Scenes from the War On Weed in the war heavy year of 2007: Over the extended weekend of July 25-29, the Blue Ridge Parkway outside of the one-stoplight town of Floyd, Virginia, was crawling with Park Rangers up from Asheville, North Carolina, part of a special Criminal Interdiction Taskforce (CIT) assigned to police the Parkway while FloydFest was in swing.
The four-day festival netted 181 vehicle stops and citations for 29 drug violations, 22 traffic offences, two DUIs, two outstanding warrants and one charge of public intoxication. It also brought numerous complaints about the CIT rangers’ behavior, including some from area law enforcement and the Floyd County Sheriff. The complaints got so bad that Representative Rick Boucher made a special call to the superintendent of the parkway, vowing to keep the CIT rangers from policing the Festival next year.
Blue Ridge Parkway is home to beautiful views—and aggressive, dope-seeking park rangers—on the way to FloydFest.
Case in point: On July 25, Ranger Bruce Gagnon pulled over 36-year-old Sean Moore of Greensboro, North Carolina, for driving in the evening fog without his headlights on. Ranger Gagnon testified that he suspected Moore of having a weapon because, as Gagnon approached the car, Moore held both hands out of the window in surrender. Finding Moore to be "extremely polite" only increased his certainty that he had pulled over a latter-day Charles Manson. Taking, and keeping, Moore’s driver’s license, Gagnon had him step out of the car, and proceeded to search the vehicle, the luggage, the passengers, and then Moore, finally finding a pipe and a small bag of marijuana. Triumph! One more doper off the parkway!
Unfortunately for Gagnon, a review of the videotape of the traffic stop contradicted most of his sworn testimony. The tape showed that as soon as he heard Moore say he was "here for Floyd[Fest]," Gagnon asked him to step out of the truck, whereupon he began peppering him with questions about drugs and guns and proceeded to conduct a search. Ranger Gagnon’s claim that Moore gave consent to be searched was not backed up by the tape, nor was his assertion that Moore was acting nervous and suspicious.
The U.S. District Court found [pdf] that Gagnon had violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, ruling that attending FloydFest was not reasonable suspicion of illegal activity, and that there was no evidence that the Festival was a "high-crime area" warranting the heavy-handed behavior of the park rangers. However, videotape did support one part of Gagnon’s testimony: Sean Moore was indeed cooperative and polite.
On October 26, the Court dismissed the charge of possession levied against Moore. That’s Reason 1, Bad-Ass Park Rangers 0.
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