Each issue we share Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement Reports for Northwest Florida. This article originally appeared in our March/April 2019 issue.
FOLLOW YOUR NOSE – Officers Wilkenson and Lugg were contacted about two subjects catching and keeping 10 undersized and over the bag limit of red drum. Upon the officers’ arrival, the subjects had left the dock. A witness provided the officers with the description of the vehicle the individuals left in. Another witness provided a townhouse in Navarre where he believed the individuals’ families were staying. The officers located the described vehicle and contacted the renters. They admitted that they were fishing earlier and had returned the red drum back into the water. When the officers headed back to their vehicles, they both detected a strong odor of fish emanating from a dumpster located just 125 feet away. Upon inspection, the officers located 38 pieces of cut up, gutted redfish, 11 of which were tail sections. The officers went back to the residence to interview the individuals about the red drum found in the dumpster. Both individuals admitted they caught the red drum, cut them in pieces and disposed of them in the dumpster. Charges were filed for a major resource violation, over the bag limit, and undersized red drum.
OUT OF SEASON – Officers Cushing and Clark were on patrol aboard the NW FINCAT in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. During one inspection, Clark discovered two one-gallon bags of reef fish fillets on ice with some skin still attached. Individuals on-board indicated that they were vermilion snapper, grouper and greater amberjack. Reef fish must be landed in whole condition and greater amberjack is currently closed to harvest. The appropriate federal violations were issued.
SAILBOAT OWNER IS SUNK – Officer Corbin was on land patrol when he received a complaint from United States Coast Guard Station Destin of a sailboat that had sank in Boggy Bayou. The officer located the sailboat and confirmed it was 90 percent submerged with only part of the bow sticking out of the water, which still displayed a Florida registration number. By Florida statue, the sailboat is in derelict condition and a navigational hazard. Corbin identified the vessel owner who resides out of state. The officer was able to secure an arrest warrant.
A TEAM EFFORT – Officers H. Rockwell and P. Rockwell were working a night hunting detail when they heard five rifle shots near their location. The officers conducted a vehicle stop on a truck that was leaving the area. They saw fresh deer blood in the bed of the truck and on the tailgate. The driver stated the deer blood was from two deer that he just dropped off at a deer processor. An interview was conducted with all three occupants. The passengers’ statements conflicted with the driver’s. Officers Maltais and P. Rockwell located two freshly killed doe deer in a cotton field just down the road from where the traffic stop occurred. K-9 Officer Hutchinson, along with Officer Hahr and Officer Schmitt, deployed K-9 Zara and located a blood trail/kill site of the two deer and five 25-06 shell casings. Lieutenant Molnar and Officer H. Rockwell went to the subject’s house and interviewed the driver’s son. A full confession was obtained from the driver’s son and the 25-06 rifle was in the trunk of a car on the suspect’s property. The suspect shot five times out the passenger side window, killing two does. The vehicle was then driven to the suspect’s house where the rifle was placed in the trunk of the car. The subject was attempting to retrieve the illegally killed deer when he saw the officers in the area. He removed the deer from the bed of the truck and started to drive away when the officers conducted the traffic stop. The suspect was cited for night hunting and two counts of possession of doe deer.
WATCH THE CLOCK – Officer Specialist Bartlett and Officer Schmitt were on vessel patrol conducting resource inspections of duck hunters in the Santa Rosa Sound in the Fort Walton Beach area. The officers heard a gunshot 21 minutes after legal shooting hours for ducks. The officers located the subjects and conducted surveillance. The subjects were still actively hunting over their duck decoys. The officers conducted a vessel stop to address the after-hours shooting. One of the two subjects admitted shooting and was issued a notice to appear citation.
LIGHTS ON AT NIGHT – Officer Corbin was on land patrol conducting boating safety/resource inspections on duck hunters returning to Misty Water Boat Ramp in Mary Esther. The officer saw a boat returning with no navigational lights displayed on the vessel. The operator was wearing camouflage, had duck hunting equipment (decoys), and two dogs on board the vessel. He stated he was training one of the dogs to retrieve ducks. He also stated he was attempting to take ducks but was unsuccessful. During the inspection of the 12-gauge shotgun, the officer saw the firearm was not plugged. A notice to appear citation was issued.
NO REST FOR THE WEARY – Officer Corbin was on land patrol conducting resource protection at Liza Jackson Park. He saw a vehicle parked during closed hours with two individuals sleeping inside the vehicle. The officer ran the vehicle registration. The registered owner had an active FWC warrant for a derelict vessel violation. The Fort Walton Beach Police Department was contacted to address the violation for parking during closed hours. The owner of the vehicle was arrested and transported to the Okaloosa County Jail where the intake process was completed.
TO CATCH A FELON – Officer Hahr was on land patrol conducting resource protection in the Blackwater Wildlife Management Area off Rock Hill Road. He saw a truck and trailer parked at the intersection of Forest Road. It appeared that a vehicle had been off-loaded and driven into the management area. Hahr followed the tire sign and saw a white truck parked but the tire sign continued down an unnamed road. A short distance later, he saw a parked Jeep. Hahr heard two men talking about shooting at two deer and tracking to see if they killed them. One of the men was carrying a crossbow and the other was carrying a semi-automatic shotgun. After identifying the two men through their hunting licenses, Hahr recognized the name of one of the individuals in possession of the shotgun as a convicted felon. FWC Tallahassee Regional Communication Center confirmed that the individual was a convicted felon. He was arrested and transported to the Okaloosa County Jail where the intake process was completed.
NO LICENSE, NO LUNCH – Officer Specialist Pifer and Officer Matechik were at a wholesale dealer location in Destin to conduct a commercial inspection of a federally licensed vessel. The crew were offloading gulf reef fish: red snapper, vermilion snapper and amberjack. During the inspection of the required licenses, Pifer noticed the operator’s commercial saltwater products license did not have the required restricted species endorsement to harvest gulf reef fish. The fish were seized and sold to the highest bidder per Florida Statutes. The operator was issued a notice to appear citation.
SANTA ROSA COUNTY
WE’LL WAIT FOR BAIT – While on patrol during the recent archery season on Eglin WMA, Officer Jones found a baited hunting site. After checking the area for several days without contact with the subject, he seized all hunting equipment at the site as evidence. After an investigation, Jones was able to identify the owner of the hunting equipment and was able to file charges for placing bait on a wildlife management area.
IT’S AFTER HOURS, BOYS – Officer Mullins was on water patrol on the Escambia River working duck hunting. He heard several shots that were after the legal hunting hours. The officer located four subjects who admitted to shooting after hours. Upon inspection, Mullins discovered one of the subjects with an unplugged shotgun, and another hunting with no valid hunting license. Mullins issued the appropriate citations and warnings.
UNBELTED AND BOOKED – K-9 Officer Hutchinson and Officer Schmitt were on land patrol conducting resource protection in the Blackwater WMA. The officers saw a truck being operated with the driver and passenger not wearing their seat belts. The truck’s right passenger side taillight was inoperative. During the vehicle stop, the officers saw two 12-gauge shotguns in the truck, one next to the driver and the other next to the passenger. FWC Tallahassee Regional Communication Center confirmed that the passenger was a convicted felon. The passenger was arrested for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The passenger was transported to the Santa Rosa County Jail where the intake process was completed. Hutchinson recognized the driver as the individual he was currently investigating for violating the antlerless deer possession limit. After his Miranda Rights were read, the driver admitted to killing two does and led the officers to the location of the deer carcasses. Hutchinson later secured an arrest warrant.
SNIFFED OUT – K-9 Officer Hutchinson, along with K-9 Zara and Officer Schmitt, were patrolling the Blackwater State Forest when they saw a vehicle parked on a closed forest road. Officer Hutchinson recognized the vehicle as belonging to a suspect of an illegal bait site in the Blackwater State Forest. He deployed K-9 Zara who tracked the suspect to his hunting blind. While interviewing the subject, Schmitt discovered the subject was hunting without a valid hunting license, deer permit and management area permit. The subject also admitted to placing bait in the management area and hunting over it. The subject was issued the appropriate citations for the hunting violations.
RIGHT OF WRONG – Officer Hutchinson received a call from a property owner who informed him that he saw a truck with a subject standing in the bed of it shoot into his property. Hutchinson obtained a description of the vehicle from the property owner. He recognized the vehicle description as belonging to several subjects that he contacted earlier while en route to the complaint. K-9 Zara was deployed and conducted an area search for more evidence. During the search, they located several trees that were struck by bullets along with other evidence. After collecting all the evidence, Hutchinson drove to the suspects’ residence and interviewed them. All three subjects admitted to shooting at deer from the right of way and onto the private property. The following day, the property owner located a dead deer with buckshot in it on his property. The driver was cited for road hunting. The passenger, who had recently gotten off probation for night hunting, was charged for using an illegal method to take deer, discharging a firearm from a right of way and a felony charge for trespass by projectile.
FOLLOW THE BLOOD – Officer Hutchinson and K-9 Zara responded to a complaint of road hunting and trespassing. Upon arrival, Hutchinson saw fresh boot tracks leading into the private property. He deployed K-9 Zara to conduct a search of the area. During the search, Zara located where the suspect shot into the private property, pools of fresh blood and a wounded deer. Hutchinson interviewed the suspect who admitted to shooting an antlerless deer from the right of way. Warrants were issued for the violation.
TEARING IT UP – Officer Ramos received multiple complaints regarding Jeeps and four-wheel-drive vehicles off-roading in Blackwater River State Forest. The complainants alleged that the vehicles were intentionally damaging state lands, driving carelessly and disrupting legal hunting. Over the course of a couple hours, Ramos tracked and located three vehicles in two separate locations and issued the appropriate citations and warnings for the violations.
YOU SHALL NOT PASS – Lieutenant Hollinhead patrolled an area of private property after hearing a rifle shot just after daylight. A subject was later seen at a residence standing at the rear of his truck as if he was preparing to process a deer. The subject acted suspicious when Hollinhead contacted him and stated he had not been hunting although he had deer hair on his coat. When questioned about the deer hair he stated his brother gave him a deer. The deer was in the back of the subject’s truck and was a legal buck. Hollinhead left the residence and tracked the subject’s vehicle tire sign to private property where he drove his vehicle around a locked gate onto posted private property. An area on the private property was later located where the subject had parked, hunted, and killed a deer. Once the subject learned what had been located he admitted to killing the deer on the property without permission. The landowner was later contacted and requested that the subject be cited for trespassing due to ongoing trespass problems he has had in the past. Trespass charges will be direct filed.
– Courtesy of FWC Division of Law Enforcement: Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton counties