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Jonathan Sims is a media producer and former appointed official at the Pueblo of Acoma. He covers news and Indigenous People's issues for The Paper.

A Native American Marine veteran walking his dog at Petroglyph National Monument Sunday was Tasered by a National Park Service ranger after he ventured off the marked hiking trail to find a quiet place to pray at the Native American sacred site.

The incident was captured on video by a companion. That video was later shared to Instagram and with The Paper.

The man involved has since been identified as Darrel House of Navajo and Oneida ancestry. The Paper. reached out to House, who confirmed the validity of the video and that while walking his dog he ventured off the marked trail to seek a quiet place to “pray and speak to” Native ancestors whose petroglyphs adorn the volcanic rock across the monument. House is a Marine veteran and Navajo actor who most recently played a police officer in the A&E Network TV drama “Longmire.

In a 21-second clip shot just before the Tasing, House is seen back on the trail as a ranger is seen with his citation book in hand asking the man to identify himself.

The next image in the video opens with the ranger standing approximately 10 feet away, walking quickly toward House with a yellow Taser in his right hand. Three seconds into the video, a loud pop and electric sound can be heard as the ranger closes the distance on House who is seen lying on the ground, his back to the ranger, clutching his left rear thigh. As the ranger approaches, he applies the Taser directly to House’s back at least twice, a maneuver known as a “dry stun,” which is designed to drive the Taser’s internal contacts into direct contact with a subject.

A woman who had been walking with House stands nearby asking the ranger “what are you doing?!” as she records the incident.


https://www.instagram.com/hou5edm/

During the subsequent four and a half minutes of video, the ranger appears to engage the Taser at least two more times in rapid succession, 20seconds in.

Twice during the encounter, House raises his hands as instructed, once even clutching a large turquoise necklace. Each time, the ranger moves closer to House, first seen seated and then kneeling on the ground, while aiming the Taser. Both times House recoils and the cycle starts again.

A second ranger finally arrives and House consents to being handcuffed before the video concludes.

The video was later uploaded to House’s Instagram page where it was viewed more than 10,000 times in the first 12 hours.  House encouraged others to share the video to bring attention to the incident. “Today 12/27/2020, I was tased for being off trail at the Petroglyphs. I come here to pray and speak to my Pueblo Ancestor relatives. Even though I’m Navajo and Oneida, I honor this land… Please share.” he wrote. 

In response to questions from The Paper., the National Park Service replied, “This incident is under review and has been referred to the NPS Office of Professional Responsibility, our internal affairs unit, for a thorough investigation. While we work to gather the facts of this specific situation, we cannot speculate on the events leading up to what was captured on video. We take any allegation of wrongdoing very seriously, and appreciate the public’s patience as we gather the facts of this incident.”

The Petroglyph National Monument includes more than 7,000 acres containing “one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago,” according to the National Park Service. These images carved into rock hold spiritual and cultural significance for the Indigenous people who settled the area before Western civilization.

Park Service Taser Use Questioned Before

The use of Tasers by National Park Service law enforcement officers has been criticized in other units.

In a strikingly similar case from 2012, a park service ranger Tased a man whose dog was walking off-leash in Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. The ranger Tased the man who refused the ranger’s order to “stay put” during an inquiry into his identity. A federal judge awarded the man $50,000 in a civil suit that followed.

In 2017 a park ranger in Hawaii Tased a man believed to be piloting a drone over a lava field.

Earlier this year a park ranger in southern New Mexico Tased and then shot an unarmed man during a stop for traffic violations. The district attorney declined to pursue criminal charges in that case.

NPS policies governing the use of Tasers and other electronic control devices (ECDs) are partly redacted online. The use of Tasers is allowed “on individuals actively resisting a commissioned employee or to prevent individuals from harming themselves or others when such force is objectively reasonable,” according to a copy of the policy posted online at nps.gov. Other sections of the policy, however, are redacted.

https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/foia/upload/RM-9-redacted-V-2.pdf

Park Service Law Enforcement Oversight

Unlike many municipal police departments, the federal government does not have independent police oversight agencies to investigate complaints against law enforcement. Instead, that job falls to agency internal affairs units who ultimately report to the appointed leaders of cabinet agencies where they work.

The Park Service is housed within the U.S. Department of Interior which currently reports to Secretary David Bernhardt, a Trump appointee.  But in less than a month, that job could go to New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland, who has been nominated by the president-elect to lead the department. Coincidentally, Haaland currently represents the district including Petroglyph National Monument. If appointed, she will be the first Native American to ever hold a cabinet level position. An investigation into the incident, if it occurs, could ultimately land on Haaland’s desk next year.

Case law on the use of Tasers has generally established that Tasers “may only be deployed when a police officer is confronted with an exigency that creates an immediate safety risk that is reasonably likely to be cured by using the TASER.”

The International Association of Chief of Police’s model policy on the use of Tasers says that officers should not use Tasers on persons engaged in “passive resistance” which it defines as a person “not reasonably perceived to be an immediate threat or flight risk to comply with an officer’s verbal commands or physical control techniques that does not involve the use of
physical force, control, or resistance of any kind.”

Reuters news service found that more than 1,000 persons have died following the use of Tasers by police.

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