Legal Posturing Continues In Assateague Excessive Force Case

ASSATEAGUE — Legal wrangling continued last week in the ongoing civil suit filed by a local resident against the U.S. and a National Park Ranger at Assateague over the alleged use of excessive force during an arrest on the barrier island in the summer of 2011.

Just over a year ago, Ocean Pines resident Bonnie Preziosi filed suit in U.S. District Court against the U.S. and Assateague Island National Seashore Park Ranger Dana Condron alleging false arrest and excessive use of force in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights following an incident that escalated at the national park in August 2011. Preziosi had been providing private surfing lessons to area children at the National Seashore and Park Service rangers were prepared to file charges against her for conducting private business in the park without the appropriate licenses.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett dismissed the false arrest component of the suit after a trial court determined Preziosi indeed had been operating a private business in the national park without a license or permit. However, the judge allowed the excessive force element of the suit to continue and the case appears to be headed toward trial early next year. The suit is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages.

In advance of the trial, legal posturing by both sides has continued with each adding subsequent witnesses to their lists after the original discovery period had expired. Preziosi has added a chiropractor to provide testimony regarding her continued physical condition following the attack, while Condron has added a witness expected to provide testimony about the training received by National Park Rangers and the options available to rangers when affecting an arrest under certain circumstances.

Because neither side has had the opportunity to depose the new witnesses or offer a rebuttal to their late entry, the judge last week approved a new scheduling order to allow for the added witnesses by both sides to be interviewed. As a result, the deadline for discovery has been moved to Jan. 7 and the deadline for dispositive pre-trial motions has been pushed back to February.

According to the suit, on Aug. 23, 2011, Preziosi had just finished giving surfing lessons to two small children in the surf at Assateague Island National Seashore. After escorting the two small children to their parents, who were waiting in the parking lot, Preziosi intended to pack up her vehicle and return home. As she was about to back out of her parking space, she was approached by ranger Condron.

“For unknown reasons, Condron then began banging on the plaintiff’s car window, screaming and demanding that she open the window or else he would ‘break all of the [expletive] glass in,’” according to the complaint. “The plaintiff did not attempt to drive away, resist or otherwise attempt to flee. When the plaintiff opened her car door, she was grabbed by Condron, pulled from the car, tackled and pushed face first into the asphalt of the parking lot. Condron proceeded to handcuff and forcefully restrain the plaintiff, who was wearing only a bikini bathing suit, and pushed her with his knee into the pavement.”

According to the complaint, Preziosi posed no threat or potential threat to Condron’s safety and there was no need whatsoever for force of any kind.

“Condron did not stop, but continued to forcibly restrain the plaintiff until she was eventually dragged in handcuffs to park headquarters, where she was given citations for failure to obey a lawful order and for conducting commercial business without a permit,” the complaint reads. “Numerous persons visiting the park who happened to be nearby at the time of the attack stopped whatever they were doing to observe this misconduct.”

However, in Condron’s motion to dismiss the case, the defendant alleges he resorted to force to restrain and arrest Preziosi after all other methods available were exhausted.

“The defendant’s actions were lawful and objectively reasonable under the circumstances because upon being asked to speak with the defendant before she left Assateague Island National Seashore and after seeing the defendant approach her and making eye contact with her in the parking lot, the plaintiff jumped in her car, locked herself inside, attempted to flee the parking lot, failed to obey the defendant’s orders to roll down her window or open her car door, and became combative as a crowd of visitors gathered,” Condron’s answer to the complaint reads. “Plaintiff continued to barricade herself in the car even when she was told she was under arrest and another National Park Service Ranger arrived on the scene.”

According to Condron’s formal answer, the use of some force became necessary as the situation escalated.

“After many minutes elapsed and the plaintiff continued to refuse to obey orders, the use of some degree of coercion became necessary to affect the plaintiff’s lawful arrest,” the answer read.