Conservation Law Enforcement Corner June 2020
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.
Putnam County: On Tuesday, March 26, 2019, Cpl. Bubba Lynn Stanford received a call from a Putnam County landowner about someone hunting without permission. The man was listening for gobbling on the roost around 7 a.m. when he heard a very close rifle shot, and then he actually saw a turkey fall out of a tree.
According to the DNR incident report, the landowner said he “fired a shot into the air with his shotgun and yelled that this was private property. Then he approached the area, did not observe anyone, but did see the dead turkey in the edge of the creek.”
Cpl. Stanford said, “I arrived at the location at approximately 0745 hours and located a black Toyota pickup parked at the creek on Crooked Creek Road. I had radioed Capt. Chris Hodge to respond to the location, as well.”
Cpl. Stanford made contact with a 19-year-old from Eatonton and a juvenile, who claimed to be fishing. Neither had permission to be fishing on the property.
“I found boot tracks from their location going farther into the woods near where the turkey was shot,” Cpl. Stanford said. “Once Capt. Hodge arrived, we discovered a loaded .223 caliber Diamondback AR-15 rifle with a thermal scope behind the seat. The rifle smelled as if it had been freshly fired, and there was fresh mud on the stock.
“I followed the fresh boot prints to the location of the dead turkey and made contact with the landowner. The jake turkey had what appeared to be a bullet hole through the neck, and feathers were covering the ground underneath the tree from which it was shot. I allowed the landowner to take possession of the turkey, and I returned to Capt. Hodge and the suspects. Both denied knowing anything about the turkey being shot and claimed they had been camping there off and on for the last several days.”
The 19-year-old told officers several times he did not even hunt turkeys. They were allowed to leave the scene, but Cpl. Stanford’s investigation was just beginning. The 19-year-old worked at a relative’s taxidermy shop, and Cpl. Stanford looked on the shop’s Facebook page and saw pictures of the 19-year-old and his brother posing with turkeys. It was posted on March 25, the day before the jake was poached from the roost. There were several pictures of the 19-year-old on the bank of a creek with a turkey. Later that day the images were removed from Facebook. A witness reported hearing a shot on the 25th and saw the black truck parked at the creek on the private property.
“Capt. Hodge and I returned to the property on March 26. We did locate the exact location that the picture of the 19-year-old holding the turkey was taken, as well as a turkey breast feather there. The background was an exact match to the image on Facebook.
“On March 27, I met with Cpl. Keith Page and DNR K-9 Rio at the location to canvas the area once again. K-9 Rio did locate a freshly spent Federal, 3.5 inch, 3rd Degree shotgun shell near the location. The shell was located along the path that I had found the fresh boot prints the previous day.”
Cpl. Stanford then got a warrant to search cell phone records. The 19-year-old’s phone was pinging on the tower for the incident location at the times of the occurrences. On May 30, 2019, Putnam County Solicitor General Russell Thomas filed charges against the 19-year-old.
When the 19-year-old was arrested, Cpl. Stanford informed him officers conducted search warrants of his phone, and “he told a friend to smash his phone—literally took a hammer and smashed the phone. That was a waste of a good phone—all that data is saved in the Cloud,” Cpl. Stanford said.
The case went to trial March 5. The 19-year-old was guilty of five counts, including hunting without permission and hunting with an illegal weapon. His fines totalled $2,040, and he received 36 months probation and lost hunting privileges for one year.
Cpl. Stanford Earns Second NWTF Award