Traverse City, Mich. — Conservation officers with the DNR might usually be writing tickets for fish overlimits and other seemingly minor violations, but COs often put their lives on the line.
Earlier this month, Richard Radcliffe, 51, of Grawn, was sentenced to 25 to 52 years in prison after he was convicted of shooting at a state conservation officer in April.
Grand Traverse County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power sentenced Radcliffe on Nov. 8 after he was convicted of shooting at CO Sean Kehoe and Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Deputy Kirk Parker.
There were no injuries.
Grand Traverse County prosecutor Bob Cooney told Michigan Outdoor News that Radcliffe was convicted on seven of nine counts, including two counts of assault to commit murder for shooting at Kehoe and Parker, which carries a sentence of up to life in prison, and three counts of felonious assault – a 4-year penalty.
“Also, (committing) a felony with a firearm is a mandatory 2-year prison sentence on top of the other charges,” Cooney said. “And he was convicted of using a firearm in an occupied dwelling after shooting a gun with another person present – a 4-year felony. These are pretty severe.”
Cooney, who prosecuted the case, said officers were dispatched to a mobile home in a Grand Traverse County subdivision in April.
“Neighbors heard a man, Richard Radcliffe, shoot his gun into the ceiling of his house,” Cooney said. “Then, an odd twist, he hit his stepson, who then went outside the trailer in a roadway.”
Cooney said police officers were trying to get Radcliffe to turn himself in by talking to him over the phone, but (Radcliffe) told officers he was outside his home.
“But it was his stepson who was outside the home,” Cooney said. “The defendant was still in the house. At the time, a police officer and two COs were approaching toward the defendant’s house, and they think the target is the stepson outside on the roadway.
“But the defendant (Radcliffe) is now turning to officers in the door as they get in front of his house and the defendant starts blasting an AK-47 military-style assault rifle,” Cooney said. “He shot four times at officers. Bullets passed just inches over the officers’ heads. We know the shots ended up in a trailer across the street. The owner of the trailer said he (heard) bullets going to the left and right of him.”
After Radcliffe fired shots at officers, another sheriff’s deputy at the scene fired six shots at Radcliffe, Cooney said.
“Mr. Radcliffe must have got scared because he came out with hands up,” Cooney said. “The interesting part was how he lured officers in and then opened fire. To me it was premeditated.”
Cooney said it’s times likes these when he appreciates the men and women of the DNR and sheriff’s department who are willing to take risks.
“This was a dangerous situation for them,” he said. “You talk to these guys. It affects their families, too. Kehoe is an excellent conservation officer, top notch. Look at what kind of pay and risk they take. I appreciate it.”
Lt. Dave Shaw of the DNR said he was appreciative of the work of the Grand Traverse Prosecutor’s Office and Michigan State Police, who provided reconstruction of scene.
“It was an appropriate charge and verdict,” Shaw told Michigan Outdoor News. “All of our COs have full jurisdiction. We are well known for natural resource protection, but we do criminal, too.
“Thankfully none of the officers were injured much worse,” Shaw said. “It’s unusual in a sense, but on a daily basis our COs are faced with general law enforcement situations and often help other law enforcement agencies like the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s a dangerous world,” he added. “It’s not just fish and game anymore. They (COs) are full-powered police officers and don’t shy away from community policing.”