(Editor’s note: A criminal charge is merely an allegation that a defendant has committed a violation of the criminal law, and it is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the state of New York’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.)
Bass poachers plead guilty
On Dec. 3, three Brooklyn men pleaded guilty in Hurley Town Court to charges including the taking of black bass out of season and illegal commercialization of protected wildlife. On April 26, ECOs Jason Smith and Lucas Palmateer charged the men at the Ashokan Reservoir after finding them with 35 smallmouth bass affixed to a stringer and hidden on the shoreline. Two of the defendants’ vehicles were fitted with “live tanks” to transport the fish, with one vehicle registered to a retail fish market in New York City. All three men were also charged with failing to wear personal flotation devices and trespassing; one of the individuals was charged with fishing without a license. The men paid $2,425 in total fines and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection revoked access passes and boat permits for all three individuals.
Injured bald eagle rescued
On Dec. 14, ECOs Ronald Gross and Joshua Crain responded to Letchworth State Park in Wyoming County to rescue an injured bald eagle from the edge of the gorge. The ECOs were aided by a New York State Parks Police officer. The eagle was transported to Cornell University Wildlife Health Services, where it was diagnosed with a broken wing. The eagle is receiving treatment and expected to be rehabilitated and released in approximately three months.
Justice served in the strangest way
On Jan. 4, 2019, ECO Jason Smith and Investigator Josh Sulkey were in Wawarsing investigating an unrelated deer hunting complaint when they observed a man in the passenger seat of a vehicle turning into a residence. The officers, recognizing the man from a trail camera photo from a previous trespassing case, stopped and confronted the man and questioned him about the incident. In August 2018, the officers received a complaint from a landowner and bowhunter in the town of Wawarsing regarding a subject trespassing on posted property. The landowner provided several trail camera photographs of the suspect, which Smith showed to neighboring landowners and other local law enforcement, but no one could identify the man. The man in the vehicle admitted to being the subject in the photo and was issued a summons for trespassing on posted property, returnable to Wawarsing Town Court.
On Jan. 4, 2019, ECO John Gates was called to assist the Webb Police Department, Old Forge EMS and DEC Forest Rangers in the rescue of an injured hiker on the top of Bald Mountain in northern Herkimer County. Gates accompanied Forest Ranger Greg Hoag on the hike to the top of the icy mountain. Gates carried medical supplies and blankets and assisted Hoag in removing logs and branches along the trail that would slow the rescue. When the two arrived at the top, they assisted EMS, forest rangers, and police personnel in stabilizing the patient before the trip down the frozen, rocky trail. The patient was loaded into a rescue sled and slowly carried to the trailhead. At many points during the trip, rescue personnel employed ropes and pulley systems to carefully guide the victim down in a controlled descent. The group arrived at the bottom of the mountain about 90 minutes after leaving the summit. The patient was transported via ambulance to a hospital in Utica for further treatment.
Dumping complaint leads to illegal deer (Niagara County)
On Jan. 4, 2019, ECO George Scheer responded to a complaint that someone had dumped several deer carcasses in the city of Lockport. During the investigation, and based on his wildlife forensics training, Scheer identified one of the carcasses as being only a few days old and that it had been shot on site over bait and with a crossbow. He determined that the carcasses were being used as bait for coyotes. Scheer identified a suspect who was subsequently interviewed and confirmed the evidence. After admitting to shooting the deer over bait on Dec. 30, 2018, 12 days after the season had closed, the individual was charged with hunting deer out of season and hunting deer over bait.
Stuck in the mud and trespassing
On Jan. 5, 2019, ECO Dustin Osborne met a complainant in the town of Franklin regarding an abandoned vehicle found on posted property. The vehicle appeared to have been ‘off-roading’ while trespassing on multiple properties and was stuck in the woods. The complainant also had trail camera photos of the vehicle in late September and early October of 2018. Osborne determined that the registration was recently surrendered but the previous owner lived nearby. Osborne located the person responsible for leaving the vehicle on the complainant’s property, issued summonses for trespassing on two different properties, and ensured the vehicle was removed.
Solid evidence foils poachers
DNA and video evidence helped settle a case on Jan. 5, 2019 that involved four individuals who illegally shot two deer in the town of Sidney. On Sept. 1, 2018, ECO Tim Card received a call at 3 a.m. reporting a deer jacking. The complainant had discovered fresh blood in the middle of the road and followed a blood trail for a mile to a house where he believed the deer had been taken. Card arrived to find no one at home. He contacted ECO Nathan Doig and ECO Vern Bauer with K-9 Woods for assistance. Bauer worked K-9 Woods in the area of the residence and located DNA evidence. Card gathered additional DNA evidence and took detailed pictures of the scene. Meanwhile, Doig contacted the property owner, who stated he had rented the house out to a group for the weekend. Doig and Bauer reviewed hours of video footage from a security camera at the house and retrieved blood samples from inside the residence. The DNA evidence was submitted to DEC’s Wildlife Pathology Lab, confirming that two deer were actually killed and that the blood from inside the house matched the blood in the roadway. In October, Doig and Bauer interviewed the primary suspect at his residence in Ozone Park, Queens. After additional interviews, a total of four individuals were charged with 10 Environmental Conservation Law charges. The case was settled in Sidney Town Court with the four subjects paying more than $2,500 in total penalties.
Unsafe target shooting
On Dec. 29, 2018. ECO Don Damrath received a call from a couple hunting on the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area in the town of Lysander. The hunters told Damrath they were pursuing pheasants with their Labrador retriever when they heard gunshots and ricocheting bullets. The ricochets were close enough that the hunters ducked for cover and headed back to their vehicle. From the parking area, the couple observed two men shooting a handgun at a target hung on a tree. The only backstop was another group of trees, and the shots were being fired in the direction where the couple had been hunting. The couple were able to write down a vehicle registration before the two target shooters drove away. Damrath called ECO Rick Head for assistance and after taking statements and collecting evidence, the officers tracked down the shooters in the city of Syracuse. The two men readily admitted to target shooting at the trees, using a permitted 9 mm handgun. The shooters also admitted that they did not consider the insufficiency of their backstop, nor that the bullets could ricochet or pose a danger to hunters using the property. Damrath charged each shooter with unlawfully damaging vegetation on a Wildlife Management Area. In addition, Damrath provided brief instruction on firearms safety and encouraged the shooters to join a gun club.
Three relatives charged
ECOs, working in conjunction with the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office, arrested three individuals on Jan. 2, 2019 who were allegedly involved in a hunter-related shooting incident that caused damage to a home on River Road in the town of Mount Morris. One individual, from Greece, New York, was charged with tampering with evidence, providing a false written statement, failing to carry tags afield while hunting, and discharging a firearm over a public highway. Two others, both of Greece, were charged with tampering with evidence, providing a false written statement, and failing to carry tags afield while hunting. On Dec. 1, 2018, a homeowner contacted 911 after a bullet passed through a window and lodged in a wall of their residence. Orleans County sheriff’s deputies and ECOs were able to identify and locate a group of hunters that had fired at some deer across the street from the address. An investigation alleges that one individual fired the shot that passed over River Road and struck the residence. In an effort to conceal their actions, the three subjects allegedly tampered with physical evidence at the scene and provided false statements to investigating deputies and ECOs. The subjects were arraigned at the Livingston County Jail Central Arraignment Part and released to appear at a later date. In addition to the criminal charges, the shooter was facing the loss of his hunting privileges for a five-year period.
Dumping asbestos on a WMA
On Jan. 3, 2019, ECOs charged a man for dumping asbestos-laden materials on state land after a seven-month-long investigation. The man, from Albion, was arrested on felony charges of endangering public health, safety, or the environment in the 3rd degree, a class “E” Felony, as well as a violation level charges of unlawfully disposing of solid waste in Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area in the town of Alabama. In May 2018, ECO Gary Wilson was notified of an illegal dump site on Klossen Road. Wilson investigated the dump site and immediately notified the DEC Spills unit and investigators with DEC’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation unit. Investigators from DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement’s Environmental Forensics Unit and the state Department of Labor’s Asbestos Control Team assisted with the case. DEC Spills unit hired a contractor to clean up and remove the hazardous debris, which was brought to a registered facility. Rivers, already in custody on an unrelated charge, was transported to Alabama Town Court for arraignment. The felony charge carries a maximum penalty of up to four years in prison and/or a fine up to $150,000. The violation carries a penalty of up to 15 days in jail and/or a fine of $1,500 to $15,000. DEC was assisted in this case by the State Department of Labor-Asbestos Control Bureau, the U.S. EPA, and New York State Police.
On Dec. 22, 2018, ECO Adam Muchow received a call about an overturned barge in Mill Basin in Kings County. The U.S. Coast Guard requested assistance in determining if there was any sheen on the water, which would indicate an oil spill. No sheen was found initially, but later in the day a sheen was discovered. The U.S. Coast Guard, New York Police Department Harbor Unit, and DEC Spills Unit responded and a large boom was deployed to contain the spill. The following day, Muchow and DEC Spills staff returned to the scene and assessed that another boom was needed to fully contain the spill. The owner is working with DEC Spills and the U.S. Coast Guard to remove the barge.
Christmas gift program
(St. Lawrence County)
On Dec. 22, 2018, ECO Michael Sherry assisted the Brier Hill Volunteer Fire Department with its annual Christmas Gifts and Food to Families event. Sherry has been involved with this program since it began several years ago. Organizer Mary Ellen Mace, along with volunteers in the community, identify families in need during the holiday season and collect donations from various organizations to provide these families with gifts and food. Assisting with delivering donated gifts were members of the New York State Police, St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department, New York Park Police, Morristown Central School Superintendent Doug McQueer, and the Brier Hill Volunteer Fire Department. This year volunteers delivered packages of food to 22 families and Christmas gifts to 64 children.