Charges dropped in shooting of black bear

Coshocton, Ohio – Just hours before it was scheduled for a jury
trial, prosecutors dismissed the case against a Coshocton County
man charged with killing an endangered black bear.

But, the defendant will still pay $1,000 for killing the bear,
an endangered species in Ohio.

On Dec. 16, Coshocton Police Prosecutor James R. Skelton asked
Municipal Judge Timothy L. France to dismiss criminal charges
against John C. Tanksley of rural Bakersville. The case was set for
jury trial on Dec. 17.

Tanksley was charged with shooting a black bear outside his home
in the early morning hours of July 23 (Ohio Outdoor News, Aug. 15).
Killing a black bear is a first-degree misdemeanor in Ohio.

If convicted, Tanksley faced a possible $1,000 fine, a year in
jail and loss of the 300 Winchester magnum bolt-action shotgun used
to shoot the animal three times.

In return for dismissal of the criminal case, Tanksley will pay
$1,000 in restitution to the DNR Division of Wildlife for the bear,
according to a statement from defense attorney Ryan Styer of
Newcomerstown. State officials were ordered to return Tanksley’s
shotgun, which had been held as evidence.

At a pre-trial hearing in September, Tanksley refused a similar
plea bargain, but apparently reconsidered as the trial date
approached.

“I really believe a jury would have seen things my way, but I
can’t complain if the prosecutor dismisses the charge,” Tanksley
said in the statement from his attorney. “I would have had to pay
my attorney more to try the case than I have to pay the wildlife
officials for the restitution.”

In September, Styer argued that his client had no criminal
intent and was merely using reasonable force in defending his home
and property against the bear. He also noted that his client
reported the incident to authorities instead of hiding the
encounter.

“We were very eager to try the case,” Styer said. “But the state
offered a deal that John simply could not refuse. The charge is
dismissed with no cost to John other than to pay the statutory
restitution amount.”

According to court documents, the bear, a 2-year-old weanling,
was apparently attracted to an open trash barrel near the house.
Tanksley told wildlife officers he awoke about 2 a.m. to find his
dog involved in an altercation with the bear. He said the bear
returned to the yard three times, despite repeated attempts to
drive it away. Tanksley estimated it was about 7 yards away when he
fired his shotgun.

However, wildlife officials didn’t buy that argument completely.
Their report said Tanksley said he probably talked himself into
shooting the bear and was merely “caught up in the excitement of
the whole thing …”

“If he (Tanksley) had waited four or five more seconds, he would
have realized that the bear would just take off. Maybe he shot too
fast,” the report noted.

At the September hearing, Division of Wildlife officer
supervisor Bryan Postlethwait said it was the division’s
responsibility to protect the resource – in this case, an Ohio
endangered species.

“We have to be responsible to everyone in the state,”
Postlethwait said.

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