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Virginia Conservation Police Notebook

February 1 – 21, 2023

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.

Hunting Woodpeckers During the Extended Goose Season: On January 31, 2023, Virginia Conservation Police Senior Officer Chris Gilmore and Canine Officer First Class Bonnie Braziel responded to a trespassing complaint in Southampton County.  Canine Grace was deployed and tracked the hunters approximately one mile into a swamp which was clearly posted with signs as “No Trespassing.” The officers then set up surveillance and observed the hunters as they were hunting geese.  While conducting surveillance, the officers saw one of the hunters shoot at a woodpecker.  The officers then announced their presence and contacted the hunters.  Upon inspection, one of the hunters admitted to shooting at the woodpecker and it was also determined that the two hunters were trespassing.  Further inspection also revealed that one of the hunters did not have a federal duck stamp and was hunting with a shotgun capable of holding more than 3 shells.  Appropriate charges were placed.

CPOs Participate in the Polar Plunge: On February 4, 2023, Virginia Conservation Police participated in the annual Virginia Beach Polar Plunge at the oceanfront.  Dozens of police, fire, EMS and volunteers braved the frigid waters to provide safety for the participants as they entered the oceanfront waters.  This year approximately 2,600 participants took the plunge to raise money and support Special Olympics in Virginia.

Road Hunters Charged: On January 20, 2023, Virginia Conservation Police Sgt. Rich Landers received a call for service regarding a pick-up truck with two occupants who were seen shooting at deer from a public road.  Landers was over 40 minutes away, so with the assistance of DWR Dispatch, he coordinated a response with the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office.  Within a couple of minutes, multiple Culpeper Police Deputies were on the scene and detained the two individuals so that they could not flee.  Upon arriving at the scene, Sgt. Landers questioned the individuals and received a full confession from both that they were driving the roads in search of missing livestock when they saw a deer and decided to kill it.  The deer and rifle used were seized as evidence and both individuals were issued summonses for the violations.

Without the assistance of our local law enforcement partners across the state, poachers like these may sometimes get away from the scene of the crime due to the large geographical areas that CPOs cover and the oftentimes long driving distances to these calls for service. These types of wildlife violations that CPOs respond to oftentimes involve not only wildlife crimes, but also public safety violations such as the unsafe shooting of a high-powered rifle from and across roadways traveled by citizens daily.

Trespassing Waterfowl Hunters: On January 29, 2023, Conservation Police Master Officer Chris Heberling was contacted by Goochland County Sheriff’s Office regarding a trespassing to hunt violation occurring in the county. A subject was believed to be trespassing to hunt waterfowl on a private pond and deputies were standing by at the hunter’s vehicle. CPO Heberling arrived on the scene shortly after sunset. About 30 minutes later, a small boat with four occupants arrived back at the officers’ location. The individuals were hunting the pond without permission of the landowner and were operating the boat with no safety equipment on board or navigation lights activated. Additionally, two subjects did not have their federal duck stamps in their possession. Appropriate charges were placed and one duck was seized.

Hidden in Plain Sight:  On Thursday, January 26, 2023, Master Officer Mark Sanitra and Officer First Class Lyndon Hawkins had just completed a waterfowl patrol in Prince William County. After they loaded their patrol boat onto the trailer and while they were still in plain sight in the parking lot, they observed a boat pass their location. The boat occupants appeared to check out the boat ramp area and then continued to an area where numerous canvasback ducks were feeding. The area the hunters had quickly set up to hunt was within 500 yards of several legal stationary duck blinds. The officers re-launched their patrol boat and inspected the hunters who were in their floating blind with duck decoys out. The hunters admitted to checking the boat ramp for the presence of CPOs and seeing none, they decided to set up to hunt the canvasback ducks knowingly hunting within 500 yards of other licensed stationary hunting blinds. Appropriate charges were placed.

Patrol Leads to 4th Driving Under the Influence Arrest:  On January 29, 2023, while conducting a patrol of Crooked Creek WMA in Carroll County, Virginia Conservation Police Officer Andrew Bobbitt and Virginia Conservation Police Senior Officer Ben Boyette encountered two individuals.  The officers engaged in conversation with the two men.  Shortly thereafter, they observed indications that led them to believe the men were engaged in criminal activity; the odor of alcoholic beverage was coming from the truck and the driver admitted to drinking.  The driver participated in field sobriety tests, and as a result, he was placed under arrest for driving while under the influence.  The passenger of the vehicle, who was a suspect for littering in the area, admitted to throwing aluminum cans out on the WMA multiple times per week.  The driver was taken before a magistrate where he was charged with driving under the influence and driving on a suspended license. The passenger was subsequently charged with littering.

Investigation Yields Numerous Violations:  On January 31, 2023, Virginia Conservation Police Sergeant Matthew Arnold concluded an investigation from the November 2022 hunting season.  With the assistance of Senior Officer Tyler Sheets, Officer First Class Corey Gardner, and Master K9 Officer Mark Vandyke, multiple charges were placed on a long-time suspected poacher.  The call had originally been about a potential violator who had shot a buck Whitetail deer from a vehicle in Washington County.  Sergeant Arnold and CPO Sheets had responded to discover the potential violator had left the area but soon returned in a totally different vehicle.  Upon questioning, he admitted to being the driver in the original vehicle but denied shooting the deer.  However, he admitted that he had seen the deer in question and had returned to the area to hunt it since it appeared to be injured.  K9 CPO Vandyke had responded to the scene and deployed K9 Coal.  They located evidence but were not able to locate the deer.  Later that evening, Sergeant Arnold had conducted an additional inquiry and follow-up interview.  His inquiry revealed that the potential violator was hunting on an adjacent property with an ATV.  He located an illegally baited hunting blind with a juvenile hunting in it using a rifle during a muzzle loader only season.  Shortly thereafter, the original suspect from that morning, approached on his ATV, also possessing a rifle.  Sergeant Arnold determined the juvenile was the potential violator’s grandson and had taken him to the blind to hunt.  Lastly, the suspect was illegally operating his ATV on Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area.

Compliance Check Leads to Wanted Subject:  On February 5, 2023, Virginia Conservation Police Sergeant Michael Morris was on patrol in Bedford County when he encountered three subjects actively fishing.  While inspecting their fishing licenses, Sergeant Morris determined the individuals did not have permission to fish at the location.  Since one of the individuals had an active capias, Sergeant Morris placed him under arrest and transported him to the Bedford County Magistrate’s Office.  The appropriate action was taken relating to the trespassing violations.

Closed Season Violation: On February 4, 2023, during the Youth/Veteran Day for waterfowl hunting, Virginia Conservation Police Officers Josh Joyce and Zach Howlett responded to a call reference to an adult subject hunting waterfowl and not being a veteran. The caller stated that there were two adults hunting a blind in James City and that one of the subjects was not a veteran as required by law during this special season. After locating the subject’s vehicles at a private boat ramp, the CPOs set up surveillance and waited for the hunters to return to the ramp. The officers observed two hunters return to the ramp with both of them carrying shotguns. As the hunters walked to their vehicles, the officers could hear them talking as the non-veteran subject made several incriminating statements including that he would have ditched his gun if they had been checked in the blind by CPOs. The officers contacted the hunters and conducted a hunting inspection.  It was determined that the subject was in fact not a veteran and should not have been hunting during this time.  Appropriate charges have been placed.

Potential Suicide Subject: On January 26, 2023, Virginia Conservation Police Officer First Class Josh Joyce responded to Chickahominy Riverfront Park in James City County in reference to a report of a suicidal person. Joyce arrived on scene and was able to quickly locate the individual. He was able to get the individual away from his vehicle and make sure that he did not have any weapons on him. Joyce then started a conversation with the individual in order to keep him occupied and his mind off other things as he waited on James City EMS to arrive. After the medics arrived, the individual was not willing to go voluntarily with them to the hospital. Joyce, along with two James City Police Officers, were able to talk with the individual and convince him that it would be in his best interest to seek further professional assistance at the hospital.

Trespass to Hunt Call Reveals a Fugitive from Justice: On February 5, 2023, Virginia Conservation Police Officer Jared Scripture and K9 Officer First Class Bonnie Braziel responded to a call for service in reference to hunters trespassing in Chesterfield County.  A homeowner called and reported observing 2 individuals dressed in hunting attire and carrying a crossbow walk through his back yard. As K9 Officer Braziel was responding to the caller’s address, she observed two individuals that matched the description of the trespassing hunters walking down the railroad tracks.  She notified CPO Scripture and he responded to her location.  They contacted the subjects and confirmed that they were in fact the hunters that the caller observed walk through his back yard.   Further investigation revealed that one of the individuals had previous warrants out for his arrest.  He was taken into custody and turned over to the Chesterfield Police Department.  The proper hunting related charges were placed on both hunters.

Walleye Efforts:  On February 5, 2023, Virginia Conservation Police Master Officer Jason Harris patrolled the New River in Wythe and Carroll Counties focusing on Walleye and Musky fishing activity.  CPO Harris checked several fishermen and issued one summons for fishing without a valid fishing license.  After dark, he located two boater’s walleye fishing, who were in violation for failing to display navigation lights while underway.

Patrol Yields Underaged DUI:  On February 5, 2023, Virginia Conservation Police Senior Officer Ben Boyette was on patrolling after dark when he observed a vehicle parked on the side of the road in Carroll County.  CPO Boyette stopped to check on the vehicle and upon approaching it, he observed alcohol in it.  The driver admitted to drinking and agreed to take field sobriety tests.  The potential violator was subsequently placed under arrest and charged with driving with under the influence of alcohol and underage possession of alcohol.

Illegal Bear Baiting Investigation in District 23:  Virginia Conservation Police Officer First Class John Daniel concluded an investigation that began in Amherst County in the summer of 2022.  His initial investigation revealed an illegal bear feeding operation that was being used for bear hunting activity.  With the help of District Officers and his Supervision, they began monitoring the area.  Within a short period of time, they determined who was tending the bait and who was using dogs to chase bear during the bear chase season from the location.  Appropriate charges were placed, and warnings were given to others who had been present during some of the baiting activity.

Illegal Possession of Firearm:  On February 11, 2023, Virginia Conservation Police Officer First Class Nick Belotte was conducting a trout patrol in Appomattox County when he encountered a group of rabbit hunters.  CPO Belotte checked their licenses and then moved on to check another person who appeared to be trying to avoid him.  CPO Belotte finally was able to catch up with him after crossing a stream.  This individual had the beagles from the hunting party and a shotgun.  After checking his license, Officer Belotte returned to his patrol vehicle to check the potential violators information.  He quickly discovered that the hunter was under an active protective order and was prohibited from possessing firearms.  CPO Belotte was able take the potential violator into custody without incident. 

Lengthy Investigation Nets Hunting Violations:  On November 19, 2022, Virginia Conservation Police Officer’s First-Class Matthew Meade and Dylan Harding received a trespassing to hunt complaint in Lee County.  The CPOs launched an investigation and soon discovered that there were three hunters involved in illegal hunting activity.  Initially they conducted interviews and the hunters confessed to trespassing.  However, during their inspection of the property, they located illegal deer baiting activities and observed numerous trail cameras.  The cameras revealed several additional hunting violations in which the three hunters were involved.  From an initial trespassing call, they uncovered an abundance of deer hunting violations.  The potential violators were charged or warned appropriately.

Violations Detected: (3) Trespass to Hunt, Hunt Over a Baited Area, (2) Unlawful Hunt/Possess of a Wild Animal, (2) No Blaze Orange, (2) Illegally Kill or Exceed Bag Limit, (2) Unlawful Feeding of Cervids, (1) Hunt in a Manner Not Permitted by Law, (1) Trespass By ATV

Destruction of Posted Property Sign:  On February 15, 2023, Virginia Conservation Police Senior Officers Justin Chambers and Senior K9 Officer Ian Ostlund were dispatched to a trespassing call for service in Augusta County.  When the officers arrived, they located the suspect’s vehicle and K9 Reese was deployed to track the individuals.  K9 Reese led the officers to an area where three fishermen were located.  The officers watched for a period of time as the fishermen took photos of a metal “Posted No Trespassing” sign and later damaged the sign as they tore it off its mounting post.  The officers contacted the three trespassers, 1 adult and 2 juveniles and determined that none had permission to be on the property. The violations were handled appropriately by the officers.

  • February 23, 2023