Monday, November 4, 2013

Game Warden Files--Every Officer Has One of THESE

We'll call him Fred.  The name has been changed to protect the guilty.

I met Fred shortly after having moved to Fulton County.  He was out running his trap line with his trapping partner and they stopped to introduce themselves while I was checking a couple fishermen.  He handed me a business card that identified him as a "Professional Trapper."  My first impression of him was that he was a colorful local character who would have been better off born a century or so before.  I thought him to be harmless--but weird--at the time and though he was never a danger to me physically, he was a thorn in my side through most of my upstate years.

My first run-in with him on the wrong side of the law was a couple years after I'd met him, when I found one of his traps in an abandoned beaver lodge. Though the lodge was abandoned--and it was an effective place for a mink set, the law still technically applied.  I could have just pulled the trap and given him a verbal warning; but I had gone looking for that trap on a complaint from another trapper, so I opted to give him a written warning.  Within a couple days, he was raising a stink about the warning; wanting it removed from the files. After much communication between him and the Regional Office, my supervisor wrote him a letter telling him that if he really wanted the warning gone, he could meet me in the town court, get a ticket for the violation and take it to trial.  That ended that round.  I was now his number one enemy.  He did everything he could to talk bad about me and the department from that point on.

Late in the 1980's we had an outbreak of rabies in New York.  As the disease spread, people over-reacted and even panicked any time they saw an animal acting in what they perceived to be an unusual manner.  Fred filed the necessary paperwork to become a licensed nuisance trapper.  He and folks like him did serve a great purpose in that someone had to remove an ever growing populations of nuisance wildlife.  However, Fred became not just a nuisance trapper, but a nuisance of a trapper.  He had an old van with a sign in big letters saying NY STATE NUISANCE TRAPPER, with the word licensed in small letters tucked between state and nuisance, making it appear that he was an official of the state, not just licensed by it.  Behind the van he towed a trailer which proclaimed DANGER! LIVE RABIES SPECIMEN. Complaints started to come in on a pretty regular basis and I seemed to get them all.

One complaint was from a woman who had called him to remove an animal, thinking that he was a public servant.  When she found out that she had to pay him, only after the service was performed, she told him she couldn't pay and they ultimately made a deal for her to make him a pie.  When the pie was not delivered in a timely fashion he took her to small claims court, not winning any popularity contests in the community.  He pulled a couple other similar things with others, but never anything we could make a criminal case on.

Finally, I got a from a guy who had been one of his victims and the line of criminal behavior had been crossed.  About the same time, another call where he'd crossed the line came in. In both cases, there was some fraud involved, and after we put the case together it looked really good on paper.  It took about two weeks to put the case together and when we made the arrest, Fred was NOT happy.  We made the arrest in in November and it took us until spring to get it to trial.

We charged Fred with one count of petit larceny and one count of attempted petit larceny. The assistant district attorney would later tell me that he'd prosecuted simpler murder cases, calling fewer witnesses and introducing fewer items of evidence; but the jury was out only about 40 minutes before coming back with guilty verdicts....and then Fred sued.  He sued me, the District Attorney and the judge who heard the case. He wanted three million dollars from each of us. He got nothing and ultimately served his community service...and really hated me after that.

He did manage to get me in a bit of trouble once. I'd picked up one of his traps from someone who had found it along a lake, and carried it around in the car for some time figuring I'd run into him someplace. After a while, I got tired of it banging around the car and one afternoon as I passed his house I hung it on his fence. Since I had no record of that, and since he knew I had been looking to give him back his trap decided to make a complaint to the department--I had stolen his trap. My captain finally put that to bed with writing a memo to my file for not following evidence procedure. OK, I was wrong, didn't follow the policy...I took the memo just to put the whole thing to rest.

When I transferred to a special assignment, my replacement in the sector caught him trapping fisher out of season. At least then he had someone new to hate. By the time I retired we had more or less made peace, but he was still a problem for the next officers in the area.

No comments:

Post a Comment