July 1 – 28, 2020
To increase awareness of Conservation Police Officers (CPO’s-previously called game wardens) activities, the “Virginia Conservation Police Notebook” provides an overview of activities encountered by our officers who protect natural resources and people pursuing outdoor recreation in the fields, woods and waters of Virginia. These reports are prepared from the officer’s field notes by Kim McCarthy, Executive Assistant to Major Scott Naff [Operations] and Major Bryan Young [Administration] of the Law Enforcement Division of DGIF. These CPO reports show the value of concerned citizens, landowners and true sportsmen in providing tips to law enforcement officers on suspected violations by lawbreakers who give other outdoor enthusiasts an undeserved bad reputation.
Region I – Tidewater
Dangerous, Reckless Boat Operation – On July 3, 2020, Conservation Police Sergeant Mark Brewer and CPO Austin Wakefield were on boat patrol in Bennett’s Creek when they observed a Carolina Skiff approaching them. They heard someone shouting happily and saw a person in the water behind the boat. As the boat got closer, the officers realized the person in the water was holding onto the swim ladder on the port stern and riding very close to the propeller on the 90HP Evinrude outboard motor. The officers stopped the boat and investigated the activity. Neither the person in the water, nor the boat operator realized the potential danger. Luckily nobody was injured, but the boat operator was charged with reckless boat operation.
Suicidal Subject – On July 9, 2020, CPO Brandon Chester responded to assist the Dinwiddie County Sheriff’s Office with a call for a suicidal subject that was armed with at least one firearm. Upon arrival, Officer Chester took up a perimeter position while members of the Sheriff’s Office spoke with the subject over the phone. After approximately two hours of conversation with the subject, the Sheriff’s Office was able to get the subject to come out of the residence without incident.
Fishermen Caught with Illegal Striped Bass – On July 17, 2020, at approximately 0902 hours, CPO Rabago was on routine boat patrol in an unmarked patrol boat on the Pamunkey River, in King William County. Officer Rabago had received reports of striped bass being caught out of season in the area. While on patrol, Officer Rabago observed two white male subjects fishing from a vessel in an area known to produce striped bass. Rabago took a position and conducted surveillance on the subjects as they were fishing. After several minutes, he observed one of the fishermen land a fish that appeared to be a striped bass and placed it into a cooler. Rabago then observed the subject pick up two additional fish that appeared to have been on the deck of the vessel and place them into the same cooler. Officer Rabago contacted the subjects and identified himself as a Conservation Police Officer. He advised the anglers that he would be checking their fishing licenses and any fish they may have on board. During the inspection of the subjects’ cooler, he found that it contained nine illegal striped bass. The subjects claimed they were unaware of a closed season or a possession limit. One of the fish was very lively and was able to be released. The remaining eight fish were photographed for prosecution and donated to the local community. Appropriate charges were placed on the subjects.
Subject Drives into the River, Charged with DUI – On July 24, 2020, Conservation Police Sergeant Brandon Woodruff was patrolling Peters Bridge Boat Landing in Sussex County. Upon arrival he noticed an individual attempting to recover a jon boat while a car was parked in the middle of the boat ramp facing toward the waterway. While conversing with the boat owner, Sgt. Woodruff heard the car engine rev loudly and watched as the car drove into the river. The car became stuck on its frame as it drove off the end of the ramp with the front end partially submerged up to the floorboards of the passenger compartment. The driver then exited the vehicle and tossed a 42-ounce Ice House bottle into the woods. Sgt. Woodruff contacted the driver who admitted to drinking 3 forty-ounce beers. Sgt. Woodruff conducted FSTs on the individual, but quickly determined the individual was too unsteady on his feet to complete the standing tests safely. At that time, Officer Rollings arrived on scene to assist. Officer Rollings coordinated towing the vehicle out of the River and assisted the passengers of the suspect with getting a ride home while the suspect was being arrested. Sussex County Sheriff’s Office transported the suspect to the jail where he provided a breath sample with a BAC of .14
Geese Out of Season – On Friday July 24, 2020, a call was received from the Hanover County Sheriff’s Department concerning someone shooting geese out of season. Not having an officer available to immediately respond and a need to determine if a CAGO permit was involved, the case was put on hold. On Saturday, July 25, K9 Officer Braziel, and partner Grace, responded to assist; Officer Jon Hart was assigned to the case. Officer Hart responded to the scene as well and was quickly able to develop and contact a suspect and advised the suspect to meet him at the scene. In the interim, Grace was able to locate three shotgun shell casings and three wads. When Sgt. Valasek arrived, the suspect advised that he was not attempting to kill any geese, just trying to get them to leave his soybean field. After a short break for Grace from the heat she was deployed again and located two additional shells and two additional wads. Appropriate enforcement was taken.
Region II – Southside
Medical Emergency on Smith Mountain Lake – On July 3, 2020, Senior CPO Joe Williams and Sgt. Tim Dooley were on boat patrol on Smith Mountain Lake when they were advised of a medical emergency. According to witnesses, an individual had consumed a large quantity of alcohol before jumping from a rock approximately 20 feet above the water. The individual hit his head and was submerged for approximately 30-45 seconds. The CPOs assisted with getting the subject aboard a nearby vessel, made sure he was stabilized, and transported EMS personnel from a nearby marina to the scene. The subject was transported to an area hospital for further observation.
Holiday Patrol Yields Intoxicated Boater – On July 4, 2020, Senior CPO Brandon Harris and Sgt. Jessica Whirley were conducting a boat patrol on Buggs Island Lake, Mecklenburg County. They witnessed a person operating a vessel using docking lights at night. Upon initiating a stop, they noticed the operator of the vessel stand up from the operator’s seat and have a young girl sit behind the wheel; later identified as his daughter. The operator then went to the rear of the vessel, then to the front where he threw something overboard. Senior Officer Harris asked the operator for his registration and explained to him why they stopped him. The operator fumbled through his wallet before eventually finding the registration. Senior Officer Harris observed alcoholic beverages in the boat and he could smell the odor coming from him. After conducting a safety check, Senior Officer Harris conducted field sobriety tests and then offered a preliminary breath test to the operator. Senior Officer Harris then placed him under arrest for operating under the influence. The final blood alcohol content was .08. Appropriate charges were placed.
No Lanyard, No Education, Big Problem – On July 4, 2020, CPO Leslie Wright and Sgt. Tim Dooley were on boat patrol on Smith Mountain Lake when they observed an individual operating a PWC without the lanyard attached. They made contact and soon determined the individual had not completed a required boat education course. Observations during the contact prompted the officers to initiate field sobriety tests of which the subject performed poorly. The subject was arrested and transported to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office where he registered a 0.14 BAC.
PWC Riding after Sunset Leads to OUI Arrest – On July 5, 2020, CPOs Leslie Wright and Joe Williams were on boat patrol on Smith Mountain Lake when they observed an individual operating a PWC well after sunset. Contact was made and observations prompted the officers to initiate field sobriety tests. The subject performed poorly and he was arrested and transported to the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office where he registered a 0.19 BAC.
Suspicious Box Identified – On July 13, 2020, CPO Nick Sumner received a call in reference to a suspicious wooden box in the lake at the Amelia Wildlife Management Area. Officer Sumner responded and utilized his patrol boat to locate the wooden box, which turned out to be a catfish-spawning box placed in the lake by DWR biologists to promote the fishery.
Reckless PWC Operator – On July 19, 2020, CPOs Brett Clawson and Tyler Routon were on boat patrol on Smith Mountain Lake in Bedford County when they observed an adult operating a PWC recklessly with a juvenile passenger onboard. The individual approached a second PWC, which was sitting idle and turned sharply causing a large wake. The operator was within 20 feet of the second PWC when this occurred and the force of the wake knocked the second operator off their machine. The appropriate charge was placed.
Region III – Southwest
Extensive Search Ends with No Signs of Individual – On June 30, 2020, CPOs in District 32 received a request to assist with a search for an individual that jumped from the Route 100 bridge over the New River in Wythe County. Sgt Adam Keene, Officer Ben Boyette, Andy Rutledge and Mark Shaw responded and conducted an initial search of the river from the bridge to the Allisonia Boat Ramp in Pulaski County with negative results. K9 Officer Wes Billings responded with K9 Molly and conducted a search of the river banks on both sides below the bridge in an attempt to find a track or sign of an individual getting out of the water. This search also did not locate any sign of an individual in the water or climbing out of the river. Multiple local agencies responded to assist with the search to include divers from Montgomery and Pulaski County. A boat with side scan sonar was also utilized but did not locate the missing person. A search of the area by Wythe County deputies and officers did not locate a vehicle or any other indication that a person had jumped in the water. A follow up search was conducted the following day and multiple days through the holiday weekend with no sign of the individual.
Subject with Backpack Takes a Swim to Elude CPO – On June 27, 2020, CPOs Jason Harris and Eric Rorabaugh were working along the New River in Grayson County when a group of fishermen were encountered near the Mouth of Wilson Boat Ramp. When one male individual saw the marked patrol vehicle he placed his fishing pole beside a rock and after taking a short swim picked up his backpack and went up the river bluff. Officer Harris was able to locate the male individual on the river bluff and obtained identification and an admission based on his nervous behavior that there were drugs in his backpack. Immediately after this admission, the subject grabbed the backpack and fled on foot towards the river. Officer Harris pursued the suspect on foot to the river’s edge where the suspect jumped in river. The suspect became separated from the backpack and went under water several times. Officer Rorabaugh began launching the patrol boat to assist. The subject regained possession of the backpack and sank it before coming to shore where he asked for help getting out of the water. Multiple syringes floated out of the back pack and were seized as evidence by the officers. The suspect was taken into custody and charged with multiple offenses to include fishing without a license, possession of drug paraphernalia, obstruction of justice and littering. Two days following this incident, the officers with assistance from a diver from the Virginia State Police recovered the sunken back pack from the river and discovered multiple drug items that will be sent to the laboratory for analysis. Additional charges are pending.
Suspects Observed by CPO Engaging in Use of Illegal Drugs, Arrested – On June 25, 2020, CPO Boyette was patrolling the stocked trout water of Elk Creek in Grayson County when he conducted surveillance on a group of individuals alongside the creek. A short time later, the officer observed one of the individuals engage in the use of illegal drugs. He then made contact with the individuals who became angry and would not comply with basic commands given by the officer. The individuals were detained until deputies from Grayson County Sheriff’s Office along with Officer Jason Harris arrived on scene. The officers searched the vehicle and located illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia in the vehicle. Both subjects were placed under arrest and taken before a magistrate where appropriate charges were obtained to include obstruction of justice.
Several Charges Placed on Tubers in Elk Creek – On July 3, 2020, Senior Officer Daniel Ross was on patrol in Scott County along the Clinch River. Officer Ross observed a group of tubers littering as they were floating the river. Officer Ross contacted the floaters and advised them to come to shore to address the littering issues. Officer Ross had two juveniles immediately respond and shortly thereafter an adult came ashore as well. Three females failed to follow the order, two of which moved to the middle of the river and behind a large raft to evade contact. The third began to swim towards Officer Ross, but then swam across to the opposite side of the river. Officer Ross contacted Scott County Sheriff’s Office to assist in locating the tubers due to the geographical issues in the area. Deputy Gillenwater was able to make contact with two of the tubers, but the third was not contacted until after dark as she was hiding along the river. After completing the investigation Officer Ross made several charges including Impeding a Conservation Officer, Littering in State Waters and Possession of Alcohol by underage persons.
Suspended Driver Caught – On July 3, 2020, while patrolling the Cranesnest River campgrounds in Dickenson County, Sergeant James Hale and CPO Dylan Harding received a call from Dickenson County Deputy Stallard that a vehicle was heading towards the boat ramp being driven by a subject known to be suspended. Deputy Stallard gave a description of the driver, the truck he was driving and the boat it was pulling. Sgt. Hale and Officer Harding also saw the suspect and vehicle. Contact was made with the suspect as he was backing his boat towards the ramp. Upon inspection of the vehicle and driver, it was determined not only that he was driving suspended (6th offense); but also had altered the license plates and had no insurance or registration for said vehicle. CPO Harding placed appropriate charges.
Homeowner Shoots at Bear in Trash – On March 16, 2020, a subject called to report that he had shot at a bear for getting in his trash can and requested the Department send a K9 unit to make sure the bear was gone. Upon interviewing the subject CPO Harding determined that the bear posed no threat and furthermore that the shot was fired directly into a state maintained road that ran by the subject’s house. He was charged with attempting to take a bear during closed season and shooting in/across a roadway.
State Record Bluegill Caught Illegally – On June 25, 2020, a subject called the Marion Region 3 Office to report that he caught a state record bluegill. Virginia Conservation Police Officer Dylan Harding was dispatched to confirm and weigh the fish, and contacted CPO Matthew Meade to witness the weigh in as well. The bluegill weighed in at 2lbs 2.4oz. During questioning about the fish CPO Harding asked the subject where he caught the fish. He stated a private pond and described the location to the officers. When asked if he had permission to fish that pond he hesitantly said no but that it was “one of those ponds everyone fishes.” It was ultimately confirmed by the owners of the property, The Nature Conservancy, that the subject did not have permission to fish the pond. CPO Harding charged the subject for the offense and seized the bluegill.
Tubers Caught Littering Face Additional Charges – On July 3, 2020, Senior CPO Daniel Ross was on patrol in Scott County along the Clinch River. Officer Ross observed a group of tubers littering as they were floating the river. Officer Ross contacted the tubers and advised them to come to shore to address the Littering issues. Officer Ross had two juveniles immediately respond and shortly thereafter an adult came ashore as well. Three females failed to follow the order and continued, two of which moved to the middle of the river and behind a large raft to evade contact. The third began to swim towards Officer Ross but then swam across to the opposite side of the river. Officer Ross had to contact Scott County Sheriff’s Office to assist in locating the tubers due to the geographical issues in the area. The Scott County unit was able to make contact with two of the tubers, but the third was not located until after dark as she was hiding along the river. After completing investigation Officer Ross made several charges including Impeding Conservation Officer, Littering in State Waters and Possession of Alcohol by underage persons.
Intoxicated Boater on Claytor Lake – On July 10, 2020, CPO’s Peake and Phillips received a call about a possible intoxicated boater on Claytor Lake in Pulaski County in Hidden Valley Cove. The caller advised that the individual was unsteady on his feet and was acting strange. The caller gave a Virginia boat number and a description of the vessel. The officers responded and searched the lake for close to an hour. They found the suspect at the Lighthouse Bridge in his boat. The officers approached and noticed the man seemed confused, unsteady on his feet, and slurring his speech. The man agreed to SFST’s and performed unsatisfactorily. Officer Phillips placed the suspect under arrest for OUI. The man was transported to the NRV regional jail where his BAC level was determined to be 0.22 g/210L of breath.
Region IV – Mountains & Shenandoah Valley and Northern Piedmont
Felon with a Firearm Caught During Routine Dump Site Check – On June 25th, 2020 while still wearing class A uniform due to a court appearance, CPO Pritt went to check a trash dump site near a stocked trout stream in Alleghany County. While doing so, he observed a small pickup truck backed into the wood line with no license plate displayed on the front of the vehicle. He parked his patrol car and approached the vehicle. After speaking with the two occupants it was determined that the driver had a revoked driver’s license, and that the vehicle had FARM USE tags displayed on the rear. The two occupants were asked to exit the vehicle and did so. During the interaction the driver told CPO Pritt that he was a convicted felon and that there was a 40 caliber handgun under the driver’s seat. CPO Pritt detained the driver, and took control of the firearm. Once CPO Entsminger arrived on scene a thorough search of the vehicle was performed. Inside the vehicle, items consistent with the sale of illegal narcotics were located, as well as paraphernalia. In addition, an abnormally large amount of cash was also located. All of these items were seized, and both individuals were arrested. Appropriate charges were obtained to include felon in possession of a weapon, possession with intent to distribute narcotics, and additional charges that are pending lab analysis, and CPO Pritt’s class A uniform is pending dry cleaning.
“BOLO” Leads to Intoxicated Driver Caught – On the evening of June 28, 2020, CPO Guizar responded to a Culpeper County BOLO regarding a reckless driver. The vehicle was described as swerving all over the road. Guizar located the suspect vehicle in a parking lot. Guizar observed the operator of the vehicle nodding their head up and down as if trying to sleep. He pulled up to the vehicle to check on the driver and immediately observed an open container of alcohol. The vehicle was still running at the time and the driver of the vehicle looked at Guizar and put their head back to go to sleep. Guizar asked how much alcohol the driver had consumed and they replied with heavy slurred speech “Nothing at all”. The driver was asked to exit the vehicle to conduct field sobriety tests. Testing could not be completed due to the individual being highly intoxicated. Preliminary breath results resulted in a 0.329 BAC. The operator of the vehicle was subsequently arrested by Culpeper County Sheriff Deputy for DUI.
Intensive Investigation Leads to Multiple Charges on Four Individuals – On Jan. 15, 2020, Special Agent Paul Inge and CPO Adam Roberts responded to a trespass to hunt/illegal dumping call. The complainant stated 15 deer carcasses were dumped on the property with only the heads and back straps removed. After an intensive investigation, conducting 3 search warrants, multiple suspect interviews, and obtaining information from the main suspect’s cell phone, 28 summonses and 3 written warnings were issued to 4 individuals on July 5, 2020. Charges included failure to check deer, hunting over bait, hunting during illegal hours, hunting deer with a caliber less than a .23, killing deer illegally, and several other game violations.
PWC Operator Stopped and Found to be “Wanted” in Fairfax County – On Sunday, July 5th CPOs Hatmaker and Simmons were patrolling the area of Christopher Run on Lake Anna, in Louisa County. Officer Hatmaker observed two unknown males on a PWC operating in the No Wake Zone. When the operator saw the officers, he quickly turned around to go back in to shore. Officer Hatmaker noticed the PWC did not have a registration sticker on the starboard side. A boat stop was initiated and the officers made contact with the operator of the PWC. The operator told Officer Hatmaker that he turned around because he had not completed a boater education class. Officer Hatmaker completed a boat safety inspection and began to talk to the passenger. The passenger’s information was provided to dispatch and it was discovered that he was wanted out of Fairfax County for failure to appear in court. Officer Hatmaker took the passenger into custody on the outstanding warrant. He was then transported to the magistrate by Officer Simmons.
Hemp Plant Found with No Permit, Seized – While patrolling the Powhatan WMA on July 15, 2020, Conservation Police Officers Chaffin, Heberling, and Cavazos observed a plant in the front yard of a residence adjacent to the entrance of the WMA that resembled a marijuana plant. Officer Cavazos contacted the Powhatan Sheriff’s Office to see if the residence possessed a permit for industrial hemp. There was no permit on file. Officer Cavazos and deputies from the Sheriff’s Office went to the residence. The residents claimed that the plant was hemp, but admitted they did not have a permit. The deputies seized the plant for testing and will address the permit/possession violation depending on the lab results.
CPO Conducts First Highland Outdoors Day – On July 18, 2020 Senior Officer BJ McGuire conducted the first Highland Outdoors Day at the Highland Center in Monterey (you guessed it, Highland County).
Attendees pre-registered by phone or email with Senior Officer McGuire for 5 – 45 min. sessions. The sessions for the completely outdoors day included: Firearms Safety with HCSO Deputy Bob Kelly, Trapping with VA Trappers Association member JR Simmons , Habitat with WMA Supervisor Hunter Ritchie, Taxidermy with World Champion Harold McGuire, Turkey Hunting with retired CPO Sergeant Steve Bullman, Archery (had family medical emergency and couldn’t make it), Fly Fishing with South River Fly Shop Tommy Lawhorn, Living w/ Bears in VA with DWR Biologist David Kocka and assistant Phillip Hanger, and Boater Safety with CPO Katiana Quarles. There was a trout pool/tank on location for attendees to catch their own fish and each child that caught a fish was awarded a trophy. Everyone was able to keep socially distant and masks and gloves were provided by the Highland Emergency Services Coordinator for any hands-on teaching/learning moments. Groups were kept under 10 and there was a limit of 50 attendees. With only 2 weeks to advertise and the event being held a month later than initially planned there were hopes of having 20, a goal of 30, and an ending number of 34.
Name, address, and phone numbers were collected so the local health department and all participants could be notified if there was any exposure to COVID-19 at the event. So far none have been reported. Senior Officer McGuire placed each person’s check-in materials on a table with DWR goodie bags and remained nearby for questions. Maps of the event stations were placed on poles around the check-in pavilion. Tape X’s were placed on the ground at registration to keep people from congregating in a condensed line. Also, signage was placed around the entrance that stated that no one with a fever or symptoms of COVID-19, or known exposure to a COVID-19 case in the prior 14 days, were permitted in the event. During check-in attendees were asked if they had any symptoms of COVID-19 and with permission no-touch temperatures were taken. All archery equipment, fishing gear, trapping equipment, and any other items that were touched were disinfected between uses. The HC EMS Coordinator provided an EPA-approved disinfectant to clean items and alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol which was placed around the grounds for attendees and workers to utilize. During the hourly 15 minute intermission everyone was encouraged to wash or sanitize their hands. Chairs at stations were placed at least 6 feet apart and were sanitized by SO McGuire during every intermission. Every 2 hours, the Highland Center Director disinfected surfaces of the Highland Center that people may have touched when they entered to use the restroom facilities.
K-9 Officer Richard Howald conducted a short tracking demo with his partner, Sky, after the lunch break. At the conclusion of the event Officer McGuire drew numbers for door prizes. Everyone in attendance received a door prize.
K9 Team Finds Hidden Firearm– On July 1, 2020, K9 CPO Mark VanDyke and K9 Avery were contacted by the Wise County Sheriff’s Office to assist Coeburn P.D. in searching for a firearm that was used in an attempted malicious wounding case. The suspect stated to investigators that he had thrown the .22 caliber pistol from the vehicle’s window after firing it from the vehicle. The hillside where the firearm was thrown was thick, steep and over grown with briers, causing difficultly for K9 Avery to search the area. After approximately 30 minutes of searching, K9 Avery was placed back in the patrol vehicle to rest and cool down. Before she was brought back out to continue the search, the suspect stated he had lied about the location of the firearm and apologized to CPO VanDyke and K9 Avery. The suspect took investigators and CPO VanDyke to a wooded area and stated that he ran into the woods and wrapped the firearm in a red t-shirt and buried it under some leaves and a huge rock. K9 Avery was brought back out and quickly located the buried firearm.
K9 Team Assists Sheriff’s Office with Homicide Investigation – Loudon County Sheriff’s Office requested Master K9 Officer Mark DiLuigi and K9 Lily to help look for evidence in a homicide investigation. The investigators had located some evidence from the victim and wanted to see if anything else was in the area. K9 Lily did a great job working in the heat and terrain (rocks, trash, shrubs, thickets along a large highway exchange) but did not locate any thing else. LCSO did a great job shutting down traffic so that Officer DiLuigi and K9 Lily were safe during the search. Even though no additional evidence or items were located LCSO was satisfied and were very grateful.