ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — A Native American man who was tased during a confrontation with a ranger at a national monument in New Mexico was seen climbing on and among petroglyph cliff features off-trail in violation of park regulations, according to the National Park Service.
The federal agency late Tuesday released more details and video of the interaction between the ranger and Darrell House, saying an investigation is ongoing.
The video shows the ranger telling House that Native American tribes from the area consider Petroglyph National Monument as sacred and that visitors are supposed to stay on designated trails to preserve the cultural resources and allow the desert vegetation to recover.
The ranger told House he was refusing a lawful order and would have to be detained until he could be identified. House again walked away as the ranger told him to stop. House picked up his dog in one hand and lifted up his cellphone in the other and began yelling for help as he was tased.
House told KRQE this week that he regularly visits the Petroglyphs and went off the trail to avoid a group he was approaching to maintain social distancing.
“He wanted to show power, dominance, keep me in order,” House said. “That’s what authority figures are trained to do, to keep people like me in order. To make the ‘Indian’ look crazy, to make them look insane.”
House was cited for interfering with agency functions, concealing his identity and being off-trail. House did not return messages from The Associated Press. In his social media posts, he said he goes to the monument to pray and meditate.
House believes those rules should not apply to him because he’s Native American.
The case has been referred to the National Park Service’s internal affairs unit. The investigation will include a review of the body camera video, the video posted on social media as well as interviews with officers, those involved and any other witnesses.
“While the incident remains under investigation, we are sharing more details and the facts as we know them in an effort to provide as much transparency as possible,” the National Park Service said in a statement. “Prior to the officer using his electronic control device, or taser, the officer attempted to resolve the interaction with an educational contact and simple warning.”
On the western edge of Albuquerque, the monument encompasses one of North America’s largest petroglyph sites. The volcanic rocks that make up the monument’s desert escarpment are covered with designs and symbols carved by early Indigenous inhabitants and later Spanish settlers.
Park officials said the cliffs are a protected, sacred archeological site, and hiking is limited to designated trails for preservation purposes.
Petroglyph National Monument has dealt over the years with vandalism that has included everything from dumping to graffiti. Officials said it’s a problem that persists nationwide, with incidents spanning from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Zion and Joshua Tree national parks in the West. Earlier this year, two Nevada men were indicted after being accused of spray-painting an ancient rock in a national monument.
The National Park Service states that it values its 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. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, said she is aware of the incident at Petroglyphs National Monument. Her office issued the following statement: “The Congresswoman believes that any abuse of force is unacceptable and that this incident should be thoroughly investigated. She has alerted the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee so proper oversight is conducted, especially considering the cultural significance of the site.”
President-elect Joe Biden selected Haaland as his nominee for interior secretary. If confirmed, she would be the first Native American to lead the powerful federal agency that has wielded influence over the nation’s tribes for generations.
House tells KRQE the incident won’t stop him from returning to the monument. “I will go back. I am going to continue to do my prayers, going off trail without permission. Without consent. That is my right,” he said.