approval of their labels. Of course they couldn’t sell beer with an unapproved label either. The permission side of the government shut down, but never the enforcement side.

    That whole shutdown showed how stupid the stupid party is. They could have had a field day with the nonsense of preventing a private citizen from mowing the grass at the Lincoln Memorial, for example. Of course, my premise that they really do believe in smaller government may be flawed.

    1. Cigs and beer is what ended the Minnesoda state govt shutdown:

      The governor successfully guided the process of defining essential functions to keep operating (including his personal chef) in order to protect his closest allies, but there were unintended and unanticipated consequences of the shutdown. Miller and Coors beer brands (about 30% of all beer sold in Minnesota) were about to be pulled off the shelves in Minnesota bars, liquor stores and restaurants due to a brand label registration glitch and cigarette sales were on the verge of ceasing due to a lack of tax stamps.
      Seeing the public turning on him, the governor surprised his advisors by making a counter-offer to the Republican-led legislature’s June 30th proposal. Dayton said he was unaware that certain policy strings he found objectionable had already been taken off the table.

      http://www.minnesotamajority.o…..-shutdown/

    2. I think some of them do. It’s just politically impossible to be specific since any cuts will someone to stop receiving money, either in the form of a paycheck or a benefit.

      1. But putting up traffic cones to block parking at a scenic overlook of Mount Rushmore ? they could have reamed the Dems for that stuff..

        1. But by doing that they’d acknowledge that most of those park workers aren’t necessary, and now they’ve just lost some votes. After all, are park employees and their families going to vote for someone who says those jobs aren’t needed? Of course not.

          Being specific about cuts in government is political suicide in a two way race.

          All I can say is “Thank you Elliot Cutler.”

    3. At least twice I’ve encountered someone who said, apparently with a straight face, “With no govt you wouldn’t be able to engage in commerce, because you’d have no way to obtain a business license or a SSN.”

  10. When will people learn not to call attention to their “lawbreaking”?

    1. Calling attention to it was the whole point. He showed the government to be nothing more than a clumsy bully.

      1. Yeah, I forgot my

        /sarc

        tag

  11. He writes for Esquire, so first off: Fuck him. Willing to bet who he voted for. Second, unless I missed something in the article, I’m not sure he was making the point we wish he were making. Willing to bet his point was, ” Why the eff did those republicans close such a beautiful park, it belongs to the government, not those Koke brothers.” So,secondly: Fuck him again. Don’t care.

  12. What do you think The chances are that some field ranger made the command decision to mail this guy a ticket for what he admitted doing in a newspaper.

    This is the kind of thing that happens when some admin in a police agency especially When prompted by some politician demands action because God forbid a journalist makes the POLICYMAKERS LOOK BAD

    anyway, as a general rule, bragging about violating a law in a publication, especially if you provide specifics enough to establish PC, no matter how chippy falls under the begging for some Copocrat to proper fuck you

    However as a general Principal, admission of a crime does not provide Corpus Delicti for charging. There has to be some sort of corroborating information independent from the admission. At least that’s the case in many state jurisdictions and since this is a federal prosecution case law may be looser.

    Smooches!

    1. Hey, just like you, he was enforcing the law as written.

  13. Just another working class hero, a line cop doing the right thing. When I first started in Maui one of my field training officers used to visit this homeless guy on most every shift, talked to him man to man as an equal, and even brought him ono home-cooked meals and stuff like that. In my experience police after is tend to be very compassionate people. It’s heartwarming to see the press reporting stories such as this since they usually don’t get reported. I can just feel the Aloha.

    http://ktla.com/2014/10/06/off…..-a-ticket/

    1. Whoa! Is the revived Tony too much competition? I see caps in the middle of sentences, punctuation, faux-auto-correct mistakes, and no Smooches!

      What gives? Is dunphy impersonation starting to wear thin?

      1. I find that frequent and vigorous recourse to the scroll wheel make browsing H&R much better.

  14. I think you guys are all missing the point. Do you know how much time and effort federal employees had to put in to undo the damage this guy caused? The reason that this is a crime is because there is a damaged victim, and it’s only fair to that victim that justice be done.

  15. “everyone should have to deep clean a public toilet at least once, just to get a first-hand feel for how horrible humanity is as a species.”

    Maybe he just doesn’t want to deal with the contempt of court thoughtcrime charge, but that should probably read, “everyone should have to sit at the defendant’s table in a courtroom at least once, just to get a first-hand feel for how horrible humanity is as a species.”

  16. Hunter S. Thompson would be in prison if he were writing today.

    1. HST probably *deserved* to be in prison–for numerous reasons. Boring everyone sh*tless for the last 20 years of his career tops the list.

  17. So he broke the law as a publicity stunt and you helped him by giving him more coverage.

    Nice.

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