Tacoma – A 42-year-old Port Angeles, Washington, man pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to interfering with a federal communications system, announced U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. Caleb Jesse Chapman’s actions from August 29, 2021 to August 31, 2021, resulted in the evacuation and closure of a popular section of Olympic National Park, at one the busiest times of the year. Under the terms of the plea agreement prosecutors will recommend no more than ten months in prison when Chapman is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan on October 7, 2022.
According to the plea agreement, just after midnight on August 29, 2021, Chapman appeared at a stranger’s home armed with a handgun and AR-15 style rifle. Chapman admits he was high on methamphetamine when he handed the stranger a letter outlining his concerns over political events, his difficulty getting ammunition, and his belief that there would be a revolution starting on the Olympic Peninsula, Texas and elsewhere.
Chapman drove his girlfriend to Olympic National Park where he felled a tree to block a road to the Deer Park campground. Chapman told his girlfriend she was going to die in the “revolution.” The girlfriend called 9-1-1 and Chapman threw a can of soup at her, cutting her leg. Chapman stormed off into the woods with nine firearms including a stolen handgun, an AR-15 and two shotguns. He had more than 3500 rounds of ammunition.
Law enforcement evacuated the Deer Park campgrounds, trailheads, and road areas, and attempted to locate Chapman. Around 3 PM on August 29, 2021, Chapman disabled the Olympic National Park radio communications site (radio repeater) located at the summit of Blue Mountain. The repeater is used by the park for emergency response, public safety, and administrative radio communications. By disabling the repeater, Chapman left the northeast corner of the park without emergency communications. In fact, the Blue Mountain repeater was also the repeater that the NPS Search and Rescue helicopter based at Mt. Rainier would need to use, for a rescue at Olympic National Park.
On August 31, 2021, a drone located Chapman in the park. Chapman fired a short barrel shotgun at the drone. Ultimately, law enforcement was able to negotiate Chapman’s surrender with no injuries to anyone.
As part of the plea agreement, Chapman has agreed to make restitution to those harmed by his actions, including losses to the National Park Service, and to specific individuals, incurred because of the closure of portions of Olympic National Park, including the popular Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center.
Interference with a federal communications system is punishable by up to ten years in prison. Judge Bryan is not bound by prosecutors’ ten-month recommendation and can impose any sentence up to the statutory maximum after considering the sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
The case was investigated by the Investigative Services Branch of the National Park Service, the FBI, and the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team (OPNET) which includes officers from Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, the Sequim, Port Angeles, and Port Townsend Police Departments and the U.S. Border Patrol.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kristine Foerster.