October 16, thru October 23, 2015
This report represents some events the FWC handled over the past week;
however, it does not include all actions taken by the Division of Law Enforcement.
Lieutenant Chesser and Officer Wicker were dispatched to an early morning call from the Bay County Sheriff’s Department requesting assistance with a possible boating accident and/or impaired operator and one subject was reported to have fled. The officers arrived on scene to find the vessel in question had been towed to shore by good Samaritans and that one subject was under arrest for outstanding warrants. The operator of the vessel was interviewed concerning the incident and several discrepancies were noted during the interview. Once these were pointed out, the operator stated there were three of them that had departed from a local landing and were taking crabs from traps, which explained the cooler of blue crabs found in the boat that towed them in. When asked why the third person had fled from the deputies, the operator said they didn’t know. A written statement was obtained and the crabs seized. The next morning, Officer Wicker interviewed the subject, who was arrested at the county jail and he said they not only stole crabs, but also had been alligator hunting. That afternoon, Lieutenant Chesser received a call from the Sheriff’s Department stating they had information from a source that said the third person didn’t flee, but may have been killed. Lieutenant Chesser met with deputies the next morning and, after a short search, found and recovered the body of the third boater. Officer Wicker obtained an arrest warrant for felony trap robbing for the operator, who was arrested that evening. As of now, both subjects are being held in the Bay County Jail each charged with an open count of murder and felony trap robbing.
The following state fisheries cases resulted in citations issued this past week: Officers Pifer and Molnar were on foot patrol conducting state fisheries inspections at the annual Destin Fishing Rodeo. The officers were in plain clothes. They observed a vessel pull up to the weigh station barge and unload a small cobia from the fish box. Knowing the cobia was undersized, Officer Molnar identified himself and made contact with the vessel operator to address the violation. The cobia measured just under 30 ½ inches and the subject was issued a notice to appear citation for possession of undersized cobia. Officer Pifer was on vehicle/foot patrol conducting state fisheries inspections in the Mary Esther area. Officer Pifer observed two individuals actively engaged in fishing in a freshwater lake. Officer Pifer made contact with the individuals and conducted a fisheries and license inspection. The fisheries inspection of a red cooler revealed multiple freshwater pan fish, one striped bass, and seven red drum. All of the red drum were undersized and a citation was issued to the individuals.
Officer Pifer was dispatched to a boating accident at a local marina in Ft. Walton Beach (FWB). While investigating the boating accident, Officer Pifer determined that one of the vessel’s occupants had an active warrant out of OkaloosaCounty for failure to pay child support. The individual was placed under arrest and was transported by the FWB Police Department to the Okaloosa County Jail.
SANTA ROSA COUNTY
Officer Hutchinson was patrolling an area when he observed a truck parked against a tree line with only its tail lights on. He pulled behind the vehicle and observed a male subject sitting in the vehicle. He observed the subject look back at him and then turn and lean over towards the passenger floorboard area. Officer Hutchinson walked to the driver side door of the vehicle and observed the subject place an object inside the waist band in the front of his shorts. The subject then tried to exit the vehicle after Officer Hutchinson gave him commands to stay in the vehicle. The subject ignored the officer’s commands and exited the vehicle and then threw a small pouch into the bed of the truck. Officer Hutchinson handcuffed the subject and located a small nylon case that contained methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Officer Lewis arrived on scene and assisted Officer Hutchinson in searching the vehicle. During the search, the officers discovered more drug paraphernalia and equipment used to manufacture methamphetamine. The officers contacted the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office who impounded the truck. The suspect was booked into the Santa Rosa County Jail for possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. The following day, the Sheriff’s Office obtained a search warrant for the vehicle. While searching the vehicle, they observed an active meth lab inside of one of the bags in the bed area of the vehicle along with other drug paraphernalia. An additional charge of manufacture of methamphetamine was added to the list of charges against the suspect.
While working Apalachicola Wildlife Management Area close to midnight, Officers Marlow and Raker observed a utility task vehicle (UTV) cross the road in front of them carrying multiple people. The UTV was operating on an unauthorized road as well as in an unauthorized area. The officers observed multiple other UTVs and ATVs coming from the same direction. Through the use of an unmarked vehicle and special tactics, the officers were able to stop nine of the next ten vehicles. The officers observed and addressed violations for damage to state managed lands, open container of alcohol, operating a motor vehicle on an unnumbered road, and operating an ATV in an unauthorized area. The officers issued citations and verbal warnings for the violations.
Officer J. Rockwell taught the laws portion of a Hunter Safety class. He answered questions about the deer management units and various rules and regulations. There were 33 students in attendance.
Officers assigned to the north end of Okaloosa and Walton Counties made contact with 58 landowners to provide them with their contact information and encourage them to call if they have any issues with trespass or game violations during the upcoming hunting season.
NORTH CENTRAL REGION
K-9 Officer Gill and K-9 Friar tracked two hunters in the Osceola National Forest suspected of hunting over bait after they had exited the woods. K-9 Friar led Officer Gill to two bait sites where the hunters were hunting earlier that morning. Officer Gill and Lieutenant Huff returned to the area later that day and found the two hunters hunting deer over the baited areas. The hunters admitted to placing the bait there and were cited for hunting over baited area on state lands.
Officer McDonald was dispatched to the Deer Creek Preserve in northern ColumbiaCounty in reference to a deer being harvested with a rifle during the special archery season. Officer McDonald arrived in the area and observed activity around a pole barn. As he approached the pole barn, he observed three men skinning a hanging deer. Officer McDonald made contact with the subjects. One subject admitted to harvesting the deer with a 7 mm magnum rifle. The subject was cited for the violation. The deer was seized and donated to a LakeCity soup kitchen.
Officer Johnston participated in the annual Columbia High School Homecoming Parade by driving his marked FWC law enforcement vehicle during the parade. Approximately 1,000 people were in attendance throughout the parade route.
Officers West and Meurlot obtained information that an individual was possibly keeping venomous snakes, other reptiles and an alligator at his residence without the appropriate permits. After arriving and meeting the adult male at the residence, they searched the house and the property and located a variety of regulated species that the owner did not have any permits to possess. Investigator Grigg responded to assist with species and permit violations. An American alligator, an eastern diamondback rattlesnake, a pygmy rattlesnake and other venomous reptiles were seized from the owner by Investigator Grigg. He was issued criminal notices to appear for the violations of keeping these species without proper permits and failure to have them properly caged and contained.
Officer Malicoat checked fishermen on the bridges in the New Smyrna Beach area. An adult male was issued a criminal notice to appear for possessing several under the legal size limit of mangrove snapper.
Officers West and Meurlot discovered several resource violations while checking fishermen at the Ponce Inlet jetties. Three adults were issued notices to appear for possession of over-the-bag limit of red drum, possession of under the legal size limit of red drum and possession of under the legal size limit of sheepshead.
The FWC offshore patrol vessel Sea Hawk conducted a boarding approximately 15 miles east of Malabar. The boarding team (Officers Luce and Bohne) located a red snapper in the vessel’s fish box. The fisherman claimed the red snapper was caught in state waters. However, since the vessel was actively engaged in fishing in federal waters, the fish was illegal to possess. The fisherman claimed that was the only red snapper in his possession. A subsequent search by the boarding team uncovered a 13” red snapper hidden in a small cooler. The boarding team also noted the fisherman was not using circle hooks as mandated by federal law north of 28 degrees.
COMMUNITY ORIENTED POLICING
Officers Collazo, K-9 Rosco, Officers Mitchell and Raczek participated in the Quail Forever Youth Day. The event was held at the “CampNiles” Boy Scout Camp in CharlotteCounty. Officers did a K-9 demo for the participants. The kids were also able to sit in the FWC Jeep. Officers answered question by the participants. The group was educated on laws and regulations pertaining to fishing, hunting, state parks and boating safety and regulation booklets were handed out.
Officers Collazo, Goggin and Lieutenant Ruggiero participated in a hunters’ education course at the Webb Wildlife Management area. The officers presented common hunting laws, reviewed regulations, discussed safety and answered questions from the class.
Officer Stephens received information about a trespass in progress from the Peace River. Officers Stephens, Travis, Hanger, K-9 Officer Cloud, Pilot Fields, and LieutenantBrooks responded to the area. Officer Stephens found the suspects with the help of K-9 Donsi. Trespass charges were direct filed on the two subjects.
Officer Stephens was dispatched to a complaint of a subject taking undersized snook. Officer Stephens located the suspect and observed him place a bucket in the bed of his truck. Upon conducting a fisheries inspection, an undersized snook was discovered. The subject was issued a Notice to Appear for possession of undersized snook.
COMMUNITY ORIENTED POLICING
Lieutenant Wells and Officers Freemon, Burks and Stephens showcased the Offshore Patrol Vessel Guardian at Marine Quest in St. Petersburg. There were thousands of people at the event and the officers gave tours of the Guardian to hundreds of people and discussed FWC’s offshore mission. Additionally, the Officers had a boating safety display at one of the booths. The Officers answered thousands of boating safety, hunting and fishing questions. The Officers were able to interact with thousands of stakeholders.
Officers Young, Hanger and Alvis, with the assistance of Pilot Fields, were targeting hunting migratory birds over bait. The Officers discovered a field that had been heavily baited with two different type of millet. Pilot Fields maintained surveillance for the Officers and informed them when hunting was in progress. The Officers issued four Notices to Appear for hunting over bait, several warnings for license violations and charges are pending with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the property owner.
SOUTH REGION B
Officer Johnson was on land patrol in the Big Cypress National Preserve when she was dispatched to a missing hiker in the preserve. Officer Johnson started searching for the hiker’s truck and the entrance he used to enter the preserve. Officers Kleis and Lugg arrived on the scene and brought an ATV. The Officers were able to find the hiker’s truck located off of I-75. Officers Johnson and Lugg continued to search for the missing hiker in the preserve while Officer Kleis searched the hiker’s truck to help find information about his whereabouts. As the Officers started on the trail into the preserve, they called out the hiker’s name asking him to call out back. About a mile down the trail, the hiker called out and was located about 30 yards off the trail in knee-deep water. Officer Johnson walked in and assisted him to the trail. The missing hiker was relieved and happy to see rescue help.
COMMUNITY ORIENTED POLICING
Officers Miller and Reith participated in the North Naples Safe Community Event that was sponsored by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. The local fire department and bomb squad also joined the event. Officers Miller and Reith took a 25-foot Contender and a baby alligator for the public to view and ask questions. The Officers also discussed hunting and fishing rules and regulations with the sportsmen in attendance. Several hundred people attended the event.
Investigator O’Horo, Officer Reams and Biologist Scott attended the public outreach event “Celebrating Safe Communities” in Naples. The event showcased several different law enforcement agencies from around Collier County. Families, friends and the surrounding neighborhoods were brought together in the fight against crime. The FWC staff spoke with the public about bear and human interaction, the upcoming 2015 bear hunt, invasive species, snakes and hunting and fishing regulations. The children in attendance had a blast sitting on FWC’s airboat, climbing the rock wall and playing in the bounce house. The event estimated 800 people in attendance and was very successful in bringing the Collier County community together.
Officer Tidwell attended an outreach event with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office at the Eagle Lakes Community Park where he displayed one of FWC’s 25-foot Contenders, Officer Tidwell spoke with the children and their parents about boating safety, wildlife safety, fishing conservation and working for FWC.
Officer Messier and Lieutenant Peters were conducting commercial lobster vessel inspections off of Key West. During the focused patrol, several commercial lobster vessels were inspected. As a thunderstorm hit, the officers conducted the last boarding of the patrol located in the main ship channel of Key WestHarbor. A spot check of the vessel’s catch revealed several undersized lobster. The commercial vessel was escorted to their offload location and the entire catch was inspected. Investigator Brown and Officer Lopez met the officers at the offload location to assist with the catch’s inspection.
Fifty undersized lobster were found mixed in with the several hundred pounds of legal lobster on board the commercial vessel. Also, one of the crew members had an active warrant for his arrest. All members that participated in the commercial harvest were charged with possession of 50 undersized Florida Spiny Lobster. The undersized lobster were returned to the water alive.
Officers Foell and McHenry were north of Marathon when they observed a vessel displaying commercial spiny lobster and stone crab numbers with two subjects on board. The Officers pulled alongside the vessel to conduct a boating safety and resource inspection. Once alongside, they observed multiple spiny lobster traps on board with stone crab claws and spiny lobster in view. A further inspection of the spiny lobster and stone crab claws revealed multiple undersized lobster and an undersized stone crab claw. Due to the inclement weather and the violations at hand, the Officers escorted the commercial vessel to its nearby dock. Lieutenant Robison assisted in the inspection once dockside. A further inspection revealed that the commercial spiny lobster and stone crab aerial and waterline displays on the vessel were under the legal size limit. The vessel had no Hull Identification Number (HIN) located on the transom. One of the lobster traps on board had a buoy connected to it that was displaying a Stone Crab (X) number. The owner/operator of the vessel was arrested, booked into the Monroe County Jail and charged for the undersized spiny lobster and stone crab claw, aerial display, waterline display, no HIN number and for possessing a commercial lobster trap on state waters with a buoy displaying a stone crab number. The operator also received multiple boating citations. The second subject on board was issued a notice to appear for the undersized spiny lobster and stone crab claw.
Officers McHenry and Foell were on land patrol in the lower keys when they received information that two guys who are known violators were lobster diving at the north end of the 7-Mile Bridge. Both officers were able to stay out of sight until they saw both men exit the water with lobster bags and gear. While conducting a resource inspection, the subjects were found to be in possession of two undersized lobster. The subject that admitted to catching the undersized lobster was charged with possession of the undersized lobster.
Officer Hein was on state water patrol in the Islamorada area when he conducted a resource inspection aboard a commercial crawfish vessel. Officer Hein noticed a basket with a large number of undersized spiny lobster. As Officer Hein was observing other parts of the vessel, he noticed a live whole stone crab. Officer Hein asked the deckhand to put the stone crab into a basket/bucket, but he threw it overboard. Officer Hein counted the undersized spiny lobster and counted below the legal limit of 50. Officer Hein found another basket in a different location that also contained undersized spiny lobster putting the occupants over the legal limit. The captain was cited for possession of over-the-limit undersized spiny lobster and the deckhand was charged with possession of stone crab out of season and interference with an FWC Officer.
Officer Hein was on state water patrol in the Islamorada area when he conducted a boating safety inspection on a vessel with several individuals that had been fishing. Officer Hein conducted a resource inspection as well and found the occupants to be in possession of undersized tripletail. One occupant admitted to catching the tripletail and was cited accordingly.
Officer Martino was on patrol on StockIsland when he was dispatched to HiggsBeach on Key West. Sergeant Calhoun of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by a citizen to report a man that was lobstering off of HiggsBeach. Sergeant Calhoun approached the subject, and asked to inspect the yellow bag he had placed in his bicycle basket. The subject consented and offered the bag to Sergeant Calhoun. Sergeant Calhoun discovered the bag contained 26 live Queen Conch. Officers Martino and Lopez arrived at HiggsBeach. Officer Lopez asked the subject why he had the Queen Conch and he answered that he didn't know it was illegal to take Queen Conch. The Queen Conch were photographed and returned them to the ocean alive. The Officers arrested the subject and he was transported to the Monroe County Jail.
The 911 Dispatch received a call at approximately 1:00 a.m. from a citizen stating he heard a PWC strike an anchored sailboat in TarponBasin in Key Largo. The caller stated that he went out in his dinghy and saw a subject floating face down in the water. Officers Sutter, Pestka, Investigator Daniels, Lieutenant Reisz and Captain Beaton responded to the scene, along with a boat crew from USCG Islamorada and MCSO Deputies. FWC recovered the victim near the crash scene and USCG located the drifting PWC in TarponBasin. The case is still on going.