This past Spring, with great anticipation, I read the Legacy of the YOSEMITE MAFIA – The Ranger Image and Noble Cause Corruption in the National Park Service by Paul D. Berkowitz with Foreword by J.T. Reynolds (published by Trine Day LLC, 2017). I’ve known the author for over 30-years, and know of his capacity for research and scholarship pertaining to law enforcement issues related to the National Park Service (NPS). I also have great respect for J.T. Reynolds, who wrote the foreword.
I remember when the FBI’s Resident Agent-in-Charge of the Santa Fe Office told me when he worked at the Flagstaff Office that Berkowitz had convinced him (and the FBI) to pursue the Robert Spangler investigation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Spangler ) regarding a homicide at Grand Canyon. It became a semi-famous case amongst investigators ("A Grand Canyon Divorce"). After reading Paul’s The Case of the Indian Trader, which was very well documented and presented, I was expecting an in-depth & well-rounded coverage of the entire “Legacy” that came out of Yosemite. Which was, in my view, extremely positive. However, this work centers on further expounding the shortcomings of Yosemite National Park’s (YOSE) Law Enforcement Office during and around the mid-1980’s, a decade after what I perceived to be the primary Yosemite Mafia’s tenure. However, that is just my perspective.
|Stoneman Meadows riot (04 July 1970)|
One of the reasons I was hoping for an all encompassing treatment of the subject: my career was spent in-the-wake of some of the NPS’ leaders and Rangers associated with that nickname: “Yosemite Mafia.” To me it meant the elite cadre of Park Rangers that came to work in Yosemite after the Stoneman Meadows riots (4th of July 1970): Jim Brady, Dan Sholly, Tim Setnicka, Roger Rudolph, Jack Morehead, Walt Dabney Mike Finley, Rick Smith & Butch Farabee being the core of the Corp. I know exactly where I was that Saturday (04 July 70): this recently discharged Vietnam Veteran was working as a Lineman for Pacific Bell Telephone and camped for the weekend nearby in a tent site, with several friends. I actually watched the “riots” begin from above, perched at Glacier Point at the beginning of the evening. The incident is sometimes referred to as the “Hippie” riots, but as an observer with a historian & anthropologist’s eye I don’t think that term captured or accurately described the diversity of young people present. I know there were many high school and college students, young professionals, and at least one musician with a gold record in his portfolio (Lee Freeman, from the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and my compadre & “roomie” at the time).
|John E. Cook, self & USPP Capt. Jim Radney|
Years later I recall Southwest Regional Director John E. Cook telling me that I’d never be part of that circle (Yosemite Mafia). I knew that, even before hearing it: due to time, place, experiences and worldviews. My career had included some brief “seasonal” stints at large National Park areas (Death Valley & Denali), but mostly I’d worked at smaller and medium sized parks (Little Bighorn, Tonto, Jean Lafitte, Fort Laramie, & Santa Monica Mountains). Areas like these make up the vast majority of the 400+ NPS units. Many of us that worked at these type of NPS areas looked up to many of the “Yosemite Mafia” cadre: counting some as friends, including a mentor. However, change does not usually come easy – especially to a bureaucracy mandated and dedicated to conserving things. Talk about heritage…
Anyway, I digress: back to Berkowitz’ book: In the mid-80’s there was a major undercover operation investigating drug distribution and use. Paul chronicles some law enforcement and employee issues that took place during that timeframe. As noted above, when I think “Yosemite Mafia” I default to early & mid-1970’s (a decade before the investigation being chronicled in this book). There were certainly some Renaissance-like Rangers working in YOSE during both those decades (and now). The individuals that I knew affiliated with the title group were top-notch. Some were certainly leaders in “resource protection” with a great love of parks & open spaces. Paul Berkowitz professes his love for parks as well, and I believe that is necessary to pull yourself through a 30-plus year career. From my perspective, both of us also shared our admiration for parks and the absolute need for integrity in what we did as representatives of the NPS. Paul was an outstanding investigator that put his best efforts into his work. Remembering back to when I first met him I recall thinking “he sees a lot of black & white, while I’m overwhelmed with ‘green & gray’” (the color of our uniform shirt).
I first met Paul in 1985, and almost immediately heard he had was a serious Ranger working to professionalize law enforcement in the NPS. He had his critics, including some that were close to me personally & professionally, but I didn’t pay much attention to the NPS grapevine about him over the next decade. I was usually trying to learn new positions and skills as a District Ranger at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (plus park’s L.E. Specialist & Fire Management Officer as collateral duties [as if I didn’t have enough to do]), the Southwest Region Ranger Activities Specialist, or Regional Special Agent with the ARPA Task Force.
When Paul mentions investigator positions at YOSE being eliminated (page 185), including his, I flashed back to a time when I was the designated driver for the park superintendent (Santa Monica Mountains) and Director William Penn Mott: we were going to visit Richard M. Nixon’s birthplace & boyhood home (Yorba Linda, CA- now the site of Nixon’s Presidential Library). Director Mott had flown down from northern California, and he was vocal about his misgivings regarding the NPS having Criminal Investigator (CI)/Special Agent positions at YOSE; he mentioned that “spreading around” the investigative duties could potentially have positive effects. Instead of three full-time investigators, have twelve Rangers spending 25% of their time working in-depth . It made sense to me at the time, thinking it’d be good to be one of that dozen. It seems somewhat ironic that Paul & I would later both be fulltime 1811 Special Agents for the NPS. He was good, very good; excellent really using sound criminalistics practices (remember the high praise about him from the FBI RAC). I, on the other hand, often utilized the “Colombo” method: what doesn’t add up and “wait a minute, I almost forgot, one last thing…oh, that explains that then [not really]…”