Board of Inquiry recommends removing ranger’s commission
A Blue Ridge Parkway law enforcement supervisor who admitted to using illegal substances still retains his position as head ranger of the Parkway’s largest district, despite a March Board of Inquiry recommendation that his law enforcement commission be permanently revoked, according to records The Smoky Mountain News obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Pisgah District Ranger Greg Wozniak, 46, has been barred from performing law enforcement duties since June 13, 2018, but he still holds the title of Pisgah District Ranger.
In the National Park Service, Boards of Inquiry are convened in situations when a commissioned law officer could end up being relieved of his or her commission. The board considers the case and then makes a recommendation to return the employee to full-duty status, continue suspending the commission or revoke the commission permanently.
The March 6 Board of Inquiry that dealt with Wozniak’s case stemmed from the aftermath of a June 12, 2018, traffic accident in Knoxville. Wozniak, off-duty at the time, was turning left to the Interstate 40 on-ramp. The other driver was going straight through the intersection, with both men claiming to have had a green light. Neither driver was hurt, but according to public documents, Wozniak left his car after the collision to remove a burgundy tackle box and throw it in the bushes. He then retrieved the box and threw it once more, this time off the interstate bridge to the roadway below.
When officers arrived on the scene, they found that the box contained 10.1 grams of marijuana, 6.1 grams of mushrooms and six THC edibles. A traffic report states that Wozniak had been drinking, as well, though no field sobriety test was ever performed and no DUI charge pressed. He was, however, booked on two charges of drug possession.
Wozniak admitted to internal investigators with the National Park Service that he had taken “a couple hits” of marijuana within four hours of getting behind the wheel and consumed “a beer or two” after the marijuana. However, a Knox County judge dismissed the charges, and they were later expunged.
In an email he sent to Parkway Superintendent J.D. Lee May 28 of this year, Wozniak expressed regret for his actions.
“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me this afternoon,” Wozniak wrote. “First let me apologize for my behavior and the negative publicity it has brought to the Parkway. This past year has been the most difficult of my life in many ways.”
Board of Inquiry findings
Records show that the Parkway formally requested a Board of Inquiry hearing on Wozniak’s actions on Oct. 9, 2018, more than a month after an investigative report from the National Park Service’s Office of Professional Responsibility was returned Sept. 5, 2018, concluding that Wozniak’s conduct had violated state laws and federal rules. Emails between Parkway personnel and staff in the Park Service’s Washington, D.C., office regarding the potential timeline for a Board of Inquiry hearing began earlier, about two weeks after the OPR report was received.
The hearing was ultimately held on Wednesday, March 6, before a five-member board that gathered in D.C. It included testimony from Wozniak, who gave the board his version of the events of June 12, 2018.
According to the board’s report, Wozniak said that he hadn’t previously used drugs since college and that he was in town to get dinner with a friend of 15 or 16 years, who he had never known to use drugs. However, when Wozniak arrived at the friend’s house he discovered the friend had been smoking recently enough that the smell still lingered. Wozniak then asked the friend — who knew he was a federal law enforcement officer — if he could buy drugs from his dealer, and the friend, without hesitation, agreed to set up the deal. The two then went to meet the dealer — who Wozniak had never met before — in a parking lot, where Wozniak bought 10 grams of marijuana, 6 grams of mushrooms and six THC gummies. He had no plan as to how he would consume the drugs, Wozniak told the board.
The board found Wozniak’s story troubling on multiple counts.
Wozniak’s explanations of the initial use with his friend, the drug deal and his lack of a plan for how to use the drugs was “problematic,” the report said, and the board also “struggled” with the fact that Wozniak tried to hide the drugs from law enforcement before officers arrived at the car crash.
“Also troubling to the Board was Ranger Wozniak’s progression within a span of a few hours from using marijuana with a friend of 15 years, who he has never known to use drugs, to purchasing drugs from his friend’s dealer,” the report said.
The amount of marijuana Wozniak bought would be enough to fill a pipe 40 times, and the mushrooms would be sufficient for two or three uses, the report said.
“The Board felt that the simple use of marijuana was aggravated by the purchase, possession, attempted destruction and eventual arrest for drugs,” the report said. “It was the Board’s opinion that Ranger Wozniak’s actions violated the code of conduct and impaired the efficiency of the National Park Service by irrevocably damaging his ability to enforce laws and regulations.”
While the board did “factor in” that Wozniak sought mental health services after the incident occurred, it did not feel that was enough to mitigate his actions.
Ultimately, a majority of the board voted to recommend that Wozniak’s law enforcement commission be permanently revoked.
Handling the recommendation
Revoking someone’s law enforcement commission and terminating their employment are two separate processes, but one often follows the other. If someone hired to perform law enforcement duties is barred from acting in a law enforcement capacity, then they no longer fit the job description of their position, prompting a termination process.
The Board of Inquiry reported the outcome of its hearing in a memo to Chief Ranger Neal Labrie dated Friday, March 15. The same day, Labrie emailed Superintendent Lee a draft memo for him to submit requesting permanent revocation of Wozniak’s commission. The memo would be sent from Lee to Regional Director Robert Vogel, with a signature line for each. Lee signed the document the following Monday, with Deputy Regional Director Karen L. Cucurullo signing in Vogel’s stead the same day, approving the revocation. On Friday, March 22, Labrie emailed a copy of that memo to Avis Brooks, an employee and labor relations specialist with the regional office.
Despite the existence of the approved request, it’s unclear that Wozniak’s commission was ever actually revoked.
On April 29, Labrie emailed Lee to say that due to some “administrative record issues” he would need to sign the request to revoke Wozniak’s commission again. The attached document is identical to the original version but for a third signature line designated for John Leonard, deputy chief of operations at the D.C. office.
Labrie’s email states that Vogel and Leonard would both be able to sign that day. However, the FOIA request does not contain any signed versions of the document. When asked about the current status of Wozniak’s commission, Parkway Executive Assistant Caitlin Worth said it had been suspended, but not revoked.
“Once the recommended actions are made the matter moves to a disciplinary process which involves a series of due process procedures between the employee and the federal agency,” Labrie said in an emailed statement. “There is no established timeline or estimate for this process to come to full completion and final action by the agency.”
It is true that there is no set timeline to resolve these kinds of cases — in a July interview with The Smoky Mountain News, the Parkway’s former chief ranger Steve Stinnett said that the most important thing is to be thorough and to ensure that you’re not stepping on the employee’s rights. Cutting corners could leave the door open for an appeal that would render the initial termination useless.
“Some things could be done relatively quickly, and some things could take a year,” he said.
However, other former Park Service employees who spoke to SMN on background said that this process seems to be taking unusually long.
According to Worth, Wozniak’s position title is still “Supervisory Park Ranger,” and he is the district ranger for the 164-mile Pisgah District — the Parkway’s largest. However, Chuck Hester, who is serving as acting district ranger for the Pisgah District, also holds the title of supervisory park ranger, she said.
In his current role, Wozniak is still earning time toward his retirement under the Federal Employees Retirement System. As of April 29, he has 20 years of qualified service as a law enforcement officer. According to federal retirement policy, law enforcement employees under the FERS program can retire at 50 if they have 20 years of service or at any age with 25 years of service. Because Wozniak is only 46, he would still need four more years in a law enforcement position to retire from the Park Service.
According to documents contained in the FOIA request, Wozniak draws a salary of $88,050 annually, which includes a base pay of $76,320 and a local adjustment of $11,730.
The latter part of the 1,025-page FOIA response consists mainly of heavily redacted correspondence between the Parkway, the regional human resources office and Chen Song, an attorney advisor with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor. The conversation began following an April 10 email in which the employee and labor relations specialist Brooks requested that the solicitor’s office review Wozniak’s case.
In a series of resulting emails extending through the end of May, the parties went back and forth about the wording of a memo that was to be sent from Labrie to Wozniak. The contents and subject of the memo are redacted, though the subject line for one of the email threads to which the document is attached reads “Greg Wozniak | Proposal of Removal.” It is therefore likely that the memo in question was being drafted to inform Wozniak of his upcoming removal from the job.
The correspondence shows that the parties involved often had a difficult time communicating effectively, with Song expressing frustration in a May 31 email that NPS employees had “deliberately ignored” his emails for about two weeks.
“We at the Office of the Solicitor are working to help you,” Song wrote in an email to Tammy Hicks, supervisory employee and labor relations specialist, sent later the same day. “To help us help you, we need you to work with us. That is why it so concerns me [redacted].”
The FOIA response ends shortly thereafter. It is unknown whether a final document was agreed upon or why no final action has yet been taken on Wozniak’s employment status.
Wozniak did not respond to a request for comment.