Rangers Attacked by Unruly Crowd, Assailants Arrested

News Article reprinted from Imperial Valley Press

November 29, 1999
By Marcy Misner-Staff Writer

The chief ranger for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's El Centro area said this morning that this weekend's desert crowd was unusually unruly and several people were arrested for attacking rangers.

One such incident arose Saturday afternoon when a BLM ranger pulled over a vehicle and someone in a rowdy crowd took the ranger's keys from his all terrain vehicle, leaving the ranger stranded.

More and more people arrived to watch the spectacle and became angry when more law enforcement officers and BLM rangers arrived to remove the stranded ranger, said Chief Ranger Robert Zimmer.

The incident culminated with people heaving full beer cans at the rangers, one ranger scraping his leg on a vehicle while in a scuffle with a man, and arrests.

"There are thousands of people and most of them are looky-loos, people like you and me who stop to watch the excitement and then you have people who don't like cops, who don't like the government, who don't like authority and they're back in the crowd throwing full beer cans. They're not in the front of the crowd where officers can see them and arrest them. I'm talking they're 10 or 20 yards back launching these beer cans. And then there's another small group of people brazen enough to attack the officers, " Zimmer said.

Several people were arrested for inciting riots in that and other incidents for throwing full beer cans at rangers and other law enforcement officers while the officers were trying to arrest desert-goers for drunken driving-related offenses, Zimmer said. One man was arrested for having a bomb-like device.

In all, there were about 20 arrests for alcohol-related offenses and one felony drug possession arrest.

"We're taking a harder line with (drunken driving). We're seizing vehicles now, where before we used to let the wife or girlfriend take the vehicle if we made an arrest, Zimmer said.

Rangers received numerous reports from desert visitors who'd heard others making plans to attack BLM rangers, including specific plans to firebomb police vehicles by throwing 44 ounce cups of gasoline onto BLM all-terrain vehicles and then throwing firecrackers onto the ATV's. No such incidents occurred and no rangers or law enforcement officers were seriously injured over the weekend. Zimmer said.

Several injuries were reported, including one woman who received a 6 inch laceration to her head after and explosive device blew up in a campfire several yards from her.

No injuries were reported after desert visitors dug trenches at the bottom of competition Hill. The trenches, a foot or more in depth, hold gasoline under the sand and flare up when unsuspecting off roaders drive over the trenches, Zimmer said.

More than 60,000 people traveled to the desert area this weekend and there were fewer than 50 law enforcement officers from several local agencies patrolling the deserts.

County Sheriff Harold Carter said last weekend and weekend before Thanksgiving were dress rehearsals for the New Year's holiday, which is expected to top this past weekend by far.

"My deputies are telling me a lot of the hostility isn't directed at them, but at the rangers," Carter said.

He surmised people are angry at being told what to do on what they perceive as public land.

"We feel there's been such a lack of enforcement presence there. BLM simply hasn't had the resources. As we increase the law enforcement presence there, some things are going to occur.

"I'm going to recommend to BLM they start treating Glamis similar to how they treat other state parks. When they're full, they're full." Carter said.