April 29 – May 26, 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
CPO Catches Target Shooters Recklessly Handling Firearms – On May 1, 2020, while patrolling Cavalier Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Virginia CPO Chris Smith observed a grey Toyota Tacoma pickup truck parked in a parking lot near the pond on the property where people often go to fish. He didn’t see anyone around the truck, but he observed fishing poles in the bed and assumed the person(s) who came in the truck were fishing. He left the area and drove to the far southwestern corner of the WMA. After about a minute, he heard a single shot from what he thought to be a high-powered rifle. Then he heard several more shots in quick succession. The shots sounded like they were coming from the general area where he had just left the Tacoma, so he quickly returned. On the other side of the pond, out of sight of the truck, Smith found two people who had been target shooting with two 9mm handguns and an AR-15 rifle. Unbeknownst to them, they had been shooting in the direction of the Tacoma that Smith had earlier checked on. The Tacoma was not visible from there, as it was behind grasses that had grown about 8 feet tall. Smith secured the firearms and returned to where the Toyota had been parked. A man and a woman were at the truck. The man, later identified as the truck owner, was on the phone with Chesapeake Police. Luckily the man and woman were not hurt, but the truck had been struck by two bullets that appeared to be caliber .223 or 5.56 mm. Smith retrieved a bullet from the navigation screen on the truck’s dashboard. It had apparently entered near the third brake light, ricocheted off the roof, and lodged in the screen. The other bullet had struck the passenger-side A-pillar near the side-view mirror. Target shooting and the use of centerfire rifles are prohibited on Cavalier WMA. The two shooters were charged with these violations as well as reckless handling of a firearm and destruction of property.
Investigation Spanning Multiple Seasons Leads to Multiple Bait Charges – During the 2019 spring turkey season, CPO Zach Howlett received information on a possible baited area in New Kent County, and he monitored the baited area through the remainder of the 2019 turkey season. Very little hunting activity was observed on the property; however, several areas on the property were being continually replenished with corn on a regular basis.
CPO Howlett continued to monitor the property throughout the 2019-2020 deer season, as well as the 2020 spring turkey season. During this time period, Howlett observed multiple individuals hunting the baited property. Documenting days and times of when suspects were hunting the property, Howlett was able to pattern when most of the activity was occurring. With a solid list of suspects developed and the end of the 2020 spring turkey seasons nearing an end, Howlett set up on a baited site early one weekend morning. At approximately 6:30 am, Howlett observed a subject enter the baited area to turkey hunt. Howlett recognized the subject as the same individual he had seen hunting the area on the opening day of spring turkey season. Howlett observed the subject hunt for several hours and noted when the hunter would call. Howlett even observed the feeder with corn go off right next to the hunter during his hunt.
CPO Howlett contacted the hunter as he began to exit the woods at the conclusion of his hunt. While interviewing the subject, Howlett noticed that the property owner had come out from the house to observe what was happening. After obtaining a statement from the turkey hunter, Howlett began to interview the property owner about the hunting activity that had been occurring behind his house. The owner initially stated that he only kept corn in the feeder when the season was out. He also denied that the other stands on the property were baited. Further questioning from Howlett led to the homeowner ultimately confessing to placing corn at three different stand locations on the property during the hunting season as well as hunting over the baited areas himself.
The yearlong investigation led to two hunters being charged with hunting turkeys over bait and two other individuals being charged with hunting deer over bait, as well as other hunting violations. In addition, the investigation led to a fifth subject being charged with failure to check in a deer. CPO Howlett also learned through his investigation that the fifth subject had moved to New York prior to the end of the deer season. CPO Howlett was able to pass valuable information about the subject’s hunting activity in New York to a New York Conservation Officer. The subject was charged in New York with failure to check two deer in as well as buying a New York resident hunting license while still being a resident of Virginia.
Region II – Southside
Trout Stream Patrol Operation – On March 23, 2020, while on a trout patrol at Jennings Creek in Botetourt County, Senior CPO Michael Morris, observed a group of trout fishermen in possession of a large number of fish. He watched the group and witnessed them catch several more fish over the next 45 minutes. CPO Morris struck up a conversation with two individuals in the group who stated they had only caught one fish each. Just as the group began to leave, CPO Morris identified himself and found one juvenile and one adult in possession of 12 trout; whom he had witnessed continuing to fish after obtaining their daily limit. The other subject present had 9 fish in his possession. Appropriate summons were issued.
Suspect Identified in Hit and Run Boat Incident – On March 27, 2020, CPO Eric Dotterer received a call in reference to a hit and run boat incident on Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin County. Officer Dotterer met with the victim who advised he was under power traveling at a slow rate of speed when an unidentified vessel traveling at high rate of speed veered into his lane of travel and collided with his vessel causing significant damage. The suspect vessel then fled the area. In the days that followed, CPO Dotterer and CPO James Hale investigated several leads and were eventually able to identify the suspect and locate the suspect’s vessel. The appropriate charges have been placed.
Unauthorized Use of a Motorboat – On April 9, 2020, CPO Brett Clawson and CPO Sergeant James Slaughter, responded to Bridgewater Marina to investigate a rental boat which, was missing and had not been returned. Not long after receiving the initial report, CPO Clawson and Sgt. Slaughter were informed that the missing vessel had been located by a Bridgewater Marina Staff member at a different location on the lake. The vessel was in disarray, dirty, and had a wide assortment of items onboard. While inspecting the vessel to make sure it was not damaged, CPO Clawson located drug paraphernalia on board. On April 9th, the marina staff contacted the renter via phone and instructed him to return the boat that evening; however, he did not do so and later stopped answering the phone. Through additional inquiry, officers determined that the individual had not intended to return the vessel that day. Charges were obtained for the individual who rented the vessel and the passenger.
CPO’s Locate Lost Firearm – On April 18, 2020, CPO Eric Dotterer was contacted by a Pennsylvania man who advised he was turkey hunting the area around Philpott Lake, in Franklin County, when his friend’s boat experienced mechanical issues. The hunters hastily loaded their belongings and returned to the boat ramp before traveling back to Pennsylvania. Once the hunter arrived back home he realized he left his firearm on the bank of Philpott Lake. Officer Dotterer and K9 Officer Richard Howald responded to the location and were able to locate the firearm without incident. The firearm has been placed in storage and will be returned to the hunter as soon as possible.
Barricaded Subject – On April 23, 2020, CPO Sergeant James Slaughter and CPO James Hale assisted the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police, with a 28-year-old subject that had barricaded himself inside a storm bunker after shooting at officers attempting to serve warrants on him. During the standoff, the subject discharged a firearm and made additional threats but fortunately, after 10 hours, he was apprehended and held without bond. Thankfully, nobody was injured during the incident.
Closed Season Turkey Poacher – On April 16, 2020, CPO Nick Belotte, on a scheduled day off, received a call from Charlotte County Dispatch about a landowner confronting a trespasser on his property who had killed a hen turkey. Officer Belotte guided sheriff’s office deputies on scene through the incident to collect all pertinent information for an investigation. On April 17th, Officer Kevin Webb, K9 Officer Tyler Blanks, and K9 Bruno, went to the scene to interview the suspect. The officers determined that the suspect saw the turkey, while he was hunting an adjacent property, and then he went onto the complainant landowner’s property to shoot it. It ultimately turned out to be a hen. This also occurred at 6:30pm, which was well after legal shooting hours. K9 Bruno found the shot shell wadding and feathers where the bird was killed, both of which corroborated the suspect and landowner’s story. Appropriate charges are being placed.
By the way, this is K9 Bruno’s first case, congratulations Bruno! See the shot shell wadding beside Bruno’s right foot.
Boating Related Drowning – On April 19, 2020, CPO Eric Dotterer responded to a report of two individuals who possibly drowned while boating on a private pond in Pittsylvania County. Officer Dotterer took command of the scene and coordinated with the Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office, Danville Police Department, Virginia State Police, Henry County Sheriff’s Office, and volunteer Fire & EMS personnel. After an exhaustive two-day search, the bodies of the two individuals were recovered.
Missing Vehicle Extracted from Smith Mountain Lake – On April 25, 2020, CPOs Dale Owens and Leslie Wright assisted the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office with the extraction of a vehicle from Smith Mountain Lake. The vehicle matches the description of one associated with two females from Buena Vista and Rockbridge County who were reported missing the previous week. The investigation is still ongoing and is being coordinated by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
Narcotics Seized from Trespasser – On May 2, 2020, CPO Sgt. Tim Dooley responded to a call in Bedford County in which a landowner confronted a subject who was trespassing. After the initial contact, the subject, who was reportedly intoxicated, disappeared into the nearby woods. K9 Officer Richard Howald responded to provide assistance and the suspect was eventually located. An interview was conducted and the suspect was placed under arrest for public intoxication. A search of the suspect’s belongings revealed a substantial amount of narcotics with a street value of approximately $3,000.
On May 10, 2020, Senior CPO Brandon Harris received a call about an individual shooting a turkey from a public roadway in Brunswick County. CPO Harris responded and spoke with the complainant who reported hearing multiple gunshots coming from the public roadway and then seeing a vehicle driving away. The witness observed a turkey flopping in a field beside the roadway where the shots were from. The vehicle returned, retrieved the turkey, while the witness observed this act.
CPO Harris gathered information and collected evidence. He then went to the suspect’s residence and saw the suspect vehicle there and several individuals standing nearby. After a brief conversation with the vehicle owner, CPO Harris determined that the owner’s juvenile son had used the vehicle. The juvenile denied any wrongdoing until Officer Harris explained to him and his father that evidence suggested otherwise. The juvenile subsequently admitted to shooting the turkey from the driver’s window and from the road. Follow-up investigation revealed that the individual did not have permission to hunt the property and the turkey had not been checked in. Officer Harris recovered turkey parts that had been concealed in a toolbox inside the garage. Appropriate charges will be placed.
Boat Fire Extinguished – On May 24, 2020, CPOs Isaac Boulanger and Eric Dotterer were on boat patrol on Smith Mountain Lake when they observed smoke coming from a vessel and the occupants scrambling to put on life jackets. The officers quickly secured the occupants and their three dogs aboard their patrol boat and utilized their issued fire extinguishers to suppress the fire. Thanks to the CPOs quick action, there were no injuries and damages were minimized.
Region III – Southwest
Illegal Bear Kill – On April 26, 2020, CPO Sgt. Koloda responded to a complaint of a large bear that had been dumped in the national forest near a popular campground in Craig County. The bear had an estimated live weight of 350-400 pounds. Sgt. Koloda was able to locate a small diameter gunshot wound in the bear’s shoulder near the neck. Sgt. Koloda noticed several spots on the bear hide that had been rubbed raw and felt the bear had been dragged to the location. When he walked over to the main road, Sgt. Koloda was able to find small amounts of blood in the roadway. He was able to follow the trail for nearly half a mile when the trail abruptly turned into a yard. Sgt. Koloda spoke with the homeowner who admitted he had killed the bear in the early morning hours and did not call anyone to report it. He stated the bear was getting into his trash cans and he had never seen a bear that big before. The homeowner went back into the house to get his gun and when he returned, the bear ran off about 20 yards when it was shot. Appropriate charges were placed.
On May 6, 2020, DGIF was tasked with searching the Little River, in Montgomery County, for an individual that went missing on April 30, 2020. The subject had last been seen in the Little Indian Creek section of Floyd County. CPO’s Boyette, Rorabaugh, Rutledge, and Phillips responded and were able to clear a 16 mile stretch of water, including 9 miles that had not been scheduled to search. This was mainly due to the newly purchased Rock River jon boat that allowed CPO’s to skillfully maneuver in various water conditions. The operation did not yield any results and the investigation continues.
Minor Vessel Collision, Costly – On Sunday May 17, 2020, CPO Tyler Sheets received a phone call from the owner of Sportsman’s Marina on South Holston Lake in Washington County in reference a minor collision between two vessels. The complainant advised that the secondary vessel involved in the incident had left the scene before any identifying information could be obtained. Officer Sheets responded to the scene of the incident and observed damage to the primary vessel’s outboard engine. After speaking with multiple witnesses, Officer Sheets was still unable to obtain any identifying information for the secondary vessel or its occupants. A local marine service center estimated the costs to repair the damage of the primary vessel to be approximately $2100. No injuries were sustained during the incident.
Impaired Driver Arrested – On May 22, 2020 Virginia Conservation Police Sergeant James Hale was patrolling near Army Corps of Engineer property in Dickenson County, when he observed an older Jeep pickup pass his location. The Jeep had farm use plates on a state road nowhere near any privately owned land used for farming. Sgt. Hale initiated his emergency equipment and stopped the Jeep. Upon approach, Sgt. Hale noticed the strong odor commonly associated with smoking marijuana. The subject admitted to smoking marijuana earlier in the day. Sgt. Hale offered FSTs to the subject and the subject performed well. Upon running the subject’s identification card, it was discovered that he was suspended, DUI related. The subject was subsequently arrested and the vehicle was towed. Appropriate charges were place.
Region IV – Mountains & Shenandoah Valley and Northern Piedmont
Unsafe Operation of Vessel Leads to Alcohol Violations – On Saturday, May 16, CPOs Hatmaker and Chaffin were patrolling Lake Anna in Louisa County. They observed a boat with nine occupants on board, and observed two occupants standing up in the boat with their heads directly behind the bimini top. The Officers watched as the boat made an abrupt U-turn causing the two occupants to lean toward the port side as if they were getting ready to go into the water. The boat continued on plane in attempt to meet up with the operator of a personal watercraft. While underway, one of the occupants placed his feet on the gunwale and was standing up just behind the operator of the boat. The boat eventually came off plane and the passenger who was standing on the gunwale and the operator of the boat, made hand contact with the operator of the PWC. Officer Hatmaker and Chaffin stopped the boat and immediately smelled a strong odor of alcoholic beverages. Everyone on board was under 21, and multiple violations were detected. Field sobriety tests was conducted and appropriate charges were filed.
CPO at the Right Place at the Right Time to Stop Assault in Progress – On May 13th Officer Cramer was traveling back to King George County from a K9 call out in Caroline County. As he was traveling North on Route 301 he topped a hill near Fort AP Hill to see a vehicle pulled just over the white line on the right side of the road with the driver’s door open. There were two subjects on the ground fighting. Officer Cramer observed a male subject with his arms down around a female neck area assaulting her. The subjects were laying in the middle of the right lane of travel of Route 301. Officer Cramer quickly acted by activating his emergency equipment, exiting his patrol vehicle and began giving the male subject commands. Officer Cramer took the male subject into custody for assault. Officer Hatmaker and Newton arrived on scene shortly after to assist. The female subject had several deep scratch marks on her neck however refused rescue. The male subject was irate during the interaction and was to be transported by Officers Hatmaker and Newton to the regional jail. Prior to being placed inside the patrol vehicle for transport he was searched by Officer Hatmaker. During the search Officer Hatmaker removed a clear plastic baggie with a hard-white substance inside. The item was placed on the hood and the male subject attempted to destroy the evidence by blowing it off of the hood of the patrol vehicle. The evidence was collected and the subject was then transported to the regional jail and charged with domestic assault and battery with additional charges pending.
CPO to the Rescue on Swollen Shenandoah River – On Tuesday May 26, 2020 Senior CPO Wayne Billhimer was getting a written confession from a spotlight and killing deer case from a suspect in Western Rockingham County. Officer Billhimer was only about 5 minutes away when a Page County rescue call was dispatched. A family of two adults and four juveniles flipped in the Shenandoah River. One vessel overturned and the family was stuck on a piece of land inaccessible to responders. Officer Billhimer helped each person one by one come across the river safely with the help of Page County first responders. The water was elevated and moving fast due to recent flood conditions. The father and mother personally thanked Officer Billhimer and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for their efforts.