Conservation Law Enforcement Corner – January 2022

Stealing from DNR doesn't pay off.

GON Staff | January 2, 2022

The Conservation LE Corner is designed to highlight the efforts of Georgia DNR Law Enforcement Division (LED) officers who, among their many duties, protect Georgia’s wildlife, sportsmen and natural resources from game-law violators.

Monroe County: This isn’t a case about a hunting or fishing violation, or even about DNR Law Enforcement officers making a case. 

It’s about the theft of some very valuable DNR equipment from a business in Monroe County, and about an alert police officer in Byron whose information led to helicopters finding the stolen equipment on a Broxton man’s property in Coffee County.

According to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, three DNR Polaris Rangers on three trailers, valued at more than $60,000, were stolen from a business in Forsyth that specializes in equipping and customizing law enforcement vehicles. 

Information released as a BOLO and on social media by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department said, ‘The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the theft of three 2021 Polaris Rangers green in color and three 2021 Hooper 6X16 trailers black in color that were stolen from Interceptor Public Safety Products on Indian Springs Drive. Each Ranger was located on a trailer. The first one was taken on  Saturday, Aug. 21 at 11:57 a.m. and the second one was taken 6:27 p.m. and unknown time on the third one. The vehicle that removed the items was a newer model white four-door Chevrolet 2500 Duramax with a tool box fuel tank and a Kobalt box in the bed. The truck was operated by a white male, approximately 50 years of age with short clean-cut hair, wearing a grey T-shirt with an American flag on sleeve.”

James Russell “Rusty” Spell, of Broxton, was arrested and charged in the theft of three DNR Polaris Rangers and trailers from a business in Forsyth.

A Byron police officer saw the BOLO and remember noticing a pickup truck matching the description pulling a trailer with a Polaris on Sunday night Aug. 22 at around midnight at the Buc-ee’s mega-convenience store right off I-75 at exit 144.

Investigators were able to identify a tag from Buc-ee’s video footage and identified a suspect, James Russell “Rusty” Spell, of Broxton. Georgia State Patrol helicopters flew over Spell’s property in Coffee County and spotted the three Polaris Rangers. DNR Rangers and investigators arrested Spell and charged him with six felony counts of theft by taking. He was transported first to the Coffee County Jail and later transferred to the Monroe County Jail.

It is more than 130 miles and two hours and 15 minutes from Forsyth to Broxton, and the vehicle was identified in video footage in all three thefts. Also remarkable is that the thefts occurred from a business on Indian Springs Road in Forsyth, which is like Law Enforcement Row. It is where the Georgia Public Safety Training Center (GPSTC) is located, which attracts officers from departments across the state. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department building is right there, as are numerous businesses that cater to law enforcement officers and equipment.

In 2019, two Gwinnett County men were arrested for a string of thefts of DNR equipment from Georgia Wildlife Management Areas. The GBI arrested James Arthur Graham, 22, of Lawrenceville, and Parker Lewis Dean, 20, of Braselton. 

According to a GBI release, “Graham and Dean went on a burglary spree together targeting WMAs from May 2019 through September 2019. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation Cleveland Office was originally requested to conduct the investigation into burglaries at Stephens County, Dawson County and Lumpkin County WMAs in June 2019. As the investigation evolved, it was determined that additional burglaries occurred, both before the GBI investigation and during the investigation, in Hart, Putnam, Burke, Greene, McDuffie, Bartow, Marion and Dooly counties. Additionally, the above suspects are believed to be responsible for a burglary at the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge. Approximately $50,000 worth of equipment was stolen, and the majority of the items have been recovered.”

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