American Gestapo: The sequel

Phil Francis is a liar.

Phil who?

Phil Francis. Ordinarily we wouldn’t give a damn who Phil Francis is but his emergence as yet another lying bureaucrat in a federal government filled with liars makes him worthy of mention.

Francis is superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a two-lane road that runs from the Shenandoah National Park of Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains at the North Carolina-Tennessee border. He met recently with Cong. Rick Boucher of Virginia to discuss Boucher’s concerns over abuses of police power by Park Rangers during a summer music event just off the Parkway in Southern Virginia.

And he lied through his teeth.

Francis told Boucher that the Park Service did not send in his “Criminal Interdiction Team” (CIT), a unit of Asheville, NC, based rangers trained by the Department of Homeland Security, to hassle festival goers with multiple traffic stops, vehicle searches without probable cause and questionable arrests. The CIT unit stopped more than 300 cars along a five-mile stretch of road near the annual “FloydFest” event last July.

Francis claims the Parkway simply dispatched “a few extra officers” to handle traffic over the four-day event. That contradicts earlier statements by Parkway Chief Ranger John Garrison who admitted to Boucher and several newspapers that the CIT team was sent in to the area.

Francis claimed the unit did not stop and harass the Sheriff of Floyd County, Virginia, Shannon Zeman, on the Wednesday evening preceding the festival. Zeman said the Park Rangers acted in a “rude” and “unprofessional manner.” He is backed up by the county’s chief investigator, Jeff Dalton, who said the Ranger was out of control.

On the first day of the festival, I stopped on the Parkway to photograph a ranger searching a car. He threatened me with arrest if I tried to take photographs, even though I was on assignment for an area newspaper and identified myself as a journalist. He claimed he had the authority to prohibit photography under the USA Patriot Act.

Boucher got into the debate and Garrison’s office told his chief of staff the CIT unit had been recalled to Asheville. This, of course, was the unit that Francis now claims was never sent to the area in the first place. Garrison then later said the unit, which his boss said was never sent to Virginia, was “not recalled” and remained on duty for the full four days of the festival.

Garrison promised a “full and complete” investigation of the incidents. He started his investigation by telling Todd Foster, managing editor of the Bristol Herald-Courier, that I was dodging him and not returning his phone calls. I had never received a phone call, voice mail or email from Garrison so I called him to inquire about his claim. He quickly recanted and said he never said I was dodging his phone calls but claimed his assistant said I had not returned a call from him (which I had). Garrison said he was launching an investigation and would be in touch for additional information.

He never called back: Nor did anyone else from his office or the office of the superintendent. They did send out a memo telling Park Rangers to “cooperate” with the media, a strange response for an incident they claimed never happened.

Boucher’s office says the Parkway Superintendent’s office claims it will meet with festival officials and the sheriff of Floyd County before next year’s event and work out a program to prevent the problems from this year’s festival – problems that Francis and Garrison say never really occurred.

Linda DiVito, press coordinator for Across the Way Productions, producers of FloydFest, says festival officials met with the Parkway officials before this year’s event and were promised that the CIT team would not be dispatched to the area and that the Park Rangers’ presence would be “normal.”

But the CIT team did come to FloydFest and they did harass festival attendees. The Parkway officials lied.

They continue to lie.

So why should we believe things will be any different next year?