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Virginia Conservation Police Notebook

January 29 – February 11, 2020

To increase awareness of Conservation Police Officers (CPO’s-previously called game wardens) activities, the “Virginia Conservation Police Notebook” provides an overview of activities encountered by our officers who protect natural resources and people pursuing outdoor recreation in the fields, woods and waters of Virginia. These reports are prepared from the officer’s field notes by Kim McCarthy, Executive Assistant to Major Scott Naff [Operations] and Major Bryan Young [Administration] of the Law Enforcement Division of DGIF. These CPO reports show the value of concerned citizens, landowners and true sportsmen in providing tips to law enforcement officers on suspected violations by lawbreakers who give other outdoor enthusiasts an undeserved bad reputation.

Region I – Tidewater

Trout Fishing Debacles – On January 18, 2020 CPO Brandon Robinson received a call for service from an anonymous caller regarding an angler who frequently fishes Shield’s Lake in Richmond, which is part of the urban trout fishery.  In the call for service, there was a link to the angler’s Youtube channel. While watching his Youtube videos, CPO Robinson was able to detect several violations. The first video was dated 1/14/20. The video showed the angler netting a 21” rainbow trout swimming near the surface of the water.  In the video, the angler stated that he knew it was illegal to catch the fish in the net, but he wanted to eat it. While watching another video dated 12/22/19, the fishermen foul hooked a brown trout and failed to release the fish back into the lake, and again stated that he knew it was illegal to creel this fish. It was also determined the angler did not purchase a trout license until 1/09/20. While speaking to the fishermen, he admitted to fishing at Shields Lake several times before purchasing a trout license. In the same video, recorded on 12/22/19, the fishermen told his viewers that “not only did they need a freshwater fishing license, but they also needed a trout license” to fish at the lake, even though at the time he did not possess a valid trout license himself.   Appropriate charges were placed.

Waterfowl Hunter Caught Killing Seagull – On January 26, 2020, CPO Chambers was on patrol at Back Creek Boat Ramp in York County when he heard shooting coming from up the creek. From the end of the pier, he observed a decoy spread and two hunters standing on the shore in a small blind made from brush. Officer Chambers observed the hunters for about an hour making notes of their actions. The two hunters shot at a number of ducks and geese. Shortly after one of the hunters’ weapons jammed, the other hunter shot and killed a passing seagull. The hunter with the jammed weapon paddled out to the seagull in a kayak, retrieved the bird, and hid it behind the bank away from their blind. CPO Chambers made contact with the hunters who initially lied about hunting and shooting the seagull. After informing them they had been under observation for some time, they became cooperative. The hunter who shot the seagull did not have any hunting licenses and also had an unplugged shotgun. The other hunter did not have his hunting license and did not have a PFD for the kayak they were using to get to the blind.  Both hunters were trespassing as well. Multiple charges were placed for the license and hunting violations.

Waterfowl Hunters Charged with Numerous Violations after the Season Ends – On January 31, 2020, CPO Brian Bratton and Sergeant Garvis launched their 19’ patrol boat for one last evening waterfowl patrol of the 2019-2020 season.   With 20 minutes remaining in the season they observed a boat come from the boat ramp and head up into the large coastal bay marshes of Jobes Island.  From the close of the season, at 1725 hours, the officers observed the boat occupants attempt to take migratory waterfowl after legal shooting hours, shooting under power of the outboard motor and trespassing to hunt.  At this point, the officers set up to intercept the hunters as they returned to the boat ramp.  They observed the boat approach their position well after sunset operating without the required navigation lights.  After stopping the boat the officers found that the occupants were in possession of lead shot and one hunter had a shotgun capable of holding more than 3 shells.  CPO Bratton was well acquainted with the two individuals as he had apprehended both of them in the same area for placing and hunting migratory waterfowl with the aid of bait and trespassing in November.   Federal charges are pending, most likely to be combined with the already pending case from November.

CPO Catches Poachers Shooting Snow Geese from the Road – On January 31, 2020, CPO Machen received information that an individual had shot into a flock of snow geese feeding close to Seaside Rd. in Northampton County.  The caller provided a picture of the vehicle that included the tag number.  Using this information, CPOs Machen and Pennino developed and located the suspect.  CPO Pennino was familiar with the individual as well as with other family members as they were involved in hunting violations earlier in the season.  During the field interview the suspect admitted to running out into the field, while carrying his shotgun to retrieve a snow goose. However, he would not admit to shooting the goose.  Based on evidence collected, charges are pending for trespassing to hunt and shooting from the road.

Snow Geese Shot from Moving Vehicle – The next afternoon CPO Machen was on patrol in the same area and observed a flock of approximately 3,000 snow geese again feeding in the wheat field very close to the Seaside Rd.  CPO Machen took up a concealed observation post and waited.  After approximately 1 hour, Machen observed a pickup truck traveling north on the Seaside Rd. As the truck approached the field where the geese were feeding, he observed the passenger window of the truck go down, a barrel of a firearm come out and heard several gun shots.  CPO Machen noted this all occurred while the tuck was still traveling approximately 30 to 40 mph.  Due to the speed the vehicle was travelling and the distance CPO Machen had to travel to get to the road, Officer Machen was unable to stop the suspects before they left the immediate area. At this point, CPO Machen returned to his hiding spot convinced the suspects would return.  They did and CPO Machen was able to get their vehicle stopped.  During the field interview both suspects confessed and admitted that they had made a bad mistake by shooting the snow geese from the vehicle.  The appropriate charges were placed.

Region II – Southside

Snagging and Littering – CPOs John Daniel and Andrew Howald worked a special operation on a trout stream in Amherst County after a stocking in late January.  They observed an angler, whom they were familiar with, snag a good-sized trout, and upon reeling it in, claim that he had foul hooked it, did not mean to, and was not going to keep it; however, he then turned his back to other anglers and put the trout in his creel.  Before the officers made contact with him, they also observed his fishing partner litter in the stream.  Both men were approached and charges were placed for snagging and littering the public waterways.

CPO’s Assist with Tracking of Suicidal Subject – Campbell County Sheriff’s Office requested DGIF K9 assistance tracking a suicidal subject who had cut himself, thereby leaving a blood trail in the woods.  K9 CPO Richard Howald responded with his partner Skyy long with CPO’s John Daniel and Stephen Ritchie.  The officers began tracking with two Campbell deputies and a Bedford deputy who had his patrol K9.  Shortly into the track, the subject came walking out of the brush, after hearing the dogs, and stated that he was going back home and wasn’t going with anyone.  The Campbell deputies approached him as the CPO’s and Bedford deputy were giving him commands.  CPO Howald had to put him in a control hold to keep him from striking the deputy and then was able to get him handcuffed.  The subject was taken into custody by the deputies and treated by EMS.  No officers were injured in the event.

Region IV – Mountains & Shenandoah Valley and Northern Piedmont

Charges Pending on Multiple Violations – On the evening of Friday, January 31, 2020, Sgt. Rich Goszka and Sr. Officer Mark Sanitra were off duty when they received a call from dispatch in regards to a person placing and hunting over bait in Prince William County. The officers were able to apprehend the suspect leaving the area by vehicle. The suspect confessed to placing the bait and to killing a buck during archery season. The officers followed the suspect to his residence and the buck was seized. Violations discovered were placing bait, hunting without blaze orange, hunting without licenses, failing to check a deer and a CWD importation violation. Charges are pending.

Team Effort Catches Poacher – Districts 41 and 47 worked together to investigate a subject suspected of a multitude of game law violations. Through a variety of investigative techniques, including a search warrant, CPOs collected evidence related to such offenses as trespassing to hunt, exceeding the season limit for deer, hunting during the closed season, etc. This individual has had a detrimental impact on the wildlife resource in multiple counties, and is well known for violations in multiple districts. This lengthy, on-going investigation will serve to conserve and protect our wildlife in the future.

Cane Toad Licking – On Saturday, February 2, 2020, Master CPO Ray Solomon responded to information provided by the Prince William County Animal Control in regards to the illegal possession of exotic wildlife. The investigation revealed that the Prince William County Police responded to a disturbance in a neighborhood. When the police arrived a 20 year old male was acting disorderly. The police had the male transported to the hospital as he was acting as if he was under the influence of a drug. The man was very incoherent and combative even breaking the restraints. Police discovered that he recently purchased two cane toads and may have licked them to get high. Bufotenin, one of the chemicals excreted by the cane toad, is classified as a controlled substance. The effects of bufotenin are thought to be similar to those of mild poisoning; the stimulation, which includes mild hallucinations, lasts less than an hour. As the cane toad excretes bufotenin in small amounts, and other toxins in relatively large quantities, toad licking could result in serious illness or death.  Solomon interviewed the suspect’s father who voluntarily surrendered the two cane toads after he was informed they were illegal to possess in Virginia. The toads were purchased online and shipped from Florida. A charge is pending.

Great Horned Owl Recovered – On February 4th, 2020, DGIF was contacted by the Prince William Animal Control regarding an owl that was observed in a dog kennel in the backyard of a residence. Based on information provided Officer Eric Plaster, a search warrant was obtained for the property.  On February 5th Officer Plaster, Sr. Officer Sanitra and biologist Joran Green executed the search warrant. A great horned owl was recovered from a dog pen. The owl was transported to a wildlife rehabilitation center for evaluation. The investigation is ongoing.

  • February 28, 2020