Taser use sparks investigation, spotlights excessive force
By Colleen Keane
Special to the Times
During a walk at the Petroglyph National Monument two days after Christmas, Darrell House, Diné/Oneida, was repeatedly stun-gunned by a park ranger for not following park rules.
At least two videos were taken of the incident (they should come with warnings – they’re that disturbing). One is from bodycam footage released by the National Park Service, the other taken just before the incident by House and his sister, who was walking with him.
Their small black dog, whom House identified as Geronimo on an Instagram post, was also hurt during the incident. The ranger’s bodycam video picks up before the incident happened showing him breathlessly catching up to the pair as they walk off a designated trail.
As he reaches them, he provides information on park regulations and asks for identification, which House refuses to provide. When House continues to walk away and the ranger discovers House has given him false information, he draws his Taser, shooting House who is holding Geronimo.
House falls to the ground screaming in pain and the ranger moves in closer and fires at him several more times. “Why are you doing this? Stop it!” yells his sister. The ranger stunned House around six minutes after he told House and his sister that his intervention was “just a warning.”
A typical Taser can deliver tens of thousands of volts of electricity in five-second spurts designed to override the central nervous system, according to an online description. Before the incident, House told the ranger he and his sister had walked off the trail to avoid others as a COVID-19 precaution and that they would get back on the trail.
He also indicated that he is tribally affiliated showing a turquoise necklace around his neck. “If anyone has the right to be off trail and wander this land, it’s the Native Indigenous community,” House stated in his Instagram message. According to House’s Instagram message, a second ranger was on site.
Jennifer Denetdale, a member of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, who viewed the videos, asked why such force was needed. “House was completely calm,” she said. “He doesn’t ever get violent or aggressive. (The ranger) went straight to tasing. I think it is egregious and it deserves a full investigation.”
The NNHRC has offered House their full support, Denetdale said. House is also receiving support from The Red Nation, an Indigenous resistance organization. “Darrell House’s brutalization at the hands of park rangers is part of a larger systemic problem of federal lands being policed, not for the benefit of Indigenous people,” said Nick Estes, Lower Brule Sioux, co-founder of Red Nation.
“I think the calls for defunding the police and this year of racial justice and reckoning should include how public lands and indigenous sacred sites are managed and protected,” he said. “It’s ridiculous, people are always out there and children are running all over the place,” Estes exclaimed. “I’ve never seen a park ranger there and never seen anyone tasered for being off-trail.”
U.S. President George Bush established the Petroglyph National Monument in 1990 in response to a grassroots movement seeking protection for the thousands of petroglyphs and hundreds of archeological sites considered sacred by tribes and Pueblos.
Located on federal land, with a portion dedicated to the city, the Petroglyph National Monument stretches 17 miles along Albuquerque’s West Mesa, a volcanic basalt escarpment. In a press release, a spokesperson for the NPS stated the incident is under investigation.
The release also said the ranger provided educational information before stunning House and, “The NPS values our partnership with tribal communities and actively works to ensure that tribes and tribal members have full and appropriate access to their sacred sites.”
U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Interior Department, related in a Dec. 30 letter to Secretary David Bernhardt that he’s especially disturbed by the incident because it adds to other violence this past year involving the NPS.
He referred Bernhard to the death of Charles “Gage” Lorentz after a Taser was used on him and he was shot by an NPS employee after he was pulled over near Carlsbad Cavern on March 2; violent attacks led by U.S. Park Police on peaceful protesters assembled in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square protesting police killings of Black Americans on June 1; and the fatal shooting of unarmed 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar after U.S. Park Police pursued him in a car chase along George Washington Parkway on Nov. 17.
“These violent, and in some cases deadly, incidents evidence a disturbing pattern of excessive use of force and failure of oversight by the NPS,” Grijalva wrote. Grijalva has required the NPS to provide his office with all body worn camera footage recorded by any NPS officer that day; a full explanation of any lack of footage or gaps in footage; an unredacted version of the NPS Reference Manual 9; and any relevant reports along with the duty assignments of the three officers involved in the House, Lorentz and Ghaisar cases. An NPS spokeswoman said a response is forthcoming.
Terry Sloan, Diné, intergovernmental tribal liaison for the city of Albuquerque, said the incident brings to light Indigenous rights and responsibilities. “I know it was a devastating attack. It should not have happened,” he said. “We do have a right under the Native American Religious Freedom Act to be allowed to perform our religious ceremonies in places like that. It is supported in the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Article 12 giving us that right.”
He added, “Although we have the right to do that, we still need to respect the sacredness of (the monument).” Recalling when and why Petroglyph National Monument was created, Sloan noted that NPS consulted with tribes and Pueblos as they developed regulations to protect the sacred land, which was seriously threatened by encroachment and vandalism.
“We as Native Americans need to follow what has been put into place by the federal government and tribal leadership,” he said. “We need to stick to the rules designed to protect (the monument).
“I’m hoping people don’t violate the boundaries that were set,” he said. “(The monument) will get deteriorated further and what’s at risk is that the park service could close it down. That would be a tragedy.”
He noted that tribal members can make requests to access sacred areas through an application. “We are hoping this doesn’t escalate into any further violence,” Sloan said. “Personally, I’m asking that everyone be peaceful about it.”
House did not respond to a telephone call and social media message from the Navajo Times.