By Linda Crisp-In recent news, it has been reported that six U.S. Forest Service (USFS) employees from Western North Carolina were awarded “Law Enforcement and Investigations Awards” by the USFS for their roles in “Operation Something Bruin”, a four-year, multi-agency investigation targeting “bear poachers” in WNC and surrounding states, resulting in arrests in February 2013.
Also, in October, the National Wildlife Federation bestowed “prestigious conservation honors” on Sgt. Chad Arnold, an officer from Charlotte with the Special Investigations Unit of the N.C. Wildlife Commission. Arnold was named “Wildlife Enforcement Officer of the Year”, and the Commission was named the “Natural Resources Agency of the Year”, according to a press release from the N.C. Wildlife Commission.
After state and federal wildlife officials arrested these “so-called” poachers in February, 2013, the state dismissed all charges on some of them in April, 2013. Some hunters were arrested again in June, 2013 by United States Forest Service officials.
The Wildlife Federation, United States Forest Service, state and federal officials have been too hasty in handing out awards and congratulating themselves.
In 2009, Arnold (undercover alias “Chad Ryan”), and Davey Webb (alias Davey Williams), a wildlife agent from Georgia, visited a gun shop in Bryson City, N.C. According to the shop owner, they stated that they wanted to get involved in bear hunting and asked for recommendations of hunting guides in the area. However, according to subsequent reports, they were supposed to be infiltrating “known poaching circles”. The gun shop owner told them about some hunters he knew in Graham County, N.C. These agents hunted with men in Graham, Swain, Jackson, and Haywood from 2009-2012.
In late 2010 through 2011, under time constraints, and possibly due to not finding any illegal activity, Arnold and Webb resorted to various schemes to try to entice the hunters to break laws.
During one hunter’s trial in Haywood County, agents admitted to buying illegal bait for bears in Tennessee, and placing it in a hunter’s yard in Graham County. Hunters witnessed the officers killing at least four of the ten bears that were taken. These agents, against the advice of hunters, removed the bears’ gallbladders and called hunters from surrounding counties to try to get them to participate in the illegal selling of bear parts. The hunters refused to take part in this illegal activity. These are only two of the many tactics used in attempts to entrap hunters of Western North Carolina.
According to one attorney, Arnold admitted in court to violating 39 wildlife laws.
Additionally, state and federal agents employed “Gestapo-like” techniques in search and seizure of so-called “evidence”, including improper service of search-warrants.
Men in bullet-proof vests, with M-16 rifles came into homes where women were alone.
In one house, more than 20 agents with guns drawn, terrorized screaming toddlers and left them unsupervised while the parents were roughed up, searched, handcuffed, and taken outside the home. To this day, these children display post-traumatic stress symptoms.
They left homes in disarray and removed items unrelated to bear hunting: a laptop computer, hunting picture of deceased family member, legally killed mounted deer and boar heads, duck and turkey calls belonging to a four-year-old boy, a boat and boat titles, a front-end loader, personal vehicles, and many other items, which have not been returned.
To date, hunters who have had jury trials have not been convicted. In one case in Graham County, agents could not produce video “evidence”. Enticements were made by prosecutors including an offer to drop some charges if the hunter involved would plead guilty. The hunter refused and requested a jury trial. In this case, all charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.
Various new releases by state and federal agencies, as well as the media, have already labeled all the hunters as “poachers”; however, most of these men have not had their “day in court”. Whatever happened to due process of law and “innocent until proven guilty”?
To add insult to injury, some hunters who have not been convicted of anything have been assigned federal probation officers who visit monthly.
“Something IS Brewing” in WNC; that “SOMETHING” would be tempers. The hunters involved are tired of being falsely accused, their rights ignored, and their reputations ruined.
The citizens of WNC and Northern Georgia are now organizing to get some answers from these agencies on why their constitutional rights have been ignored and proper due process of law not given.
A public hearing is currently being planned for mid-January 2014. Organizers are asking for Governor Pat McCrory, Congressman Mark Meadows and all elected officials to initiate investigations of all officers and agencies involved in “Operation Something Bruin”. If you have information to share, or would like to participate, please send an e-mail to SomethingBrewing2013@yahoo.com , or letter to P.O. Box 948, Bryson City, N.C., 28713.
Graham County, NC