On June 20, eight days after Orlando, two days after the Cherry Grove Pride Parade, and the start of LGBT Pride Week in New York City, I experienced an incident with a familiar National Park Service Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) Ranger, Luke DeDominici, and an email exchange with his supervisor, FINS Chief Ranger John J. Stewart, ensued and follows here:
On June 22, I wrote:
I had an unpleasant encounter with FINS Ranger Luke DeDomenici on the beach on Monday, June 20, at around 4 pm, that I want to share with you. From his car, Luke stopped me, just west of the westernmost house in the Pines and just east of the westernmost stairway up from the beach there. Our dispute was about where beach nudity is more or less legal and where it’s not. He told me that clothing was required where I was. I said that my understanding, based on my correspondence with you and based on where the Clothing Required sign had been, was that nudity was not a problem where I was and that I planned to put on my bathing suit as soon as I reached a railing I could hold onto, on that westernmost Pines staircase, and to take it back off again as soon as I reached the easternmost staircase in the Grove. Luke said that there had been a third sign, just west of the first house in the Pines, and I told him that I had never seen it. I also asked him why he was stopping me, in particular, after we determined that each of us knew who the other was, that I know the law, and am not someone who had to be told. He said he would have stopped anyone not wearing a bathing suit on the FINS land between the Pines and the Grove.
Luke apparently thought I was bluffing and asked, “By the way, where is your bathing suit?” “In my fanny pack,” I told him, refusing to let him intimidate me. I also pointed out that, though the signs are no longer there, I was acting in accordance with the policy that I knew they had been meant to convey, as I understood it. He mentioned that someone keeps removing them and I said that maybe people don’t like their message.
When I walked west, after our conversation was over, I came across, first, a group of four young men, who were nude, east of the easternmost Grove staircase, and they said that Luke had not stopped to talk to them. A little further on, but still east of that staircase, I came to another individual who was nude and he, too, had not been approached by Luke—so much for his stopping to reprimand anyone who was nude on the FINS land between Pines and Grove.
I feel that I stood my ground in the exchange with Luke and was justified in doing so, but I would also say that the encounter was tense, and its timing worthy of a mention, a time when people are already on edge in the wake of the massacre in Orlando and the start of LGBT Pride Week in New York, when large groups of people will be assembling, which could be targeted by enemies with issues. I feel that Luke targeted me in particular on Monday, because he knows that I am outspoken and write readily about encounters such as these. On the one hand, it’s good that it was me he spoke to, because I’m not especially vulnerable, and not someone else, who might feel intimidated by the law. On the other hand, I have not yet been back to the beach since this gratuitous unpleasantness.
Editor, Fire Island Q News.com
Cherry Grove columnist, Fire Island Tide
On June 23, John J. Stewart wrote back to me:
Thank you for reaching out and informing me of this incident. As always, I encourage the public to contact me with any issues or concerns involving my staff. I hold my officers accountable to high standards and the Federal Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. Any violation of these standards will not be tolerated and will be addressed appropriately.
Ranger DeDominici returns to duty tomorrow. I assure you I will interview him and review the video of the contact from his body camera. If there is any other information you wish to add or if you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me.
Thank you sir.
John J. Stewart
Fire Island National Seashore
“[T]he video of the contact from [Luke DeDominici’s] body camera”? I can’t say that I knew that I was being videotaped while I was nude on the beach.
I received a further email from John J. Stewart on July 1:
Good morning sir,
I apologize for the delay. I was off the last two days. For the duration of the summer I have volunteered to work weekends and holidays in the field to provide direct oversight to the U.S. Park Ranger operation.
I did have an official meeting with Ranger DeDominici regarding the contact that occurred on June 20. Although it is an internal employee-supervisor matter at this point I can state that during the meeting I reiterated what I expect from my rangers. Specifically: The fundamental duties of a commissioned ranger include serving the communities; safe-guarding lives and property; protecting the innocent; keeping the peace, and treating all citizens equally with courtesy, consideration and dignity. They will conduct themselves in appearance and deportment in such a manner as to inspire confidence and respect for the position of public trust they hold.
Sir, if you are not satisfied and wish to pursue this matter further you have to option of starting an official complaint/investigation with the office of professional responsibility. Let me know.
Thank you for reaching out to me. Have a safe and enjoyable Independence Day Weekend.
I wrote back to John that day:
Thanks for your response & thanks for looking into this.
In your email of June 23, you mentioned "the video of the contact from [Luke DeDominici's] body camera." Interesting—I wasn't aware that such a record existed.
BTW I have been back to the beach, on some very peaceful days, since the day of the incident.
And he wrote back to me:
Yes. For several years law enforcement agencies have approved and encouraged the use of officer body-worn cameras or Audio / Visual Recording Devices (AVRD). Most of the patrol vehicles are outfitted with similar devices on the dashboard or wind shield as well. The purposes of the cameras are:
To increase officer accountability.
To reduce the officer misconduct.
To enhance officer safety.
To accurately capture statements and events during the course of a contact.
To assist the officer's ability to properly document and review statements and actions for both internal reporting requirements and for court room preparation and presentation.
All officers assigned to use these devices shall adhere to the strict procedures outlined in NPS evidence policy. Date and time stamps cannot be altered by the officer. All recording media, storage devices, images, and audio are property of the agency and shall not be copied, released, or disseminated in any form or manner.
I'm glad you're back on the beach. It should be a nice weekend too.
It is worth noting that I did not get a summons on June 20. Maybe I talked my way out of getting one. Maybe the harangue and harassment were ends in themselves.