May 27 – June 23, 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’s Discover Unknown Body While on Patrol – On June 5, 2020, CPO Chester and CPO Chittum were assisting the Petersburg Police Department by providing a safety/recovery vessel on the water during a civil demonstration that had been coordinated within the city. Upon conclusion of the event, CPO Chester and CPO Chittum were returning to the Roslyn Landing Boat Ramp where they had initially launched their patrol boat. Upon passing the South-Central Waste Water Authority (treatment plant), CPO Chester and CPO Chittum discovered the body of an unknown white male floating in the waters of the Appomattox River; approximately 3/4 of a mile west of Roslyn Landing. A visual inspection of the surrounding area determined there were no boats, canoes, or kayaks in the immediate area that would indicate that the incident might be boating related. Notifications were made to the appropriate jurisdictions after which Chesterfield County Police Dept. assumed investigative lead. Identification of the decedent is pending.
DGIF Supports USCG and Local Agencies with Boat Parade – On Saturday, June 6, 2020, Conservation Police Officers from around Region 1 worked with units from the US Coast Guard, Port of Virginia, Virginia Marine Police, and local law enforcement and fire and rescue agencies, to ensure recreational boating safety for the vessels involved in a boat parade in Hampton Roads, on the Elizabeth River. Additional officers were also stationed on the James and York Rivers. Officials estimate approximately 750 boats participated in the event that lasted about two hours. Although there were three boat accidents during the event, two overturned vessels and one collision, no injuries or fatalities were reported.
Boat Operator Charged with BUI – On Saturday, June 6, 2020, CPO Cameron Dobyns was patrolling at the DGIF Mill Stone boat ramp in Middlesex County. Shortly before 6pm he observed a subject operating a vessel on Parrott Creek. The subject dropped passengers off on a county owned pier and then pulled over to the DGIF boat ramp. Dobyns observed that the operator was having issues loading the boat on the trailer correctly and had missed the winch stand roller. A woman standing on the boat ramp put her hands up onto the port side bow of the boat as the operator missed the roller. It appeared the woman was trying to slow down or push the bow back toward the roller. Dobyns then noticed the operator was unsteady on his feet when he walked around the port stern to put transom tie-down straps on the vessel. Dobyns approached and started a conversation with the operator and immediately noticed an odor associated with an alcohol beverage coming from his person. Dobyns asked the subject if he had been drinking any alcohol and he said that he had consumed about four or five beers. Due to the observations made by Officer Dobyns, he conducted field sobriety tests on the subject, which he performed poorly. The subject was arrested and taken to the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office where he provided a breath sample on the intoxilyzer which indicated that he had a BAC of .15.
Region II – Southside
Too Much Alcohol While Operating a Motorboat – On May 23, 2020, CPO Nick Belotte was on patrol on Buggs Island Lake in Mecklenburg County. Around 4:45pm, he observed a PWC operating recklessly in proximity to a boat underway. Belotte initiated a stop and the boat and the PWC stopped gunwale to gunwale. The two operators were friends coming from the same location and heading back to where they launched in North Carolina. Officer Belotte could smell the odor of an alcohol beverage coming from the boat operator. Officer Belotte inspected the required safety equipment and then asked the operator to perform field sobriety tests. Based upon the operator’s poor performance, Officer Belotte arrested the operator for Operating Under the Influence and transported the operator to the magistrate’s office for further testing. The operator’s BAC was over the legal limit to operate a motorboat.
Wake Violation Leads to OUI Arrest – On May 25, 2020, CPOs Keith Wilson and Shane Wilson were on boat patrol on Smith Mountain Lake when they observed a vessel enter a designated no wake zone at above wake speed. While approaching the vessel, they saw the operator switch seats with another individual. The officers initiated a stop and found the original operator to be under the influence. The subject was arrested and transported to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office where he registered a 0.15 BAC. The appropriate charges were filed.
Earn a Buck Violations Detected – Following the 2019-2020 deer hunting season, District 22 CPOs Brett Clawson, Leslie Wright, Tyler Routon, and Michael Morris identified 17 Earn a Buck violations in Bedford and Franklin Counties. In addition, CPO Routon discovered one of the suspects also committed fraud by purchasing a resident hunting license illegally. Follow up on some cases is still ongoing due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Intoxicated Driver Arrested – On May 26, 2020, CPO Leslie Wright was on patrol in Bedford County when she observed the vehicle in front of her swerve into the opposite lane of travel. Officer Wright initiated a traffic stop, which progressed into field sobriety tests. The driver performed poorly on all tests and was arrested for driving under the influence. A blood alcohol analysis was administered and the results were 0.21. The appropriate charges were placed.
Deer Shot Out of Season – On June 8, 2020, CPO Shane Wilson received a call about a deer, which had reportedly been shot in Roanoke County. Officer Wilson conducted an investigation, and identified a suspect. During the interview, the suspect confessed to shooting the deer with a 9mm handgun and leaving it wounded. When asked why, the suspect stated he did not want deer hanging around because he thought they would attract coyotes or a bear. The appropriate charges were placed.
Intoxicated Operator Causes a Near Collision – On June 12, 2020, CPOs Brett Clawson and Michael Morris were on boat patrol on Smith Mountain Lake when they were approached by a vessel. The occupants informed the Officers they just narrowly avoided a collision with another vessel and provided a description of the vessel and operator. The CPOs located the suspect vessel and, based on their observations, initiated field sobriety tests on the operator. The operator performed poorly and CPO Clawson placed him under arrest for operating under the influence. The suspect was transported to the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office where he registered a blood alcohol content of 0.16. The subject was held without bond due to his extensive criminal history, which included multiple convictions for driving under the influence.
Close Call on Smith Mountain Lake – On June 12, 2020, at approximately 11:15 PM, CPOs Michael Morris and Brett Clawson received a call, in reference to a boat incident on Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin County. The investigation revealed three juveniles, unbeknownst to their parents, who had taken a small paddleboat, which was not equipped with navigation lights or safety equipment, into the main channel of the lake. Because they could not be seen in the dark, a motorboat collided with them. Miraculously, the only injury sustained was a laceration to the leg of one of the juveniles. The investigation is still ongoing pending contact with the juvenile intake office.
Region III – Southwest
Woman Stranded in River, Rescued – On May 23, 2020 CPO Jason Harris was monitoring the scanner and overheard a rescue call for a woman stranded in the river with river conditions at flood stage. Officer Harris was pulling the River Road patrol boat and responded to the Baywood Boat Landing and launched the boat going up river until the woman was observed clinging onto a metal frame that was attached to a tree. The woman who had launched a kayak to try to get to two other kayaks had become stranded when her kayak filled with water however she was able to tie it to a kayak that was attached to the tree leaving her stranded in the river and unable to get back to shore. Officer Harris maneuvered the patrol boat close to her position but due to the swift current was unable to get her out of the water. Officer Harris then made a quick trip to shore where Galax Fire Department Assistant Chief Mark Burnett boarded the boat to assist. She was rescued on the second pass and taken to shore.
Personal Watercraft Operator Arrested for OUI – On May 30, 2020 CPO Matthew Arnold was conducting a boat patrol on South Holston Lake in Washington County. Shortly after beginning his patrol, Officer Arnold witnessed a PWC being operated well above a no wake speed within a no wake zone as it exited from a local marina. Officer Arnold initiated a stop and detected the odor of an alcoholic beverage about the operator. Officer Arnold initially implemented field sobriety testing on the operator, when the operator extemporaneously stated he had consumed alcohol and was intoxicated and refused further field sobriety testing. He continued to make admissions he was intoxicated throughout the initial incident. Based on observations of the subject’s operation of the PWC, and interactions with him at the time of the stop, Officer Arnold placed him under arrest for OUI and transported him to the regional jail, where the subject refused a breath test. The subject was charged with OUI, disregarding a Regulatory Marker (No Wake), and Refusal to Submit to a Breath Test.
Information on Baited Stand Leads to Several Charges – On September 30, 2019 Virginia CPO Matt Meade received information regarding a baited hunting stand in the Strawberry Patch Rd area of Lee County. With photographs collected he was able to identify two possible suspects. In March 2020, Sgt. James Hale stopped to check a truck parked in an unusual area that was partially hidden by brush. Sgt. Hale called for Officer Meade to meet him at the location to find the driver of the truck, as it is an area known for illicit activity. Shortly after contacting Officer Meade, the driver of the vehicle came out of the woods. It was determined that he was mushroom hunting and trespassing. Upon Officer Meade’s arrival, he recognized the subject as one of the suspects in the baiting case from September 2019. During his interview, information was obtained to link multiple suspects involved in several offenses. The suspect denied placing the bait but admitted he knew it was there while hunting the property. He also stated that a third individual had hunted there as well. Officer Meade interviewed another subject who admitted to hunting over the baited area as well; who claimed another individual had bought and placed it. He also admitted to checking the bait site for activity, in addition to shooting two bucks on his own property during the hunting season that he did not check in. Officers Vandyke and Meade then interviewed a third subject who also admitted to hunting over the bait but denied killing anything. During the interviews they were given information of an illegally killed bear in Wise co. that had allegedly been killed by the third subject’s father. Upon questioning the first two subjects they were able to confirm that he had killed the bear during youth deer hunting weekend. The Officers then interviewed the father about the bear, and he admitted to killing it and confirmed the date to be accurate. He stated that while hunting with his grandson the bear had come out and was slowly approaching the tree stand. He then shot the bear with a .50 caliber muzzle loader at roughly 65 yards killing it. The father transported the bear back to his residence where his son took possession of the bear in an effort to give it away. After failing to find someone to take the bear he decided to throw it over the bank onto another property without permission to get rid of it. Appropriate action was taken against all suspects in the case.
Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police Assist in Bringing Vehicle to a Safe Stop – On June 5, 2020 CPO Benjamin Boyette and Eric Rorabaugh were patrolling the New River after dark in Carroll County when they encountered a vehicle on a remote back road that had several equipment violations, damage to the vehicle and displayed indications that the driver might be impaired. The officers attempted to stop the vehicle, but the driver did not pull over, disregarding their emergency lights and siren and continued driving. The vehicle continued for approximately seven miles on back roads, driving at slow speeds on both sides of the road and almost hitting several other vehicles head on. With assistance from Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and the Virginia State Police the vehicle was brought to a safe stop and the driver was taken into custody. The driver was evaluated by medical personnel and charged with multiple charges to include driving under the influence and eluding a law enforcement officer.
Subject in Possession of a Live Racoon – On June 19, 2020 Virginia Conservation Police Sergeant James Hale was contacted by an individual who witnessed a person in possession of a live raccoon in a box trap at the local Food City. The complaining party took pictures of the raccoon and tag number of the truck. Sgt. Hale contacted CPO Matt Meade and made him aware of the situation. Officer Meade was able to follow up and locate the subject while he still had possession of the raccoon. Appropriate action was taken.
Region IV – Mountains & Shenandoah Valley and Northern Piedmont
Dangerous River Rescue in Flood Waters, Successful – On Sunday May 24th, 2020, Officers Manspile and Gardner were on a scheduled boat patrol on the Maury and James Rivers in Rockbridge County. The heavy rainfall the week prior caused water levels to rise significantly, especially on the James River, which reached flood stage at 19.51 feet over the Memorial Day weekend. The officers were patrolling the section of the James River between the Glasgow boat launch and the Snowden launch (Balcony Falls Run –Class III under normal water conditions) when they observed two individuals stranded on a rock in the middle of the river near the falls. Officer Manspile maneuvered the jet boat into position against the rock, unable to use the eddy due to strainer trees on both sides, and held the boat steady while Officer Gardner retrieved the two individuals from the rock and assisted them into life jackets. Once everyone was on board, Officer Manspile was able to perform a pivot turn into the strong current, skillfully avoiding another strainer. During the extraction, the jet boat took on water. This, combined with the extra weight and moving upstream in the heavy current, bogged down the motor forcing the officers to turn up into a tributary stream where they could beach the boat safely out of the heavy current. Once beached, the officers assessed the civilians and themselves for injuries, contacted dispatch and supervision, reevaluated their gear, changed out fuel tanks, allowed the bilge pump to catch up, and made a plan for getting safely back to the put in. Once everything was prepared, the officers pushed the boat back into the current and were able to maneuver the remaining rapids back to the Glasgow boat launch, where Sgt. Williams had set up a staging area. The stranded individuals were both juveniles, with limited kayaking experience, and were not wearing their personal flotation devices (PFD). They were very fortunate to come away with minor scrapes and bruises and were released upon the arrival of a parent.
Suspects Arrested at Merrimac Farms WMA – On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 26, 2020, Conservation Police Sergeant Rich Goszka received a call regarding numerous rounds fired at the Cedar Run parking area at the Merrimac Farms WMA. Upon arriving on scene, Goszka encountered the vehicle leaving the parking lot and a stop was initiated. At first the two suspects denied shooting or having a firearm, but soon admitted to possessing a 9mm handgun and shooting at a tree in the parking area. Goszka secured the firearm and detected the presence of drugs in the vehicle. Prince William County Police arrived and continued the drug investigation. The suspects were arrested and charged with reckless handling of a firearm, numerous drug offenses and felony possession of a firearm and ammunition.
Persistence Pays Off – On June 22, 2020 Senior CPO Wayne Billhimer completed a month long investigation on deer poaching. Officer Billhimer assisted the Sheriff’s Office with a complaint in Elkton, Virginia on May of 2020. While assisting the Sheriff’s deputies, Officer Billhimer noticed a cooler under a shade tree in the front yard. The owner of the cooler gave permission to look inside the cooler. Inside the cooler was a butchered deer. Officer Billhimer tried to interview the suspects, but all four males living at the house denied knowing anything about the deer. Officer Billhimer finally received one tip. A suspect on probation, slipped Officer Billhimer a name and phone number on a piece of paper as he verbally said in front of his friends “I don’t know anything.” The name was run through DGIF dispatch. An address and phone number were found through dispatch on an expired hunting license. Officer Billhimer visited the address and called the phone number to the point where the phone was cut off, went straight to voicemail. Each time Officer Billhimer left a voicemail. Persistence paid off, finally the suspect answered the phone and agreed to meet. Officer Billhimer met with the suspect. After a few minutes of a false story that the deer was road kill, the suspect came clean. Several poachers were riding back roads between midnight and 2 a.m. spotlighting in Rockingham County. Shinning a light along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. They shot the deer with a .22 from a public road using a handheld light from the vehicle. Charges will be obtained for illegal possession of wildlife and spotlight attempt to take.
Boat Accident with Injury – On the evening of Saturday, June 20, 2020, Officers Katiana Quarles, Daniel Eller, Justin Sumpter and Greg Goff responded to a boating accident with injury that occurred on Aquia Creek in Stafford County. The preliminary investigation revealed that two personal watercraft collided with one operator seriously injured and taken to a local hospital. The investigation is ongoing and the Boat Accident Reconstruction Team is assisting. Officer Quarles is the primary investigator.
Suspects Who Shot a House Apprehended with the Help of One of DGIF’s Newest K-9 Members – On May 27, 2020, CPO Chris Smith was on patrol in the City of Chesapeake when he was notified that a group of people were target shooting at the Cavalier WMA, which is prohibited. Upon arrival at the WMA, he located three individuals and he observed one of them attempting to hide something. After taking control of the situation, Officer Smith was able to determine that one of the suspects had dropped a firearm. Due to the circumstances, Officer Smith also requested support from Chesapeake PD and Officer Braziel, and her K-9 partner, Grace. When Chesapeake PD arrived, they apologized for the delay, but advised that they had a report of a house being shot. When the Chesapeake officer advised Officer Smith of the address of the house that had been shot, Officer Smith realized that the house in question was adjacent to the WMA and where the suspects had been indiscriminately shooting.
In the meantime, Officer Braziel and Grace arrived and Officer Braziel deployed Grace in a search mode. After a quick search, K-9 Grace alerted. Upon inspection, Officer Braziel realized that Grace had located a second firearm and a large drum magazine.
Upon further questioning and investigation, it was determined that one of the three individuals was wanted on a felony warrant. Chesapeake PD’s forensic unit was also able to locate a projectile in the house that was shot that matched the ammunition being used by the suspects. Numerous charges were placed and the suspect with the felony warrant was transported to see the magistrate. This was a great team effort between our CPO’s, our K9 unit and Chesapeake PD!
K9 Team Assists Police Department Attempting to Locate Firearm – On June 12, at approximately 0120hrs, Officer Cramer was contacted by Fredericksburg City Police Department to assist in the location of a firearm used in a brandishing case. Officer Cramer responded with K9 Waylon to search the area. Officer Cramer was advised that a male subject that was currently in custody had threatened a female with a firearm and when she said she was going to call the cops he took off on foot. The victim stated she then watched the subject get into his car, but shortly after, he was back in front of her residence. The K9 team searched the woods and the area surrounding where the crime had occurred with no results.
K9 Teams Assist Sheriff’s Department and Locate Stolen Firearm – On June 15, 2020, CPOs Cramer and Patrillo were conducting yearly article and wildlife detection certification with their K9 partners at Claytor Lake State Park. The Officers were contacted by a Pulaski Sheriff’s Deputy to assist in locating a firearm they believed to be located in the woods just outside of the state park. Upon arrival the officers were advised that the day prior a suspect had stolen a pistol from their victim and an altercation broke out between the two. While the suspect had the victims’ firearm in his hand the suspect proceeded to run into the woods as he was being chased by the victim. The suspect was later taken into custody on the other end of the wooded area, however the suspect had no firearm in his possession. Officers Cramer and Patrillo were tasked with searching the near 7 acres for the stolen weapon that had been hidden approximately 24 hours prior. Both K9’s Waylon and Bailey searched the area in grids attempting to locate the firearm. After searching for nearly 2 hours K9 Waylon located the firearm that had been buried approximately two inches in the dirt and then covered with leaves. The suspect now faces additional felony charges for the events that had taken place.