Amendment to gut deputies’ powers

Lancaster, Pa. – Lancaster County Republican state Sen. Gibson
Armstrong is taking aim at the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s corps
of deputy wildlife conservation officers.

The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 2
proposed an amendment to a House bill that would strip away most of
the deputies’ powers.

“It would basically eviscerate our deputy program,” said Jerry
Feaser, spokesman for the Game Commission.

When the state Legislature ended its summer session July 4
without acting on Armstrong’s amendment, he vowed to pursue the
issue through the last months of the year, which will be his last
in office. Armstrong, who has served the past 24 years as a state
senator, is retiring at the end of the year.

Armstrong’s July 2 amendment to House Bill 747 was offered the
day after his son, Kristian B. Armstrong, 37, of Airville, pleaded
guilty to a series of charges stemming from an encounter he had
with deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer Llewellyn Kauffman on
Dec. 1, 2007, in Lower Chanceford Township, York County.

“These deputies have too much power,” Sen. Armstrong said. “They
can arrest anyone, anywhere, at any time, and they’re not
professionals.

“They’re cowboys with guns.”

Sen. Armstrong said he purposely waited until after his son’s
case was resolved before offering his amendment so it wouldn’t
appear he was trying to put pressure on anyone to have the charges
against his son withdrawn.

According to a police affidavit, Kauffman was on patrol Dec. 1,
the first Saturday during the state’s two-week, firearms deer
season, when the deputy came upon two vehicles stopped on Zimmerman
Road.

In one vehicle was David Anderson, who owns the property on both
sides of Zimmerman Road, the affidavit states, and in the other
were Armstrong and an unidentified passenger.

Kauffman told the men he wanted to check their hunting licenses
and firearms, the affidavit states, at which time Armstrong told
Kauffman the men were not hunting.

The affidavit says Kauffman asked if the men had any firearms in
their vehicles, and Armstrong replied they did not. When Kauffman
walked past the window of Armstrong’s vehicle, the affidavit says,
the deputy spotted a rifle in the vehicle, sitting next to the
passenger.

The affidavit says Kauffman asked the men if the rifle was
loaded, and Armstrong told him the men were on private property,
while the passenger told Kauffman the rifle was loaded. As Kauffman
walked around the vehicle, the affidavit says, Armstrong drove off
across an adjacent cornfield.

The affidavit does not state what happened at that point. It
next states that Armstrong and two others arrived at the Lower
Windsor Township building and spoke to Game Commission Wildlife
Conservation Officer Guy Hansen, who covers southern York
County.

The affidavit states that Armstrong refused to identify the
passenger in his vehicle, other than to say it was his
brother-in-law, and refused to give his own middle name. When told
he could be charged for “refusing to give (identification) as
required,” the affidavit states, Armstrong asked how much the fine
would be and then refused again “to provide the required personal
information … .”

Armstrong then “terminated the interview without giving any
further personal information,” the affidavit says.

According to court documents, Armstrong pleaded guilty July 1
before District Judge Douglas Meisenhelter, of Red Lion, to the
summary offenses of disorderly conduct, resisting or interfering
with an officer, failure to produce identification to an officer
and driving away to avoid an inspection. Armstrong was fined nearly
$1,300 for the offenses.

Although he pleaded guilty to four offenses, Armstrong said the
“whole story is a 100-percent fabrication.”

He said he pleaded guilty “for economic reasons” only. Armstrong
said having charges pending against him prevented him from gaining
licenses for his insurance-management company over the past seven
months, which kept him from doing business with certain
clients.

“Financially, I couldn’t afford to have this case keep dragging
on,” he said.

Armstrong maintains he was not hunting on Dec. 1 – he said he
was patrolling his own property with a rifle, looking for
trespassing hunters – and that the deputy had no right to inspect
his vehicle or to see his identification.

Armstrong said he drove across his neighbor’s cornfield while
Kauffman was on the scene to get to his own property.

“Basically what happened is, I didn’t give this guy (Kauffman)
the time of day, and he flipped out,” Armstrong said.

House Bill 747, to which Sen. Armstrong attached his amendment
July 2, was introduced by several state representatives in March
2007. The bill is designed to allow the Game Commission to sell
elk-hunting licenses at auction each year. The bill was approved by
the House in May 2007 by a vote of 196-1.

It was sent to the state Senate Game and Fisheries Committee
that same month and then, after an amendment was offered that made
stipulations on how the proceeds from the sale of the licenses were
to be used, it was put before the Senate for consideration in
February.

In March, the bill was referred to the Senate Appropriations
Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Armstrong. On July 2, the bill
was sent back to the full Senate for consideration, along with the
amendment offered by Armstrong.

Under Sen. Armstrong’s amendment, deputy wildlife conservation
officers would no longer be allowed to:

€ Go on any property outside of buildings, posted or otherwise,
in the performance of the officer’s duty;

€ Stop and inspect or search vehicles;

€ Inspect and examine or search any person or means of
transportation or its attachments or occupants, or any clothing
worn by any person or any bag, clothing or container;

€ Inspect and examine or search at any time any camp, tent,
cabin or trailer when the officer presents identification and
states the purpose of the search; and

€ Operate any vehicle owned or leased by the state for law
enforcement purposes that’s equipped with flashing lights and a
siren.

Deputy wildlife conservation officers now perform all these
functions.

Sen. Armstrong declined to talk in detail about his son’s case
but said the Game Commission “piled on the charges” in order to
“force (his son) into a box.”

In a telephone interview, Sen. Armstrong repeatedly referred to
deputy officers as “cowboys,” “wanna-be state troopers” and
“unprofessional.” Sen. Armstrong said deputies “should only be
allowed to enforce the game laws – nothing else.”

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