Parkway district ranger barred from law enforcement duties
Nine months after a traffic accident that resulted in a pair of drug possession charges for a lead law enforcement supervisor with the Blue Ridge Parkway, the officer is still barred from performing law enforcement duties — despite the charges being dismissed and expunged from the record.
The charges against Pisgah District Ranger Greg Wozniak, 45, spurred an internal National Park Service investigation, which is not yet complete.
“Parkway Management is taking all appropriate steps to address the situation in accordance with Federal regulations, policies and procedures,” said Leesa Brandon, public information officer for the Blue Ridge Parkway. “By policy, the National Park Service does not comment on ongoing investigations.”
Wozniak was reassigned from his law enforcement duties June 13, 2018, the day after the June 12 accident. Ranger Chuck Hester is currently serving as acting district ranger, said Brandon. Wozniak is now performing “a range of work including field maintenance projects and administrative duties including policy revisions for wildland fire programs,” she said.
He is still drawing the same salary he would if he were performing law enforcement duties. Wozniak, like other district rangers, is paid at the GS-12 level, with a salary range of $64,000 to $84,000. According to the online database of federal salaries Data Universe, complied by Asbury Park Press, Wozniak’s current salary is $73,177.
Wozniak has served as Pisgah District Ranger since fall 2014, when he first began working for the Parkway, and the National Park Service has been his employer for the past 22 years. As district ranger, he supervises all law enforcement operations for the portion of the parkway between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee and the Linville Falls Visitor Center near Marion.
According to a report on the accident, the crash occurred at 8:18 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, 2018, when Wozniak, traveling south on Hall of Fame Drive in Knoxville, attempted to turn left onto the I-40 East ramp. However, in making the turn his Toyota Tacoma hit a vehicle traveling straight through the light, a Dodge 350 pulling an equipment trailer.
Both vehicles suffered “disabling damage,” valued at greater than $400, according to the report. Neither driver required medical transport; the driver of the Dodge had no injury but Wozniak had a “possible injury.”
“Driver of Vehicle #1 (Wozniak) stated he had a green turn arrow, and Driver of Vehicle #2 stated he had green traffic signal,” the report said. “There were no witnesses on scene to determine which vehicle had the right of way.”
While the report states “no” under categories titled “presence of alcohol” and “presence of drugs” for the driver of the Dodge, the same is not true for Wozniak. The report states that Wozniak “had been drinking” and that there was presence of alcohol, but that no alcohol test was given. It also lists “cellular telephone present in vehicle” in the box labeled “distraction.” In the “presence of drugs” category, the report says “unknown.” It goes on to state that the determination method for presence of drugs is “unknown” and that no test was given.
In response to an email asking why no alcohol test was performed in light of the report fields stating that Wozniak had been drinking and that alcohol was present, Lt. Bradley Anders of the Knoxville Police Department said that he could not speak to that specific case but could say that, in general, “everything comes down to the level of impairment observed by an officer and whether of (sic) not they feel they have probable cause to make an arrest.”
The fact that someone has been drinking, Anders added, doesn’t mean “their impairment would rise to the level of being arrested. This testing occurs after an arrest is made.”
Wozniak was not arrested for drinking, but he was arrested for drug possession.
According to the affidavit from Officer Trisha S. Ward attached to the arrest warrant, the Dodge driver told officers that after the accident, Wozniak exited his vehicle, took a box out and threw that box into the bushes. Wozniak then went into the bushes and retrieved the box, throwing it off the interstate bridge onto the roadway below, the driver said.
When officers walked to the edge of the bridge, they saw a burgundy tackle box lying on the roadway, the affidavit said.
“Officer (Stephen) Mercado arrived on scene and retrieved a burgundy tackle box for fishing. Officer Mercado found the box opened on the roadway, and observed that the box contained what appeared to be a baggie of marijuana,” the document said. “The box also contained a baggie of what appeared to be mushrooms and an unopened package of gummie worms believed to be THC edibles.”
The contents amounted to 10.1 grams of marijuana, 6.1 grams of mushrooms and six THC edibles, the affidavit said.
Wozniak was taken into custody and charged with two counts of simple possession/casual exchange — one for marijuana, one for other drugs — class A misdemeanors with a combined bail of $1,500.
However, the charges were dismissed following a hearing July 20, 2018. They were later expunged — in a phone call to the Knox County Courthouse last week, clerks could not locate any record of the arrest.
In response to an email submitted to the Knox County Office of the District Attorney asking how Wozniak pled prior to the dismissal, why the case was dismissed and how expungement decisions are made, Assistant DA Sean McDermott said only that the office has no public records responsive to the request.
The investigative process
Wozniak is reassigned from his law enforcement duties pending the conclusion of an investigation, Brandon said, and that investigation is still ongoing. According to the National Park Service’s 484-page Law Enforcement Reference Manual 9, the investigation would be classified as a Tier I investigation because it concerns a complaint of “criminal activity and serious misconduct.” Such complaints can be investigated regardless of whether or not an officer was on duty when the alleged conduct occurred, the manual says.
Tier I investigations are carried out by the Washington Support Office, Office of Professional Responsibility with a special agent acting as case agent, the manual says.
The investigation should be done or nearly done by now, according to the timeframe laid out in the manual. Case agents are required to submit their investigative report to the responsible manager within 80 days of being assigned a case, and the manager has 10 days to transmit the completed case file to the deputy chief of the Office of Professional Responsibility. However, the deputy chief can extend investigations up to 180 days, for a total of 270 days — that is, nine 30-day months.
It has been more than nine months since June 13, when Wozniak was removed from law enforcement duty. However, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what the maximum timeframe would be to complete the investigation, since it’s unknown exactly when Parkway officials requested an investigation or exactly when the case was assigned to an agent. It is also possible that the report could be done at this point but the investigation still considered ongoing. Investigations are not considered complete until all phases, including any resulting criminal or administrative determinations, are finished, the manual says.
When asked whether a written investigative report was complete, Brandon reiterated that the Park Service does not comment on ongoing investigations.
Wozniak did not return a call requesting comment.