Sunday, December 15, 2013

Game Warden Files--Swan Song

This may, or may not, be the last post I write relating to my career as an ECO; but I figured I'd get it down in print now anyway.
There was a guy we'll call Harry who had been a thorn in my side--and the sides of many others--on and off for years. He lived on a long dead end road in another county and was known as a neighborhood bully, a thief, a suspected marihuana grower and game violator to name of few of his vices--just not a nice guy to have for a neighbor. My first hostile interaction with him started with him calling in a complaint about someone killing a deer out of season over a food source that he had been keeping for them. (At the time feeding deer was allowed, now it is illegal.) He was accusing the logging crew working in the area and that didn't prove out at all.  The guy who ran the logging crew told me that if I ever caught one of his guys killing deer on a logging job, to just tell him and he would hurt him more than any ticket I could write; he was paying them good money to cut logs, not kill deer! That investigation ended with some very harsh words exchanged.
I was pretty sure that Harry had killed the deer himself, but was afraid someone else would notice the blood trail and call in a complaint. He was merely trying to throw off suspicion before we zeroed in on him...yeah, that worked out well. The more I knew about him, the more I knew we had to get him someday, for something, so he went into my sights.
Though I had many complaints about him; there was never enough information to make a solid charge against him, so I waited. A long-retired NY City Detective I'd known early in my police career had taught me that the way to get to someone was to do a thorough background investigation, so I started digging into his history. Not surprisingly, way in his past was a felony conviction. Clearly articulated in the court record was his acknowledgement that he could no longer possess firearms of any type. Interestingly, the judge directed that since he lived in the country, his wife could retain two firearms for household needs such as rabid animals.
It took years, but I finally caught him with a rifle, and since his wife had died some time before there was no excusing it. It was Veterans' Day of 2007 and Jeff Hovey and I were unloading a RHINO not far from Harry's house where we were headed into a piece of back country for the day. Harry pulled up to us in his pickup and there on the seat was a center fire rifle. I took the gun and we started a discussion about his right to own it. Rather than deal with it then and there, I just seized the gun and told him I'd be in touch. Then Jeff and I went on our patrol.
We were in something of a quandary now. I had his gun, but the possession had been in a county where the District Attorney had refused to deal with Harry on previous occasions and really didn't like my agency. As a matter of fact, he'd impaneled a grand jury to investigate us at least once (finding nothing, I might add). There was no way I wanted to take a criminal possession of a weapon case to criminal court in that county so I called a friend with the BATF to see if they'd like to do a federal case on Harry. It took from November 2007 until July 2008, but we finally had enough information that the US Attorney would be interested in pursuing the case.
At the end of July, a team of BATF agents, NY State Police and DEC officers went to his house. My agent friend knocked on the door and asked to talk. Smooth talker that he was, in minutes we had permission to search the house and property. At the end of the day, we'd found more guns, plus marihuana including some pot plants growing, and had a stack of federal and state charges on him. The top charges were possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of a firearm by a user of narcotics.
As we called clear of the scene, I was told to call the captain. He got on the phone and told me "GOOD JOB! Now, go out out and enjoy your last few weeks and let the young guys do the work." That would be my last case. During the third week of August, I turned in my credentials, my gear and my truck. I retired just as I'd wanted to: with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye. I capped my career with several solid federal felonies and took a dangerous man off the street--at least for a while.

When Harry's case shook out, he took a plea and got 6 years of federal probation--and the feds keep pretty tight tabs on their probationers. About a year and a half later, one of my friends from the NY State Police pulled into my yard with a very serious look on his face. He began by telling me that Harry had been caught violating his probation. It was early spring and a local maple syrup producer had been finding chlorine in his sap buckets. For some reason, Harry was suspected and his probation officer came to call bringing the State Police with him, and finding a large quantity of chlorine. They also found more guns and more drugs. They arrested Harry on state charges, arraigned him and took him to jail; but he was bailed out before the end of the day. Shortly thereafter, he borrowed yet another gun from a neighbor. At this point in my friend's telling of the story, I began to think Harry might be coming after me--the guy who started his problems. My State Police friend continued with his story: Harry had bought a box of ammo at the hardware store, gone into the woods and neighbors had heard one shot...

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