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On Friday August 29, 2014 I took my wife and 3 of my children camping at Watkins Mill State Park near Excelsior Springs, MO. We had two tents in our campsite, one for my wife and I and one for my children.

Saturday had been a beautiful day of clear weather and mild temperatures. The children happy to discover 6 children their ages, spent most of the day playing in the playground. Swimming was out of the question due to nearly triple the levels of bacteria in the swimming beach due to geese feces.

At approximately 10:30 that evening my two youngest children were asleep in their tent while my wife, 13 year old daughter, and I sat around the fire. We had built a small fire in the fire ring, and were listening to soft music in the background. Shortly after 10:30 pm I noticed a person with flashlight walking near our campsite, The flashlight went out and I returned my attention to my wife and daughter. Next I heard footsteps nearby and when I turned in that direction I immediately had a flashlight beam in my eyes. I was informed that the person was a Ranger with the Missouri State Park Rangers. I blocked the beam of light with one hand and said, "Hello". The officer approached me and commented on our campground in a polite conversational tone. At this point he knelt down behind my right shoulder causing me to turn in his direction to speak with him. He was approximately 18 inches from me.

The officer informed me that our music was too loud and due to quiet hours we would need to turn it down. I would like to note that it is a practice of ours to walk into our campsite from a distance to see how far away our music can be heard day or night. This particular night our music volume was such that a person had to be in our campsite to hear it. I apologized and started to get up to turn it down when I noticed a second officer coming into our campsite from a different direction. This second officer never introduced himself, in fact he never spoke a word during the whole incident. When the second officer realized that I had seen him he immediately turned his flashlight on. I became concerned when I observed that the second officer had his hand on his weapon. Having not stood fully I sat back down, keeping my hands in plain site. As I returned my attention to the first officer it became clear that I was not to leave my seat until he was done speaking with me. During this time the second officer proceeded to visually search through the contents of our campsite, including searching through our trash bag which was hanging on a post, while keeping his hand on his weapon the whole time. His hand did not leave his weapon during the whole incident.

After the second officer had sufficient time to walk around our campsite and look through our belongings I was allowed to go turn the music down. At this point the officers exchanged looks, thanked us for turning down the music, and walked away. I would like to point out that these officers were not typical park rangers in the sense that they were wearing weapons, handcuffs, night sticks, and bullet proof vests. These officers also had no visible means of transportation leading me to believe that they had parked some distance away and walked to our site.
 

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Time to melt snowflakes!
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What reason did they give you for searching your belongings?
There still has to be an articulate reason, even if they are park rangers. Especially if they have their hand on their weapon (that is an escalation of force to do that, if they are property trained)
 

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Rights to search and seizure and a person's personal property become vague for many when you are in a State or Fed. park. Laws are clear cut, but the interpretation often isn't from what I've seen. I also know I wouldn't have been so open and understanding.

Yes, they over-reacted from what you have posted. It does sound like they have had a problem with some people (people cooking meth maybe?) or they generally wouldn't have night sticks and vests.
 

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If everything played out exactly as you described, I'd say that the rangers acted inappropriately.

Without knowing what else, if anything, was going on at the time, it's hard to guess what they were up to. Is it possible that they were out there for some other reason (maybe looking for someone, perhaps some other criminal activity just occurred)? I'm guessing, though, that someone made a complaint about your music. Otherwise, how would they have known, since you said it couldn't be heard outside your campsite.

Either way, I'd make a complaint to their agency. If they were doing things they aren't supposed to, I'm pretty sure their boss would like to know.
 

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M.R. Ducks
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It sounds like they were investigating a report of some dangerous incident or person and used your music as a pretext to look around your campsite. That's also likely why they were armed. If you paid for the campsite, in theory you should have the same expectation of privacy as in a hotel room, but everything in a campsite is pretty much in plain sight and the court have ruled that trash is subject to search.

The first ranger probably figured out pretty quickly you weren't the folks he was looking for. The second ranger didn't see this so remained on alert.
 

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They " visually" looked over stuff in plain sight or physically went through it?
If all they did was one cover the other without showing himself and look at stuff in plain sight you are being over sensitive..resting their hands on their gun butts is a ready move, not an aggressive move....if its otherwise then ok..they were wrong...meth cooking might only be one reason they were alert
All types of weirdos use state parks and what you did earlier in the day has no bearing,only what happened in maybe the previous 10 minutes....put yourself in their place...
 

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Rights to search and seizure and a person's personal property become vague for many when you are in a State or Fed. park. Laws are clear cut, but the interpretation often isn't from what I've seen. I also know I wouldn't have been so open and understanding.
Visually inspecting anything within public view would never require articulate reasons, since it is in public view. Once an officer decides to physically search through a bag/tent or has you open one, that does require a reason. Some states vary, but for the most part personal bags, vehicles and tents are not open to searches for no reason.

Yes, they over-reacted from what you have posted. It does sound like they have had a problem with some people (people cooking meth maybe?) or they generally wouldn't have night sticks and vests.
Most park rangers I've met over the past few years have been kitted out in the same manner as law enforcement officers.
 

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Time to melt snowflakes!
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They " visually" looked over stuff in plain sight or physically went through it?
If all they did was one cover the other without showing himself and look at stuff in plain sight you are being over sensitive..resting their hands on their gun butts is a ready move, not an aggressive move....if its otherwise then ok..they were wrong...meth cooking might only be one reason they were alert
All types of weirdos use state parks and what you did earlier in the day has no bearing,only what happened in maybe the previous 10 minutes....put yourself in their place...
As a LEO you don't put your hand on a weapon (any weapon at your disposal) unless you are going to use it. There are methods taught, how to carry yourself and position your body to be ready but not to escalate a situation. If the ranger's hand was on his sidearm, that is worrying because:
It shows a lack of training & experience.
It shows he was ready to draw and use the weapon, without apparent cause.
 

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"without apparent cause"...State Parks are home to tertorists,meth land,weed heads, kidnappers...the list is endless..you have no expectation to privacy in a State Park campground...trash is fair game....sp is anything in plsin view....as for putting a hand on a weapon butt I do it on any traffic stop at night where I feel hinky....that may be a Dept policy but it sure isnt taught aty state academy or any class Ive ever attended.... This is someone who feels violated without knowing what alerts those Officers may have been issued...upset because the backup officer didnt show himself?...sorry
 

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That's easy to explain. It's labor day weekend and these guys were probably used to busting people for drugs or underage drinking. The music is like a beacon letting them know a party is going on.

A cop can put his hands anywhere he wants, its not like he was drawing his weapon on you. The other tactics of using flashlights, sneaking around, and snooping through your campsite are just part of their job when busting people for illegal activity.
 

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M.R. Ducks
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As a LEO you don't put your hand on a weapon (any weapon at your disposal) unless you are going to use it.
State park rangers around here don't carry sidearms every day. Maybe these guys don't either and haven't developed the habits other LEOs have. Maybe they had been told that some real bad guys were in a campsite in your direction. Seeing a law enforcement officer rest his hand on the butt of his weapon is way at the bottom of my list of stuff to worry about.
 

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State park rangers around here don't carry sidearms every day.
Must depend on the area. The federal park rangers around here do (at least last summer) but I can't remember dealing with any KY state rangers.

Maybe these guys don't either and haven't developed the habits other LEOs have.
There is a good chance of that, but if they are acting as LEO's they need to be trained as LEO's

Maybe they had been told that some real bad guys were in a campsite in your direction.
And?

Seeing a law enforcement officer rest his hand on the butt of his weapon is way at the bottom of my list of stuff to worry about.
It is not at the top of the list but it can tell you a lot about that officer.
He was either feeling threatened, or felt the OP was a threat; enough to warrant the possible use of deadly force.

He was not trained very well in how to handle himself and his body language. We were taught to keep our hands on the duty belt (as holding your belt buckle) unless there was a direct threat. This enables your hands to still be used for defense/detainment and ready access to the items on your belt. If you hand goes onto your sidearm, it is in preparation to use it.
 

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The fact that the Officer stood to one side,requiring you to turn to become aggressive shows he was expecting trouble...there is no way to stand that will shave a full second and a half off my draw time but unlocking and putting my hand on my gunbutt will....Other Officers go the way you were taught but its not to you to criticize how I am taught nor how I have operated for 24 years (and gone home after every shift)...Telling me I have to stand a certain way or put my hand on my buckle is ludicrous...These guys were looking for something in particular and were on alert...
Either go camp on private land or get over it....Missouri has a high per capita rate of meth heads and an untold number of kidnapping's (non custodial parental and stranger) have been solved in campgrounds...
Cant rest my hand on my gun butt?
Ha
 

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The fact that the Officer stood to one side,requiring you to turn to become aggressive shows he was expecting trouble...there is no way to stand that will shave a full second and a half off my draw time but unlocking and putting my hand on my gunbutt will....Other Officers go the way you were taught but its not to you to criticize how I am taught nor how I have operated for 24 years (and gone home after every shift)...Telling me I have to stand a certain way or put my hand on my buckle is ludicrous...These guys were looking for something in particular and were on alert...
So you treat every citizen that you encounter as hostile?
Every stop you make, whether that is in a patrol car or on the street means your hand is on your sidearm?
I am guessing you are dramatizing and taking a personal offense to this.

If there is a reason, this makes sense; from the rangers in the OP's story though, there was no reason. Now if the rangers had been honest and told him why, that might be a different story.

Quit taking personal offense, as if this is an attack on your person, and actually try to have a discussion.

Either go camp on private land or get over it....Missouri has a high per capita rate of meth heads and an untold number of kidnapping's (non custodial parental and stranger) have been solved in campgrounds...
Cant rest my hand on my gun butt?
Ha
So, going off of that we should not have a problem with an officer demanding entry into a home because there could be an incident of domestic abuse happening at the moment, correct?
Just because there is a high per capita incident of a crime does not mean an officer does not need articulate suspicion to conduct a physical inspection and/or detainment. To state otherwise is false, and is the rationing I've seen used by some questionable officers during my time.
 

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Nowhere fid I say I treat every encounter as hostile,nor do I explain my every motivation for checking someone...
 

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You experienced one of two scenarios. Either they went to the Barney Fife school of law enforcement or they were looking for a specific perp.

Chances are with their amount of equipment and serious tone they were looking for some specific law breakers. Drug dealers would be a likely group that they were targeting. It is a dangerous business to talk with armed people like drug dealers in the dark.

It is worth noting that the old naturalist programs, and Park Rangers have largely been replaced by law enforcement people in the National Park System and many state parks. The NPs have crime rates similar to many American cities. I like the off season when it is quieter. Never argue with the police.
 

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What reason did they give you for searching your belongings?
There still has to be an articulate reason, even if they are park rangers. Especially if they have their hand on their weapon (that is an escalation of force to do that, if they are property trained)
Having a hand on a weapon is not an "escalation of force". You can't "hand on your weapon" someone to death. Action is faster than reaction, having a hand on it cuts down (albeit slightly) the reaction time in case you need it. I can casually rest my hand on the butt of my service weapon, or I can put a deathgrip on it and stare burning holes through someone... the devil is in the details. Neither, however, constitutes the employment of actual force, for fourth amendment purposes or otherwise. That isn't an opinion, it's a fact.

As far as searching, I am curious as to what the OP means by "belongings", being that he only specifically mentioned "trash" in the OP (I haven't read past Juskom's first post yet). There is no expectation of privacy in items you have discarded as trash (California v. Greenwood, 1988).

The Rangers' actions may have seemed inappropriate to the OP author, but they may not have been depending on what the Rangers knew or reasonably believed at the time. Were their actions subjectively unreasonable? Sure. Were they objectively unreasonable? Could be. Not enough info to know, at this point.
 

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As a LEO you don't put your hand on a weapon (any weapon at your disposal) unless you are going to use it.
That is your opinion, methods and training vary from state to state and between agency to agency.

There are methods taught, how to carry yourself and position your body to be ready but not to escalate a situation. If the ranger's hand was on his sidearm, that is worrying because:
It shows a lack of training & experience.
It shows he was ready to draw and use the weapon, without apparent cause.
There is a difference between resting a palm on the butt of the pistol and gripping it with your finger indexed along the side, preparing to draw. Resting your hand on the butt does NOT show that you're going to "use" the weapon, cause or no cause. It shows readiness, much like someone cracking their knuckles before they feel a fight might be coming... You can no more say that putting a hand on a gun is a use of force than you can claim that cracking knuckles is a battery.
 

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You experienced one of two scenarios. Either they went to the Barney Fife school of law enforcement or they were looking for a specific perp.
There is a third scenario.... Perhaps they weren't park rangers. Maybe they were just a couple local "Wanabes" playing "Dress-up", getting their rocks off by cruising the park on foot, late at night and intimidating campers. Tazman99 may have had an encounter with a couple of local psychos.
 
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