Federal park rangers at the Mojave National Preserve were packing some serious heat according to a government audit. Agents were carrying fully automatic rifles and bought dozens of flashbang grenades in violation of federal rules.
The Department of the Interior’s inspector general found that “a supervisory park ranger arranged for the purchase of Colt M-4 fully automatic rifles” between 2008 and 2010. Park rangers bought nine of these rifles and allowed them to be carried around on duty for three years before being converted to only fire semi-automatic.
The IG also found that “the supervisory park ranger admitted to purchasing and distributing the automatic weapons despite knowing that they violated NPS policy,” and “admitted telling rangers who received the automatic rifles not to display them to others.” The park official also “admitted to, at a minimum, not making it clear to his supervisors that the automatic weapons needed to be converted to semiautomatics.”
“The supervisory park ranger told us that in the interest of ‘officer safety’ he allowed full-time park rangers at MNP to carry the fully automatic rifles with them in their patrol vehicles,” the IG reported.
“He said that it was the ‘lesser of two evils,’ as his choices were either to have them continue to carry the unreliable M-16s or to violate the policy and allow them to carry the new fully automatic M-4s,” the IG reported — maybe they were worried about desert tortoises getting too rowdy.
The park official also told employees to “fire the new rifles in fully automatic mode at the range to familiarize themselves with the rifles,” and told them “not to tell anyone that they were carrying fully automatic rifles.”
Investigators concluded this park official made “false statements or provided misleading information to his supervisors, his subordinates, and other NPS personnel” about the rifles.
That’s not all. That same park official “purchased 24 flash-bang distraction devices with his U.S. Government-issued purchase card.” The IG found. “These devices were not issued to or carried on duty by the park rangers.”
“Although [National Park Service] policy does not specifically mention such devices, it does require prior approval to purchase ‘Intermediate Defensive Equipment,’” the IG added. “Our investigation determined that the supervisory park ranger did not secure the required approvals for the purchase.”
When Mojave National Park’s new chief ranger arrived in 2013, he found there were still a “handful” of M-4s that hadn’t been converted to semi-automatic. He ordered the same park official who bought them to have them converted.
Investigators confronted the park official who bought the rifles. That official said he made the purchases because “rangers were using ‘Vietnam era’ M-16 rifles that were malfunctioning and dangerous to use, so he decided to request the purchase of new rifles to replace them.”
As for the flashbangs, the IG found they had not been given to park rangers and sat in storage for two to three years.
“The chief ranger said that he contacted the DCOP, who checked office records and did not find an authorization for MNP to have a flash-bang distraction device program,” the IG found. “The chief ranger said that the supervisory park ranger was not truthful with him when he said that MNP was authorized to have such a program.”
“The former chief ranger told us that it had been 2 to 3 years since the purchase of the distraction devices and he could not remember in detail what conversations took place or what led to the purchase,” investigators were told. “He said that it was possible that he approved the purchase, but he could not recall. He never saw any of the devices that were purchased.”
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