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Disabled veteran wins $250,000 settlement after park rangers arrested him over handicapped spot

Militants in southern Afghanistan had already salted the earth with bombs when Sgt. Dominic Esquibel led his Marines through Sangin. On his final patrol, the ground ruptured under his feet in an explosion of light and blood.

The blast tore at his right arm and shattered parts of his right leg and foot.

“I thank God it was me,” he told author Bing West from a hospital bed in 2011, “rather than one of my men.”

Doctors were barely able to salvage Esquibel’s foot. He wears a carbon-fiber exoskeleton brace to help him walk and run.

And that vulnerable spot is where Esquibel said a U.S. Park Ranger gave swift kicks during an arrest over a parking space for the disabled at Sequoia National Park in 2012, prompting a lawsuit claiming assault and false arrest.

The federal government settled for $250,000 in March to avoid a trial scheduled for last week. A charge of failing to follow a lawful order was dropped in 2014.

“I’m grateful,” Esquibel said of the settlement — and of the whole ordeal being over — during an interview with The Washington Post. Esquibel said the alleged assault not only left him in “excruciating” pain, but also that the blows were so severe that his health problems cascaded to high blood pressure and sleepless nights. His foot is now a total loss, he said, which he attributes to the incident.

“I’m getting it amputated now because he didn’t stop,” Esquibel said.

All of the descriptions of the incident in this story are according to Esquibel’s account. He and his family took the trip to Sequoia National Park outside Fresno in December 2012. When they arrived, he flashed a free handicapped park admission pass to the entrance employee, who warned they could not venture all the way through the park without snow chains, or enter the park for a quick family photo until traffic cleared up.

So Esquibel pulled into a parking spot, put up his disability placard and left to find a restroom.

“You can’t park there; it’s a handicapped spot,” the employee yelled out to him.

He said he was disabled.

“I can see that you’re not,” she snapped back, threatening to call the police.

“Please do,” he replied.

She spoke into a radio and two rangers arrived, one of them identified as Ranger Parrack. They demanded that Esquibel produce a handicapped driver’s license. He said the special license wasn’t required because his car wasn’t adaptive, but that his placard should be enough.

Parrack threatened to throw Esquibel to the ground and said he was under arrest. He contorted Esquibel’s stiff and scarred arm — which had just been operated on a few months before the trip — as his wife watched.

Then Parrack kicked Esquibel’s feet to separate his legs. Esquibel grimaced in agony, shouting about his war injury as his wife cried out. He couldn’t spread his legs any farther, and trying to balance himself only prompted the ranger to kick him more, he said.

“I told my wife to remove herself and get in the car,” he said, “so at least there would be a witness to hold him accountable.”

When Esquibel said that to his wife, Parrack stopped to question what he meant. Esquibel reeled in pain.

“I’m combat wounded, and you’re kicking my salvaged limb,” Esquibel said he told Parrack, whose partner stood nearby.

Parrack pulled up Esquibel’s jeans leg to reveal the brace. As he did so, his partner muttered an expletive, indicating they knew they had messed up, according to Esquibel.

Parrack stuffed Esquibel into a vehicle and issued a citation for “failure to follow a lawful order,” documents show. He was later released. That charge was later dropped.

In 2004, Esquibel rained hand grenades on insurgents in Fallujah and braved enemy fire to evacuate two wounded Marines and carry out the body of a third. He was awarded the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, but declined to accept it.

“He didn’t feel right about the award,” said Butch Wagner, an attorney for Esquibel. “He said it was something fellow Marines would have done for him.” Esquibel declined to discuss his time in uniform.

Soldier’s posthumous Medal of Honor highlights the Pentagon’s struggles to fully recognize valor in combat

It is unclear whether Parrack or any other park staff were disciplined over the incident. The Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks did not respond to a request for comment. The Interior Department, named a party in the lawsuit, declined to comment and referred questions to the Justice Department. A spokeswoman there confirmed the settlement but declined to comment further.

Esquibel suggested that rangers could be better trained to recognize and accommodate visitors with disabilities. “It is my hope that this will prompt other law enforcement to think twice before repeating the same missteps and causing further misfortune for others with disabilities,” he said.

That is a start, he said, and so is the money from a settlement. But his recovery is far from over; the amputation will come within the next couple months.

“Time to chop it off,” he said.

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