New York Cuffs & Collars - May 4th, 2012
Northern District highlights
On Feb. 15, Region 5 ECOs and investigators responded to a residence in the town of Halfmoon where a retired medical/nuclear physicist, illegally disposed of radioactive material by encasing it in cement under his basement floor. Division of Law Enforcement investigators and uniform officers are continuing a criminal investigation at this time. On Feb. 16, radiation specialists from the Division of Environmental Remediation, Radiological Sites Section and New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Environmental Radiation Protection conducted a site assessment at the location and determined that the current levels of radiation do not pose an immediate risk to the public. A plan for the safe removal and remediation of the radioactive source was developed by DEC and the state health department. A search warrant was executed on March 8 and the radioactive source was safely removed to a secure storage location. The criminal investigation remains ongoing in conjunction with the Saratoga County District Attorney’s office.
Open burning arrest
On Feb. 23, ECO Eric Roderick responded to a Lewis County sheriff’s dispatch call for any available ENCON unit. The dispatch advised of an open burning complaint at a contractor’s residence in the town of Greig. Roderick responded to the address and found a large pile of land clearing debris mixed with some construction debris on fire to the rear of the residence. No one appeared to be at the residence, but Roderick could hear a radio in the detached garage where a light was on in the rear of the building. Roderick looked through a window in the overhead door to see if anyone was in the garage. He didn’t see anyone, but clearly visible on the back wall of the garage was one of DEC operations’ large, 2-foot-by-4-foot, six-board wooden signs for “Drunkard Creek Trailhead Parking” from the town of Watson. Roderick enlisted the help of fellow ECOs Fay Fuerch and Tim Worden. Fuerch watched the house for the return of the owner, while Roderick and Worden prepared the necessary paperwork in case a search warrant was eventually needed. Fuerch advised of the return of the owner and all three ECOs responded to the residence. They made contact with the owner and explained the open burning regulations and the violation that was in progress there. Roderick then directed the owner’s attention to the stolen state sign on the back wall of his garage. The homeowner stated that he’d had the sign since 2000 and that a friend had given it to him. The homeowner voluntarily retrieved the sign and surrendered it to the ECOs. The defendant was charged with open burning and with fifth degree criminal possession of stolen property, a Class A Misdemeanor. Both charges were answerable in the town of Greig Court.
Bass out of season
On Feb. 9, ECOs Jeff Hovey and Mike Phelps were on patrol on Floodwood Road in the town of Santa Clara. The two officers were checking for ice fishing activity on the several ponds accessible from the roadway. The officers observed a vehicle parked near Polliwog Pond, which is a closed trout water. The two officers followed footprints onto Polliwog Pond then over to Follensby Clear Pond, which is open to ice fishing. Hovey saw footprints onto Follensby Clear Pond but no fisherman in sight. He caught some movement along the shoreline to his left and observed a male subject filleting fish on top of his jet sled. When the fisherman saw the officer, he hid something underneath the sled. Hovey approached the subject and found some perch and bass fillets in a bucket and then located two smallmouth bass partially filleted underneath the sled. The two bass were females full off eggs. The fisherman complained that he drove all the way from Plattsburgh to fish for perch but didn’t catch many so he kept the bass. The subject was issued an appearance ticket for taking bass out of season and was set to answer the citation in town of Santa Clara court.
Phelps was on patrol with Hovey at Franklin Falls Pond when he saw three fishermen coming off the ice. After a quick check of their gear and licenses, he asked if they were in possession of any fish in their vehicle. He opened a cooler in their truck and found three filleted bass caught the previous day on Middle Saranac Lake. The owner of the truck was issued a ticket for possessing the bass in a closed season.
Illegal deer, illegal weapons and a squirrel
On Feb. 22, ECO Vernon Fonda received information that illegal wildlife was being harbored in a residence in Rome. After further investigation, Fonda learned that the residence was located in Westmoreland and the animals were a deer and a squirrel. While talking to the complainant, Fonda, with the help of Investigator Michael Dangler, determined there were possible illegal firearms in the home as well as the illegal wildlife. The officers brought the complainant to the Oneida County sheriff’s office. The two agencies worked together and obtained a search warrant for the residence in question. While executing the warrant with ECO Steven Lakeman, Lt. Matthew Jacoby, a number of sheriff’s deputies, Dangler and Fonda found two long guns, one pistol, one white-tailed deer, and one gray squirrel. A convicted felon was charged with criminally possessing a weapon, 4th degree. His wife was also charged with criminally possessing a weapon, 4th degree, for the pistol, illegally possessing protected wildlife, and possessing protected game as a domesticated pet. They were to answer the charges in town of Westmoreland Court.
On Feb. 19, ECO Brett Armstrong responded to a complaint of a subject observed discharging a firearm at domestic dogs in a field of a nearby farm. Upon his arrival the ECO interviewed the responsible subject, who advised that he was protecting his livestock even though the incident occurred on property other than his own. He initially stated he was on foot, in a field, when he discharged his 20-gauge shotgun at the dogs. That initial story did not make sense and when confronted with the abilities of the K-9 partner, Nitro, the man admitted he was seated in his vehicle at the roadside when he shot. He was ultimately charged with possessing a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle and discharging a firearm from or across a public highway. Charges were filed in the Town of New Berlin Court.
In January, ECO Mark Wojtkowiak began following up with a case he originally closed last summer in the town of New Hudson. During one of his patrols, he noticed that a vehicle with North Carolina registration was parked at a mobile home that had contained an illegal wild animal in May 2011. The defendant at that time, a 34-year-old female from North Carolina, was found to be in possession of a marmoset as a pet, a violation of New York’s Fish and Wildlife Law. The defendant met with Wojtkowiak in court, where she paid a civil penalty and signed DEC documents under penalty of perjury acknowledging that she had a permanent residence in North Carolina and that she would be voluntarily taking the animal to that address and never importing regulated species back into New York. On Jan. 30, Wojtkowiak and Calanni visited the same residence, where they were greeted by the same woman. When asked where “Ian” the marmoset was, she stated that it was in her residence. She invited the officers inside, where they documented the animal’s presence again. She now claimed that the animal was a “service animal” for her hearing-impaired son. After confirming with both the U.S. Department of Justice and New York State Attorney General’s Office that monkeys are not “service animals,” the officers went back to the residence on Feb. 1 to attempt to recover the animal and charge the female accordingly. This time, the female met the officers on the porch and stated that she got rid of the animal because she knew they would be back to take him away. Wojtkowiak arrested her for the unlawful possession of a wild animal as pet, failure to comply with a lawful order of a conservation officer, and making a false written statement, a Class A misdemeanor, after she admitted the North Carolina address she provided last summer was not her permanent residence. She refused to provide the officers with information on the animal’s whereabouts throughout the arrest processing. She was arraigned and released on her own recognizance that evening, with strict instructions from the judge that she was to produce the animal and relinquish it to the DEC
On Feb. 7, Wojtkowiak met the suspect and her public defender in court for her first pre-trial hearing. Since she still failed to produce the animal, Wojtkowiak arrested her again for obstructing governmental administration in the second degree, a Class A misdemeanor. She was processed and arraigned on this charge and remanded to the Allegany County Jail in lieu of $1,500 cash bail or $3,500 bond. The defendant now faces fines and imprisonment. The charges are pending in New Hudson Town Court.
“Wait, don’t shoot!”
In January, ECO N. Ver Hague learned that an individual had taken a “nice buck” during the firearms season in December 2011. This was surprising to Ver Hague due to the fact that the individual was ticketed by him the previous year during the “Operation Dark Knight” poaching enforcement detail for operating a spotlight while in possession of a gun and bow. Due to this offense, as well as a previous one, the suspect’s hunting privileges were revoked for two years (the 2011-12 and 2012-13 hunting seasons) and he should not have been out hunting. Upon further investigation, Ver Hague learned that the rack was at a local taxidermist waiting to be mounted. Ver Hague went to the taxidermist and seized the rack as evidence. In early February, Ver Hague and ECO Freeman interviewed the suspect and learned he knowingly applied for a license while he was revoked. He stated that he took his girlfriend hunting and that she was about to shoot a doe when he heard a noise coming from the same direction the doe came from. He told his girlfriend, “wait, don’t shoot,” then saw the buck and shot it. He was charged with applying for a license while under revocation, illegally taking protected wildlife and violations of hunting while under revocation and failing to report a deer harvest. He paid $907.50 in penalties and awaits a revocation extension of his hunting privilege.
Snowmobiling while intoxicated
On Feb. 4, ECOs Jeff Hovey, Keith Kelly, John Blades, Dan Malone, and Kevin Riggs were assigned to patrol the Northern Challenge Ice Fishing Tournament on Simon Pond, Tupper Lake. The tournament was a large event, with more than 1,000 people on the pond. Kelly observed a snowmobile operating on the pond displaying an expired registration. The officers decided to approach the snowmobile, which was being operated by an adult male with a young male passenger. The snowmobile appeared to avoid the officers and sped down the pond. Hovey followed the snowmobile with his assigned patrol snowmobile and conducted a compliance check when the operator stopped the snowmobile to change direction of travel. Hovey noticed a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on the operator’s breath and his speech was slurred and his motor skills seemed impaired. After completing a standard field sobriety test, the subject was placed under arrest for operating a snowmobile while intoxicated and taken to the Tupper Lake state police barracks for processing. His blood alcohol contest was found to be .19 percent and he was charged with operating a snowmobile while intoxicated, operating a snowmobile with a blood alcohol contest greater than .08 percent, reckless operation of a snowmobile, operating a snowmobile without insurance, and operating an unregistered snowmobile.
He was scheduled to appear in the town of Tupper Lake Court to answer the charges.
Flat ice/swift water training
On Feb. 29 and March 9, ECOs received flat ice and swift water rescue training from Region 5 forest rangers in Newcomb. The training was well presented and well received by the ECOs attending. The main focus was upon the safety of first responders and included donning immersion suits and going through the ice as a practical exercise.
Southern District highlights
Auto crimes detail
On Feb. 8, Officer Neil Stevens and Michael Mat participated in a joint detail with the NYPD’s Auto Crimes unit in the 67th and 69th precincts of Brooklyn. The officers joined up with NYPD Det. F. Lindsey and focused inspection on automobile repair shops, paint shops and dismantlers. During the detail, the officers issued a total of 19 summonses. Summonses ranged from operation of an air contaminant source without a permit, no FDNY permits for air compressors or torches and no proof of automobile repair shop permit. In addition to the citations, one individual was arrested on an E Felony for automobile dismantling offenses.
On Feb. 10, ECOs Eric Dowling and Nathan Favreau participated in a MARCH (Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots) Detail with FDNY and the New York City Department of Buildings. The ECOs responded to 1322 Commerce Ave. in Bronx County, where a large, three-story boathouse sank, spilling fuel and sewage. FDNY asked for DEC Division of Law Enforcement assistance because the vessel had not been salvaged yet and there were concerns of further environmental impacts. During the investigation, the ECOs identified multiple petroleum bulk storage violations and referred case findings to DEC Region 2 General Counsel.
Largemouth bass in Chinatown
(New York County)
During February 2011, Marine Unit ECOs George Scheer, Kevin Thomas and Jamie Powers were conducting restaurant checks in Manhattan during the Chinese New Year when they came across a restaurant with live largemouth bass in their fish tanks. Being lifelong freshwater fishermen themselves, they easily recognized the fish, although out of place in Manhattan. An employee of the restaurant, knowing they were illegal, tried scooping them out into a plastic bag before the officers noticed. This action didn’t fly under the radar and Powers grabbed the bag. After questioning the workers, the officers found that a nearby market had sold them the fish. As the three fish markets lining the street were packed with people, the officers split up and inspected each market. Powers quickly discovered a few fish in the second market that were being offered for sale and confiscated them. Thomas took a walk through another store and saw nothing out of the ordinary until he noticed an employee come out of the back alleyway. When he looked into the alley, he noticed an open door leading down into a basement, where he saw fish totes and large cement tubs with water in them. The tubs were filled with over 290 pounds of live largemouth bass. The manager of the market admitted the bass were his and said he sells them for the New Year. The case was brought to the attention of the marine unit Lt. Francisco Lopez, and is currently under review for an administrative settlement. On a good note, the Bowery Mission received over 300 pounds of fresh bass to feed the homeless and needy that night. A seafood company eventually settled by a consent order in the sum of $3,500 for the violation of illegally possessing black bass for sale. This was after many months of obtaining valuable information on the suppliers and distributors of the fish.
“You caught me”
On Feb. 23 at approximately 6:30 p.m., ECO Joshua Sulkey received a phone call about a suspicious person going into the Nissequogue River. The caller described the person as best as possible and also advised where the suspect’s truck was parked and where he last saw the person enter the river. The caller stated that the truck was there the night before as well and that it didn't belong in the area. Sulkey arrived shortly thereafter, finding the truck. After a quick check of the registration, Sulkey stayed in the shadows along the dark, unlit river, searching for the suspect. As he did so he contacted ECO Tim Fay to assist. The ECOs met up shortly thereafter and continued their search. The ECOs knew the individual would not have much more time to collect oysters since the tide was rapidly coming in. At about 11:30 p.m., Sulkey heard somebody walking in the water. Staying still near the treeline on shore, he watched as the individual walked close by him and back toward his truck. Fay saw him get into his truck and start it up. The ECOs heard the truck stop; a late-night runner was passing through at the same time so the ECOs were able to keep pace with him to catch the shell fisherman before he could take off. The ECOs heard the runner yell at the shell fisherman, “You know what you're doing is illegal?!” Before he could respond, Sulkey reached the vehicle, apprehending the driver. Upon questioning by the ECOs, the individual admitted to everything. He simply stated, “You caught me.” He had his previous night’s catch with him as well and told the ECOs that they were from the river, too. He possessed 800 oysters, which were confiscated and returned into the water. He was issued five citations for possessing shellfish from uncertified waters, taking shellfish at night and failing to have a shellfish digger's license; all misdemeanors carrying penalties of up to $1,000 each and a year in jail.
On Feb. 8, ECO Mark Simmons accompanied Suffolk County Police Department motor carrier units and state Department of Transportation personnel on the Long Island Expressway for a day of truck enforcement. Simmons issued four citations for violations such as leaking exhausts, leaking engine oil and leaking hydraulic fluids. During the inspections, there were numerous trucks put out of service for various reasons, such as faulty brakes, bald tires and broken suspensions. There were also numerous tractor-trailers which were found to be overweight. With multiple agency enforcement and expertise, the detail successfully removed several unsafe trucks from the highway.
Rescue technician training
During the month of December 2011, ECO Scott Daly attended a 30-hour rescue technician training class. The Averill Park Fire Department hosted the class. The course is a prerequisite for the water rescue operations and the swift water rescue classes. During the floods associated with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, Daly conducted many water rescues. Based on those experiences it was determined that additional training in this field would be invaluable for ECOs to have and Daly volunteered to initiate the pilot project. Students spent a great deal of time learning rescue rope management, practicing knot-tying skills and learning victim care and packaging. Students also performed a low-angle rescue scenario utilizing main and belay rescue lines. Daly plans on taking the water rescue operation class this spring.