New York Outdoor News Cuffs & Collars – May 15, 2020
(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.)
DEC personnel from across agency divisions and the state are supporting the state’s response to COVID-19. Personnel from more than 20 New York State agencies are working on response efforts to stop the spread of this virus. ECOs have been responding to the pandemic at various test centers throughout the state. ECOs have been mobilized for a variety of roles such as Incident Command System functions, technical services like fit testing, and site security.
Not an Alligator
On April 27 at 9:45 a.m., ECOs responded to reports of a possible alligator siting at Steinmetz Park in Schenectady. The ECOs canvassed the park for signs of an alligator and found none. With the aid of binoculars, the responding officers observed a large common snapping turtle with a 16-inch carapace/shell just below the surface of the water, which could have been mistaken as an alligator swimming. A second canvass of the pond’s edge revealed no tracks along the shoreline. The Schenectady Police Department has set up a portable camera pole overlooking the pond for future continuous observation. Area residents should call the DEC Law Enforcement Dispatch Center at 1-844-DEC-ECOs (1-844-332-3267) to report any additional sightings.
Snowvoc Training 2020
During Feb. 24 to 28, ECO John Helmeyer and fellow Emergency Vehicle Operator Course instructors conducted two snowmobile operator courses at the Department of Law Enforcement Training Academy in Pulaski. The 16 hours of training included classroom work, field exercises, and a final day trail ride. Twenty-six people attended the training with officers from DLE, New York State Police, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, Oneida County Sheriff’s Office, and Cayuga County Sheriff’s Office.
K9 Deming Will Find You, and Your Evidence
On Feb. 24, Freddy DeGroat, of Port Jervis, paid civil penalties in the Town of Lumberland Court stemming from a hunting incident that occurred at Glen Spey. On Nov. 9, 2019, ECOs Ricky Wood and Tom Koepf responded to Glen Spey to check on a previously observed baited treestand. While monitoring the baited stand, ECO Wood observed DeGroat and another man, later identified as Mark Muller, of Sparrowbush, entering the woods with a bow and gun just prior to sunset. After waiting nearly an hour for the hunters to return, ECOs Wood and Koepf spoke with the property owner for further information and ECO Wood deployed K9 Deming. K9 Deming ran a track from DeGroat’s vehicle through the woods, past the baited stand, and located a dead and field dressed spike buck, the associated gut pile, and a rifle hidden under a tree. After ECOs Wood and Koepf secured the evidence, K9 Deming continued to track through the woods to where the hunters appeared to have been picked up by a vehicle along the roadway. The ECOs eventually made phone contact with DeGroat and seized his bow before meeting with him and Muller the following day. On Nov. 10, 2019, ECO Wood charged DeGroat with unlawfully taking protected wildlife, hunting deer with the aid of bait, and failing to tag deer as required. ECO Koepf charged Muller with possessing a firearm while bow hunting and taking protected wildlife. In total, the unlawful hunters paid $1,815 in penalties, and the illegal deer was donated.
The Trees Have Eyes
On Feb. 4, two men entered guilty pleas in connection with the illegal taking of deer. On Nov. 4, 2018, ECO Michael Hameline received an anonymous complaint of an illegally taken deer in the town of Mamakating, Sullivan County. It was reported that a deer was taken with a rifle during bow-crossbow season with the aid of bait. The complaint included a trail camera picture showing an ATV with a deer on the rear rack and the operator carrying a rifle. Upon arrival to the area, ECO Hameline located an ATV matching the trail camera photo that was still warm with fresh blood on it. ECO Hameline attempted to canvass the area for witnesses without success. ECO Ricky Wood and K9 Deming were called in to assist with evidence collection. The officers followed a blood trail along an ATV trail to a baited treestand. Blood samples were taken from the baited stand and the back of the ATV for future analysis. K9 Deming, trained in shell case detection, was also able to locate a recently fired shell casing at the base of the treestand. In addition, a trail camera facing the stand was seized as evidence. Over the next year, investigators conducted multiple interviews identifying two suspects. A search warrant was obtained, and with the help of the New York State Police Forensic ID Unit, hundreds of deleted images were recovered from the seized trail camera. The collected blood samples were sent to DEC’s Wildlife Health Unit for forensic comparison, which confirmed that the blood recovered from the baited stand and the ATV were from the same deer. With the help of ECO Wood, K9 Deming, NYSP, DEC WHU, and the overwhelming evidence, Joseph Sabatello, of Wurstboro, and Michael Zielinski, of Hopewell Junction, plead guilty to charges. Sabatello, identified as the primary offender, was fined $2,517.50; Zielinski, his accomplice, was fined $1,910. With a DNA restitution fee of $450, the men were fined a total of $4,877.50.
No Precautions, Work Stopped, Fine Paid (St. Lawrence County)
On March 23, ECO Mike Sherry was patrolling along the St. Lawrence River in the town of Morristown at 295 River Road when he observed several construction vehicles. He noted that the company was working on the riverbank. Officer Sherry met the owner and operator of the company to check compliance with permits and regulations. The site inspection showed material had been placed into the river and no precautions were taken to prevent contamination of the water. Sediment and about 100 feet of crushed stone had been deposited into the St. Lawrence River along the shoreline and the owner acknowledged that he knew he needed to place silt screen, but said it was in his other truck. With the violations noted, ECO Sherry stopped work on the site, took photos, and issued the owner an administrative summons. The violation resulted in a $1,000 penalty under consent.
Sewer System Failure
On April 5, ECOs Colton Garrand and Darren Milliron were on patrol and observed flooding at an exit ramp on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens County. New York City Department of Environmental Protection inspectors informed the ECOs that a sewage line had broken and that waste was pouring onto the roadway, causing hazardous conditions as contaminants entered a nearby drain. ECOs Garrand and Milliron used dye tablets to trace the path of the untreated wastewater after it entered the sewage drain. The ECOs determined the wastewater was running directly into Flushing Meadows Park and emptying into Willow Lake, a freshwater pond. ECO Brent McCarthy arrived on scene to assist with traffic control until the sewage line waste was diverted off the highway. DEC’s Division of Water was notified and will be following up with the city for cleanup. NYCDEP hired a contractor and the leak has been fixed.
Bald Eagle Found On Train Tracks
On April 22, ECO Brent McCarthy responded to a report of a bald eagle found on the tracks by a railway worker in Queens County. ECO McCarthy had recently taken the track safety training and was able to retrieve the eagle from the Long Island Railroad’s Sunnyside Yard. The bald eagle was originally believed to have been hit by a train but its feet were charred, suggesting it may have been electrocuted. A necropsy will be conducted by the State Wildlife Pathology Lab and the data collected will contribute to scientists’ research of eagles in New York.