Utah Scout leaders face backlash after incident in Goblin Valley State Park (Updated)

By on October 29, 2013.

Two Utah Boy Scout leaders are facing significant backlash after posting a video online of the men tipping over a nearly 200-million-year-old rock formation in Goblin Valley State Park.

Glenn Taylor and David Hall, from Highland, Utah, have now been removed from the Boy Scouts of America. An investigation is underway to determine whether the men will face felony charges.

video taken by Dave Hall shows a Boy Scouts leader looking over an ancient Utah desert rock formation at Goblin Valley State Park, which he later knocked down. Authorities are mulling whether to press charges against and against the two men who cheered him on after they posted video of the incident online. AP photo by Dave Hall.

Video taken by Dave Hall shows former Boy Scout leader Glenn Taylor looking over an ancient Utah desert rock formation at Goblin Valley State Park, which he later knocked down. Authorities are mulling whether to press charges against Taylor and against the two men who cheered him on after they posted video of the incident online. AP photo by Dave Hall.

“We made a boneheaded decision,” Hall said.

The video shows Taylor pushing over a 2,000-pound rock from the top of a hoodoo formation (the original has since been removed from YouTube). Hall, the cameraman, looks on with Taylor’s adult son, Dylan, and celebrates as the rock falls, giving high fives and yelling. The men claim they pushed the boulder because it was a safety risk.

“In the video I clearly say at the end of the video that a little kid could have been crushed,” he said. “I explain why we removed the rock, but 95 percent of the media that broadcast the video cut it off as soon as the rock falls … so everyone in the world thinks this was about vandalism. Now, just because our intention was to save lives did not mean it was right.”

Hall says his decision was influenced by the fact that his uncle was killed when a rock rolled over on him.

“I have been to the funeral of a family member who was killed by a loose boulder,” he said. “My niece grows up her entire life without a dad because of a loose rock, so I might be a little more sensitive to the fact that loose rocks can kill.”

But state and Boy Scout officials disagree about the nature of the danger and are not pleased with how the men handled the situation.

Eugene Swalberg, public affairs coordinator for the Utah State Parks, pointed out the men received ample warning when entering the area. All who enter the park receive a brochure that states, “It is unlawful to mutilate or deface a natural or constructed feature or structure.”

“There are rules,” Swalberg said. “There are written rules when you enter a park. It’s behavior that is not at all acceptable at state parks.”

Utah State Parks is investigating the incident and will make a recommendation to Emery County Prosecutors about whether or not the men should be charged with felony vandalism. According to Paul Murphy in the state Attorney General’s Office, the state is determining whether or not civil remedies can also be pursued.

The Park service planned to meet with Taylor and Hall on Thursday, Oct. 24, according to Nancy Orgill, legal secretary in the Emery County Attorney’s Office, and would likely meet with prosecutors in the days following that meeting.

A key element in determining the extent of charges involves assessing the value of the damage, something that will be difficult according to BYU associate professor of geological sciences Jani Radebaugh.

“Somewhere like this is unique,” she said. “When we set aside these areas we do that because we want to preserve them for the future. … We have decided to let natural processes dominate in that area. So (after the incident) we can’t think of this particular area as being in the same class anymore. It has changed the landscape of that particular feature dramatically.”

Radebaugh said it is likely the rock wouldn’t have fallen but would have settled itself down on its base over time, reaching equilibrium and avoiding a catastrophic tipping.

The Boy Scouts of America took a strong stand against the men’s actions, saying they were disappointed in their “reprehensible” behavior and ultimately removing them from the Boy Scouts.

“The isolated actions of these volunteers are absolutely counter to our beliefs and what we teach,” said Deron Smith, public relations director for the Boy Scouts of America.

Over the weekend, leadership of the Utah National Parks Council, the Boy Scouts’ local chapter, consulted with leadership of the chartering organization for the men’s unit — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — including ward and stake leaders, according to council spokesperson John Gailey. They also consulted with the national council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Gailey says while the Boy Scouts try to focus on educating those involved in wrongdoing, the situation is sometimes extreme enough to warrant further consequences.

The men’s removal from membership in the Boy Scouts is not necessarily permanent. Future involvement will be determined by the men’s chartering organization. Things could be complicated if they are charged and found guilty of felonies. The charges would appear on background checks required during application to the BSA, and council leadership would have to approve the men’s admission.

Despite the controversy, the Boy Scouts look forward to engaging in a conversation with the community and acknowledge that the Scouts in Taylor and Hall’s unit have learned valuable lessons.

“A lot of people have been out there saying, they’ve ruined those kids,” Gailey said. “My thought is those kids are learning first-hand the importance of conservation because they’re seeing what’s happening to their leader. My guess is those kids will never do anything like that.”

Others aren’t so positive. International fury quickly erupted following the video’s posting.

“We’ve had hundreds of death threats,” Hall said. “We have extra police patrolling our neighborhood to protect our house. I get postcards in the mail from people all over the world telling us how much they hate us. Environmental sites have published where I live, what I do. … I’ve seen murder cases that didn’t get a tenth of this attention.”

The incident received renewed attention after it was discovered that Taylor recently filed a lawsuit against Alan MacDonald and his daughter Cassie, a BYU student, for a car accident almost four years ago.

Cassie MacDonald, a junior studying broadcast journalism, was 16 years old and driving in American Fork when she looked down for a second. As she looked back up she noticed cars stopped in front of her and slammed on her brakes. Despite her efforts, she hit three cars. The incident seemed minor, no ambulances were called and no injuries reported until Taylor filled his lawsuit in Provo 4th District Court Sept. 3.

Cassie MacDonald found out later that the man suing her for “serious, permanent and debilitating injuries” was the man pushing over the rock in the Goblin Valley video.

“I was a little bit surprised,” she said. “That was a two-ton rock that he basically came up to and pushed right off its base. He really put his back into it, and that took some serious muscle. I don’t know if he had problems before that or anything like that, but from the looks of it, it doesn’t look like he is seriously disabled.”

The MacDonalds have not yet received papers for the suit but found out when Alan MacDonald’s insurance notified him of the suit.

“It’s a little bit surprising that it was filed right before the statute of limitations was up,” Cassie said.

Taylor did not return calls for comment about the video or the lawsuit. According to Hall, they are ready to move on.

“We are extremely sorry,” Hall said. “We’ve apologized to the Boy Scouts, to our church, to the Scout members, to everyone who enjoys the natural parks and recreation. We enjoy all that stuff too, and we look forward to doing whatever we can to make amends for what we did.”

Further updates to this story can be found online at http://unvr.se/1aadb2y.

Dylan Ellsworth

Dylan Ellsworth is a junior from Idaho Falls, Idaho studying public relations with a minor in political science. He enjoys the outdoors -- especially backpacking -- and has ambitions to be involved in political and non-profit efforts. Follow him on Twitter @dylandellsworth