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Petitioners seek access to suicide investigation

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An online petition went into circulation June 7 demanding that the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) make public an internal investigation into the death of Marlene Braun, former manager of the Carrizo Plain National Monument in eastern San Luis Obispo County.

As of press time on June 14, the petition boasted 264 digital signatures with no specified closing date.

Friends of Braun allege that undue pressure from her supervisor, Ron Huntsinger of the Bureau of Land Management office in Bakersfield, triggered the bout of depression that caused her to take her own life last May with a blue steel .38-caliber revolver. This indictment sparked an investigation by the DOI Inspector General’s office, conducted by Agent Peter Morrow in Washington, D.C., and completed in late May.

Morrow was unavailable to comment on the contents of the report. Kathy Hermes, one of Braun’s close friends, said that she kept in contact with the DOI agent for the duration of the investigation, but was unable to obtain additional information on his findings.

“In their first response, they said they found nothing. Then they said they found something. Eventually, they said that they could neither confirm nor deny that they had anything,� she explained.

Hermes, who brought Braun’s story to light in the months following the ecologist’s death, organized the petition after a Freedom of Information Act request yielded no answers. BLM spokesperson Jan Bedrosian confirmed the completion of the report but could not disclose when the report would be released, if at all.

“We are in the process of reviewing the report and providing our response on how we will deal with it,� Bedrosian said.

The bureau received the investigation’s findings on May 22 and must provide a response within 90 days of that date.

Bedrosian indicated that the report investigated the potential involvement of multiple individuals—in addition to Huntsinger—in Braun’s suicide, though she wouldn’t specify who, or whether those parties would face disciplinary action. The Bakersfield office of the BLM expects to make its response public when staff submits it to the Inspector General, but officials may or may not release the investigation report itself.

Hermes said that any resolution is positive, but she wants to see the findings as well. She’s concerned that the Inspector General’s investigation failed to employ full subpoena powers in attaining Braun’s medical records, which might shed light on the depths of the alleged workplace bullying. Hermes believes that the issue is also a matter of public disclosure.

BLM Director Kathleen Clark and Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, requested a copy of the findings when the story broke in November.

Hermes plans to refine the petition list and send it on to Capps, Clark, and the BLM state headquarters in Sacramento. To add your name to the petition, visit www.thepetitionsite.com and search for “Marlene Braun.�


 

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