Two Park County sheriff deputies and a pair of National Park Service rangers are facing civil charges in Wyoming Federal District Court relating to an incident occurring in 2017.
Brett and Genalyn Hemry are accusing the defendants, which include Park County Sheriff Deputies Brett Tillery and Rob Cooke and eight other unnamed county deputies, of unjustly holding them and their minor child at gunpoint during a visit to Yellowstone National Park. Tillery is now a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper after leaving the sheriff's office in January.
The Missouri family’s civil claim seeks monetary damages exceeding $75,000 for mental and emotional duress, and loss of enjoyment of life due to false imprisonment, reckless endangering and excessive force.
Park County Sheriff Scott Steward declined to comment on the case. County Attorney Bryan Skoric said the deputies will be defended through the State Self Insurance Program.
NPS rangers Bradley Ross and Mehran Azizian were also listed on the filing complaint, along with 10 other unnamed individuals with the Park Service.
The lawsuit claims the family was stopped on the North Fork near the Newton Creek Campground shortly after leaving Yellowstone through the east gate. Brett Hemry said he pulled over after he noticed being closely followed by Park rangers.
It was later determined authorities had confused Hemry for a man named Gerald Bullinger, who was wanted in connection with a triple murder in Idaho.
The Hemrys claim authorities violated their Fourth Amendment of the Constitution – preventing unreasonable seizure without warrant or probable cause – and the 14th Amendment by using excessive force. They also claim the Park Service had no lawful authority to make an arrest outside the Park.
When Hemry pulled over to let the vehicles pass, rangers pulled in front of their vehicle and got out with long guns drawn, according to the court filings. The sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene after the initial stop.
According to the court filing, the family was detained at gunpoint by both groups of defendants for half an hour without any reason given.
Bullinger still has not been found to this day, but a car belonging to one of the deceased victims was found parked in a remote campground in the Bridger-Teton National Forest outside Jackson shortly before the Hemry incident. According to court documents, Bullinger is believed to have died by suicide or succumbed to the elements.
The Hemry incident occurred about a month after the murder victims had been discovered. According to the court filing, Park and Teton county law enforcement were in a state of alert regarding the fugitive Bullinger, and an unnamed John Doe informed authorities that they had “spoken with” him at the East Entrance on July 20, 2017. At this point one or more unnamed defendants caused a report to circulate that Bullinger had been seen traveling in the Hemry’s white Toyota Venza.
NPS then closed the East Entrance to search vehicles and the Hemrys were stopped shortly after.
The rangers ordered Brett Hemry to throw his car keys outside the vehicle on the ground, and the family was ordered to place their hands on the inside roof of the car.
Hemry and his wife Genalyn Hemry were taken from their vehicle at gunpoint and were handcuffed before being put into patrol cars. An armed officer allegedly continued to hold their minor child at gunpoint in the family car.
“The defendants’ actions were taken in concert, with … reckless disregard and callous indifference for the known constitutional rights and personal safety of the plaintiffs,” the filing said.
After about an hour of detention, the family was informed of the misidentification and allowed to leave, but said they were never given any apology or further explanation for the incident.
The Hemrys said they were never allowed any communication with authorities, were not allowed to identify themselves, and were not informed whether they would be put under arrest before being released.
They are claiming the deputies and rangers violated an affirmative duty to properly and adequately assess a need to search and detain, arrest or to employ force against them. This conduct, the plaintiffs claim, was carried out intentionally and recklessly.
The plaintiffs are being represented by Cheyenne attorney Robert Moxley.