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Virginia Conservation Police Notebook

February 24 – March 23, 2021

To increase awareness of Conservation Police Officers’ (CPOs, or 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 of the Law Enforcement Division of DWR. 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 II – Southside

Title Fraud Investigations Concluded – In February 2021, CPOs Brett Clawson and Leslie Wright concluded separate investigations regarding boat title fraud in Bedford County.  Officer Clawson determined his suspect purchased a vessel from another party for an agreed upon price.  The suspect then attempted to defraud the Department of Wildlife Resources by submitting paperwork indicating the purchase price was $5,400 less than the actual sale price.  Officer Wright determined her suspect purchased three vessels as part of a real estate transaction.  The suspect then attempted to defraud the Department of Wildlife Resources by submitting paperwork indicating the purchase price of the three vessels combined was $14,000 less than the actual sale price.  The appropriate action was taken in each case.

Illegal Road Hunter Charged – In February 2021, CPO Leslie Wright concluded an illegal road hunting investigation, which began on December 31, 2020 in Bedford County.  The investigation started when a witness observed a suspect shoot a deer from a vehicle on private property.  Officer Wright identified the suspect and, following multiple interviews, she was able to develop evidence of multiple violations to include killing a deer illegally, shooting from a vehicle, trespassing to hunt, and hunting without the required licenses.  The appropriate action was taken.

CPO Assists with Hunt for Wanted Subject – On February 19, 2021, CPO Tyler Routon assisted the Roanoke County Police Department in tracking a wanted subject who fled from police on foot.  The Officers utilized a RCPD K9 to track the suspect through a wooded area and across a major highway.  The Officers cleared several vacant structures in the area before ultimately losing the track.  Hours later, the suspect was sighted a short distance away and CPO Routon assisted with establishing a perimeter.  This time, the RCPD K9 successfully located the suspect who was taken into custody.

Situational Awareness Aids Local Investigation – On February 20, 2021, CPO Tyler Routon was patrolling trout streams in Roanoke City when he encountered an individual who was properly licensed but exhibiting abnormal behavior.  Additional investigation revealed the subject’s vehicle was bearing license plates belonging to a different vehicle.  The vehicle the license plates belonged on was stolen in July 2020 and recovered in December 2020.  However, the investigation had become inactive as there was no viable suspect.  The appropriate action was taken and CPO Routon forwarded this new information to the Roanoke City Police Department for further investigation.

District 22 Taxidermists Inspected – In February 2021, Senior CPO Michael Morris coordinated inspections of permitted taxidermists in Bedford, Botetourt, and Roanoke Counties.  With assistance from CPOs Brett Clawson, Shane Wilson, and Tyler Routon, sixteen inspections were conducted.  The Officers identified four permittees who were in violation and a fifth individual who was operating without the required permit.  The appropriate action was taken to bring each of the taxidermists into compliance.

Title Fraud Investigation Completed – On March 10, 2021, CPO Brett Clawson completed an investigation into illegal title fraud in Bedford County.  Officer Clawson determined the suspect purchased a vessel from another party for an agreed upon price.  The suspect then attempted to defraud the Department of Wildlife Resources by submitting paperwork indicating the purchase price was $9,500.00 less than the actual sale price.  The appropriate action was taken.

Search for Missing Man – Over a nine-day period beginning March 9, 2021, CPOs Brett Clawson, Leslie Wright, Shane Wilson, Tyler Routon, and Michael Morris assisted the US Park Service with the search for a man who went missing along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Roanoke County.  The CPOs invested approximately 70-man hours and utilized various patrol boats and land navigation techniques during the search.  Unfortunately, the man was discovered deceased on March 17, 2021.  The investigation is being handled by the US Park Service.

Region III – Southwest

K9s and CPOs Asked to Assist Local Agency – On March 3, 2021, District 33 received a request from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for the assistance of the law division’s tracking team for a subject who was wanted for attempted murder that had fled into a wooded area.  Multiple officers from district 33, district 32 and three K9 officers responded and assisted with searching multiple areas near the Tennessee state line in Washington County.  Many different tracks with the K9s were initiated, but the subject had already fled the scene, most likely by vehicle.  Multiple deputies from the Sheriff’s Office made comments on the response time and the number of CPOs that responded, as well as the efficiency of the teams.  Although the subject was not located until days later, the amount of support DWR provided to the local agency was greatly appreciated.

Fatal Boating Incident on Claytor Lake – On March 10, 2021, CPO’s from D31 and D32 responded to Claytor Lake for a report of a fatal boating incident. The original call reported two boats had collided in the Peak Creek area of the Lake with missing subjects in the water. The boats were still locked together from impact when emergency units arrived. Both boat operators were located in the water and pronounced deceased on scene. The sergeants and officers from both districts worked together during this tragic event to process the scene and notify the families. Units involved included: Sgt. Keene, Sgt. Koloda, CPO Boyette, CPO Harris, CPO Peake, CPO Rorabaugh, and CPO Shaw.

New River Valley Tactical Tracking School – On March 15th-17th CPO’s from the Region 3 Tactical Tracking Team including Officer’s Rutledge, Harris, and Rorabaugh assisted K9 units from around the New River Valley with a Tactical Tracking School. CPO’s instructed visual tracking to assist with K9 operations. During the three-day training, officers from agencies including Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Radford, Pulaski, Giles, Montgomery, Virginia Tech, and Botetourt ran tracks with and without K9’s. The first day of training focused on perimeters, tracking formations, contact and cover along with visual tracking introduction. The second day consisted of K9 into field tracking and visual tracking. Officers were placed on teams of 5-8 members and assigned tracks involving manhunt or search and rescue scenarios. Day three focused on evening and night time tracking. Teams incorporated drones provided by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office into nighttime tracking to determine what capabilities the drone provided that could assist tracking and K9 teams. It was found that the drone was a very beneficial tool in assisting officers on the ground to apprehend a suspect at night. This was a successful training that demonstrated the collaboration of various Law Enforcement agencies throughout the New River Valley.

Special Operations Patrol – On Tuesday, March 16, 2021, CPOs Corey Gardner, Matthew Arnold, and Tyler Sheets conducted a special operations patrol on South Holston Lake in Washington County for compliance checks of walleye fishermen. During the operation, multiple fishermen were checked for compliance of licenses, creel limits, and creel lengths related to the spring Walleye spawning event. While observing one group of fishermen, the CPOs witnessed two male subjects drinking from aluminum cans and tossing the cans into the water. The officers made contact and both subjects were charged appropriately. The CPOs were able to answer multiple questions from anglers and provided contact information.

Region IV – Mountains & Shenandoah Valley and Northern Piedmont

Very Little Leads to a Lot – In early November 2020, Officer Philip Pritt was given information about a potential bait site, in a vague location, in the National Forest, in Alleghany County. Pritt searched the area and located a corn pile with two trail cameras overlooking it. The cameras were seized and on them were multiple pictures of a man, carrying a rifle, placing bait and hunting at all hours of day and night. After months of investigation, the man was identified, and determined to be a convicted felon. No permanent address could be determined. Further time was spent locating a residence where the suspect stayed.  A search warrant was obtained and with the assistance of the multi-jurisdictional drug task force a search took place on February 12. Multiple long guns, one with a homemade suppressor, several handguns and ammunition was discovered. During the search, methamphetamine was located and the task force secured a second warrant for narcotics. The subject was placed under arrest by Officer Pritt and transported to the regional jail where he was served with 10 game charges including possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, baiting, license violations, and closed season hunting. The drug task force will be placing charges for the possession of narcotics and with the intent to distribute them.

 Back-to-Back Medical Emergencies at Ragged Mountain Reservoir – On Saturday, March 6, 2021, Conservation Police Officer Jacob Chaffin received information of a hiker who had collapsed on a remote trail at Ragged Mountain Reservoir in Albemarle County. He notified Sgt. Steve Ferguson and both units responded due to their familiarity with the lake and surrounding trails. Sgt. Ferguson arrived first and found numerous fire and rescue units staging at the main parking area at the lake. He assisted rescue by helping launch an inflatable boat and Mokai. The patient’s exact location was unclear, but based on information provided by the caller to 911 and Chaffin’s knowledge of the area, he was confident they were on a trail on the northeast end of the lake. However, fire and rescue units indicated that the patient was on the southwest end of the lake and sent their resources in that direction. Chaffin continued his response to the northeast side of the lake, navigating several miles of narrow woods roads and working his way past locked gates. He finally located the patient with several other hikers and immediately relayed the correct location to fire and rescue units. Chaffin quickly deployed his AED and began CPR after the initial assessment. He continued to perform CPR until rescue units arrived on a UTV about 10 minutes later. Rescue personnel took over chest compressions while Chaffin drove their UTV to the trailhead to bring additional rescue personnel to the scene. Once the patient was stabilized, he was transported by UTV out to an awaiting ambulance. Chaffin used his patrol vehicle to transport the patient’s family as well as fire and rescue equipment out of the park.

Just as the patient was being loaded onto the UTV for transport, a second 911 call was received saying another hiker was experiencing shortness of breath and dizziness on a trail near the floating bridge at Ragged Mountain. Sgt. Ferguson was still at the boat ramp with rescue units and heard the call. He knew the location well and directed a rescue boat to the far southwest portion of the lake where the floating bridge is located. The second patient was stabilized by rescue personnel and then transported by boat back to the ramp and into an awaiting ambulance.

CPOs Assist with Fire on C.F. Phelps WMA – On March 15, 2021, Sgt. Rich Goszka, Officers Greg Goff, and Rodger Palmisano, responded to a forest fire at the C.F. Phelps WMA. Officers assisted with transporting firefighting personnel and scene security. The source of the fire is under investigation.

Special Operations

Tracking Team Assists with Officer Down Investigation – On February 26, 2021, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Region 4 Tracking team members responded to assist Stanley Police Department, and the Page County Sheriff’s Office, with a man tracking investigation for a suspect who had just murdered a police officer.  Conservation Police K9 Officer Ostlund advised that the Page County Sheriff’s Office was actively pursuing the suspect on foot in a wooded area.  Officers Corrado, Ostlund, Heine and Dobbs responded to the incident location.  The suspect was located prior to the tracking team’s arrival. Once on scene, Officer Ostlund reported to the command center and offered our assistance to the investigation.  Officers Corrado, Heine, and Dobbs established perimeter security.

DWR K9 Team Helped Bring Closure to a Drowning Victim’s Family – On 03/20/21, Virginia Conservation Police officers were notified of a capsized vessel and missing boater on Lake Gaston. Conservation Police Officers, and Mecklenburg County officers, responded to the scene and immediately began searching for the missing boater using patrol vessels equipped with sonar. The officers were able to locate an anomaly on the lake bottom with the sonar, but were not able to identify what that object was. The officers continued searching for several hours the following day, and then requested DWR’s K9 team for assistance since they are trained in human remains detection.  K9 Bailey was deployed on a patrol boat and taken over the object multiple times. Each time Bailey passed over the object she indicated to her handler that she was detecting human scent. Bailey’s indication gave the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s office the confirmation that they needed to deploy divers into the frigid water. With K9 Bailey’s assistance, the divers were able to go in the water at the exact location of the body which greatly reduced the amount of time that they had to be in the cold water. Officer Patrillo and Bailey’s assistance shortened the search time and provided the grieving family with closure during an extremely difficult time.

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  • March 25, 2021