A Missouri family is suing officers of the National Park Service and Park County Sheriff’s Office, alleging they were held at gunpoint for more than one hour in 2017 in a case of mistaken identity.
Brett and Genalyn Hemry, of Independence, Missouri, are seeking unspecified damages for violations of their rights against improper search and seizure, use of excessive force and false imprisonment in the traffic stop near Yellowstone National Park that resulted from a search for a man suspected in a triple murder.
In a lawsuit filed July 19 in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, the Hemrys said they left Yellowstone through the park’s east gate on the morning of July 20, 2017, with their daughter, identified only as F.M.H.
According to the lawsuit, law enforcement officials in Teton and Park counties, along with Park Service officers, had been on the lookout for a week for a man named Gerald Michael Bullinger, who was wanted in connection with a triple murder in Idaho.
As the Hemrys left the east gate of the park, a ranger identified Hemry as Bullinger because both have white hair.
The lawsuit said as Brett Hemry drove the family’s car toward Cody along the North Fork Highway, he noticed he was being closely followed by two Park Service ranger vehicles. He pulled over to allow the vehicles to pass.
“When Mr. Hemry pulled over … the Park Ranger vehicles pulled in front of the Hemry family vehicle to block it from continuing down the highway, and from each vehicle, a Park Ranger exited with a drawn firearm in hand,” the complaint said. “The family was detained at gunpoint in their vehicle for about a half hour, without notice or knowledge of the rangers’ purpose.”
After about one-half hour, Park County Sheriff’s deputies arrived and forced Brett Hemry and his wife at gunpoint to get into their vehicles. While they were detained in the law enforcement vehicles, another officer continued to point a weapon at F.M.H., who remained in the family’s car.
The lawsuit said after about an hour of detention in the deputy’s vehicle, Brett Hemry was allowed to display his identification and was told why he was stopped. At that point, the three were told they were free to go, the lawsuit said.
The actions of the park rangers and deputies violated the Hemrys’ rights against unreasonable search and seizure, the lawsuit said, adding that park rangers had no authority to stop the Hemrys once they left Yellowstone.
“The seizure and detention of the plaintiffs by the Park County (deputies) was continued for an unreasonable time, and under unreasonable circumstances, in the complete absence of reasonable suspicion or other constitutional justification,” it said.
The lawsuit also alleged the deputies and park rangers used excessive force in the stop by “holding plaintiffs at gunpoint for an extended period.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages to compensate the Hemrys for “their loss of freedom and for their emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life” and punitive damages for the “intentional, reckless, and outrageous actions” of the law enforcement officers.