Navy Cross recipient sues feds over dispute with park ranger

A Navy Cross medal, the United States' 2nd-highest award for battlefield heroism, sits on a podium before a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 28, 2006.


By PABLO LOPEZ | The Fresno (Calif.) Bee (MCT) | Published: November 8, 2014

A disabled combat Marine who received the Navy Cross for heroism in Iraq is suing the federal government in a dispute over a Sequoia National Park handicap parking space in which he says a ranger handcuffed him and roughed him up in front of his family.

Dominic Esquibel, 42, of San Diego, is suing for assault and battery, false arrest and false imprisonment, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, said his attorney, Nicholas “Butch” Wagner of Fresno.

His civil-rights complaint, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Fresno, does not specify how much in damages he is seeking. But a claim sent to the U.S. government prior to the lawsuit said Esquibel wants $750,000.

A phone call to Sequoia National Park on Friday was not immediately returned. A National Park Service spokeswoman has said previously that the service does not discuss lawsuits.

According to the citation for Esquibel’s Navy Cross, on Nov. 25, 2004, while serving a scout sniper for Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, the lance corporal spotted several wounded Marines pinned down by enemy fire. “With total disregard for his own safety,” Esquibel crawled up to the enemy stronghold and threw grenades, “destroying several enemy insurgents and silencing one of the enemy’s machine guns,” the citation says.

Under heavy enemy fire, Esquibel carried out two wounded Marines and carried out the body of another, the citation says.

Years later, while on combat duty, Esquibel was seriously injured in the Sanguin Valley in Afghanistan.

On March 25, 2011, he stepped on a bomb, seriously damaging his right leg and right elbow. He suffered significant hearing loss and wears an exoskeleton on his right leg that enables him to walk, the lawsuit says.

Despite his disability, Esquibel continues to serve in the Marines as a criminal investigator, Wagner said.

“It’s unbelievable what he has gone through,” Wagner said Friday. “For this to happen to him is unconscionable.”

What happened, according to the lawsuit, is this:

On Dec. 22, 2012, Esquibel and his family were visiting Sequoia National Park. As they entered the gate, a park employee (not named in court papers) asked him to wait at the entrance until traffic thinned out. Esquibel showed the employee a handicap park pass that allows him to enter for free, the lawsuit says.

After entering, Esquibel parked in a handicap space so he could use the restroom. He placed his handicap placard on his rear-view mirror and began walking from his vehicle when the park employee at the entrance booth yelled at him: “You can’t park there.” When Esquibel said he was disabled, the park employee replied: “I can see that you’re not,” the lawsuit says.

The park employee called a park ranger, who arrived a short time later and began questioning Esquibel. The complaint says the ranger, identified in court papers only as T. Parker, demanded that Esquibel show him a handicapped driver’s license. Esquibel told the ranger he did not have or need one to drive his vehicle. He offered to show the ranger the paperwork for the handicap placard, but the ranger was unwilling to listen, the lawsuit says.

The ranger arrested Esquibel for failing to follow a lawful order, the lawsuit says. Esquibel says his war-related injuries, which included a surgically repaired right arm, were made worse by the ranger’s forceful arrest and from being handcuffed.

During the arrest, the lawsuit says, the ranger kicked Esquibel’s disabled right leg in an attempt to spread Esquibel’s legs. Esquibel’s wife started to cry, and the ranger reached down and pulled up Esquibel’s pant leg to see the exoskeleton. “I told you I am a combat-wounded, limb-salvaged Marine,” Esquibel told the ranger. “You are damaging my leg and foot.”

The ranger still handcuffed Esquibel and put him in the back of the ranger’s patrol car, the lawsuit says. Esquibel was later cited for “failing to follow a lawful order” and released.

In a letter to Wagner, U.S. Department of the Interior officials said in August this year: “From our review of the circumstances surrounding the detention of Mr. Esquibel, it appears that the officer’s actions were reasonable.”

But Wagner said Friday at no time did Esquibel break the law or deserve such treatment. When Esquibel showed up in federal court in Fresno to address his citation issued by the Sequoia park ranger, the prosecutor dismissed the case on the spot, Wagner said.

“He was falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned,” Wagner said. “If they are doing it to a war hero, who knows who they are doing it to.”

©2014 The Fresno (Calif.) Bee. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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