‘Permit outlaw’ sentenced to probation for threatening park ranger

By Linda Bentley | April 15, 2009

Banned from all National Parks, must undergo mental health evaluation and counseling
FLAGSTAFF – Gary Clayton Palmer, 53, pled guilty last Wednesday to threatening a Grand Canyon Park Ranger in a plea agreement before U.S. District Court Magistrate Mark E. Aspey.

Palmer was sentenced to three years of supervised probation, during which time he is banned from all National Parks, a ten-mile radius of Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) and from Northern Arizona University.

 In addition, Aspey ordered Palmer to undergo a mental health evaluation, participate in mental health counseling and barred him from contacting Park Ranger Bil Vandergraff.
Having been cited for a variety of misdemeanor offenses over the years at Yosemite, Zion, Grand Tetons, Grand Canyon and other places, Palmer has convictions for disorderly conduct, indecent exposure and camping without a permit.

According to National Park Special Agent Christopher Smith’s affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Vandergraff was following posts on Grand_Canyon_Hikers@Yahoogroups.com (GCH) in late 2002, where Palmer stated he’d camped in GCNP without a permit and called himself a “permit outlaw.”

Palmer was subsequently charged with camping without a permit in GCNP in January 2003, to which he pled guilty, along with two outstanding disorderly conduct charges from Yosemite National Park, and was sentenced to three years of probation, a $100 fine and one-year ban from GCNP.

In January 2005, Vandergraff acknowledged Palmer’s posts on GCH with, “Howdy Gary Clayton Palmer,” and wrote, “I see your recent posting has generated considerable discussion, interest and attention.”

After commenting on Palmer’s itinerary, Vandergraff wrote, “Incidentally, I checked with the Backcountry Office and did not see a permit in your name, or another permit matching your itinerary … If you’re still in Flagstaff, maybe you can get a lift up here to make reservations … If my memory serves me correctly, the year-long ban that U.S. Magistrate Verkamp imposed upon you expired early last year. The sanction for camping without a permit is a fine. However in your case with repeated offenses, for which you admitted to and were found guilty, the sanction included a ban from visiting GCNP.”

While citing he’s had the “pleasure and honor” of meeting many of the folks who have participated in GCH since it was started, Vandergraff wrote, “However, you stand out Gary as the only member that I (or any other ranger) have ever summoned before the U.S. Magistrate for violating regulations …”

On Dec. 30, 2005, Vandergraff received an e-mail from Palmer announcing, “Only 7 more days and my 3 years probation will be up from hiking without a permit … Be sure to look for me in the canyon this coming year. I still refuse to use a permit to sleep on the ground … But now I will keep one eye over my shoulder as I tramp around ‘your’ national park … I did hike down to Havasu without a permit last fall … Even the stupid Indians are’nt (sic) smart enough to check for permits.”

In January 2009, from seemingly out of the blue, Vandergraff received an e-mail from Palmer with the subject line, “It’s me!”

Palmer wrote (verbatim – his spelling and punctuation), “Just writing another letter in hopes that you will contact me. I dont know why you wont you sure did ask me about all my posts back when I claimed to be the outlaw backpacker. So what do you think, Hmmm if I don’t write back, Gary will not come to the canyon again and make trouble with the permit system again. Now he’s scared and has learned his lesson. Wrong ‘shit for brains,’ I am mad, but yes, I don’t want to come back because I’m afraid I might look you up and do something I might (quite dought it tho) regret later.

“I guess writting bad language and seemingly threatening letter like this does’nt help much …

“I resent the future when good honest citizens of these here lousy united states finally get tired of all the bull government has stuff down our gullets for too many years. If I do come back to the canyon, I will and you can bet on it be hiking in the canyon without permission from you or your agency …

“You can tell this is me by my lousy backwards spelling at times, Huh? Anyway I just thought I’d jog your mind again and look forward to hearing from you. Maybe? But I dougt it …

“Have a nice day!

“And I know you get these because I check your emails when I send them.”

Having only conversed with Palmer twice, once in person in 2003 in connection with the camping without a permit citation, and again in 2005 via his post on GCH, Vandergraff felt threatened by Palmer’s e-mail and wanted no contact with him whatsoever.

Noting Palmer’s prior convictions, 14 different addresses over the past ten years and employment with several different National Park Service concessions during that same period, Smith said Palmer, whom he described as six feet, seven inches tall and over 200 pounds, “appears to have a transient lifestyle.”

Last Thursday, responding to an earlier post on GCH announcing Palmer would be “in the news tomorrow,” Palmer wrote, “I was arrested on a warrant while in Zion Nat Park on Friday March 27 for threatening a law enforcement officer of GCNP. I just got out of jail after 13 days inside between 6 days in the Purgatory Correctional Center in Hurricane Utah, then transferred to Page, AZ for one day then to Flagstaff last Thursday. I was held here till I went to federal court … I was released yesterday with 3 years supervised probation, 3 years expulsion from all National Parks … I have to stay at least 10 miles away from GCNP and away from the ranger I threatened … I have to go for a mental health examination and get treatment based on same.”

Palmer says he will most likely remain in Arizona until 2012 to serve out his supervised probation.