July 13 – August 16, 2022
To increase awareness of Conservation Police Officers’ (CPOs, or 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 of the Law Enforcement Division of DWR. 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.
Boat Operator Found Intoxicated during Safety Checkpoint – On July 23, 2022, Va. Conservation Police from Districts 11 and 16 were conducting a boating safety checkpoint on the Rappahannock River near Tappahannock. At approximately 6:30 pm, Sgt. Spuchesi and Master Officer Dobyns conducted a stop of a motorboat entering the authorized check point zone. The operator of the boat exhibited clear signs of impairment and was offered the seated battery of standardized field sobriety tests by the officers. The operator performed the tests poorly and was offered a preliminary breath test. A reading level of 0.12 blood alcohol content (BAC) was observed and CPO Dobyns placed the operator under arrest for operating a boat under the influence of alcohol (OUI). The subject was transported to the Essex County Sheriff’s Office where a final blood alcohol content reading of 0.11 was observed on the Intoximeter. The operator was charged with the OUI offense and transported to the Middle Peninsula Regional Security Center. Virginia’s blood alcohol content level for boat operators is the same as for vehicle operators on the public highways. Virginia law recognizes a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent as the threshold at or above which an operator is considered legally intoxicated. An operator can be charged with a lower level BAC if they are found to be impaired by their alcohol consumption while operating a boat. The Department of Wildlife Resources recommends that all boaters enjoy the public waters of the Commonwealth, but do so responsibly and safely.
CPOs Attend Community Disaster Preparedness Event – On August 6, 2022, Conservation Police Officers Josh Joyce and Sgt. Joshua Thomas participated in the Disaster Preparedness Expo at the Gloucester County Home Depot. The expo was a community outreach event to highlight the area’s first responders and volunteers. Along with fire apparatus, heavy equipment, a helicopter, police vehicles, and other displays, the CPOs had several patrol vehicles and a shallow-water patrol boat at the event for the crowd to view. Members of the community and their children learned how Conservation Police Officers not only patrol the local waterways and forests but also have an important role in public safety in the event of natural disasters or other community emergencies.
King George Fundraising for Kids – On July 22, 2022, Virginia Conservation Police K9 Officer Patrillo, K9 Bailey, CPO Nevel, and CPO Baumbach attended a Hunting Heritage Banquet hosted by the King George Outdoor Club in partnership with the Rappahannock Spurs Chapter of the National Wildlife Turkey Federation. The event consisted of a DWR display booth, a Rappahannock River Valley National Refuge System display, a Ducks Unlimited booth, a BB gun range, and a catered meal. There was also a silent and live auction. The event was very successful at raising money for the King George Outdoor Club and promoting kids in the outdoors. Every kid in attendance received a gift and enjoyed visiting with K9 Bailey and the display snakes.
Illegal Dumping of Fish Leads to Charges – On July 29, 2022, Conservation Police Officer Jon Hart responded to a complaint of a cooler full of fish being dumped at a private business in Chesterfield County. The cooler contained 18 striped bass and a sandbar shark. CPO Hart notified the Virginia Marine Police to get their assistance with the investigation. Through the use of various investigative techniques, a suspect was identified. CPO Hart interviewed the suspect who subsequently admitted to catching all of the fish and the shark in Gloucester County. Through the suspect’s negligence, the fish went “bad” in the cooler and he decided to dump them at the private business.
The suspect is being charged with trespassing on the private business’ property, illegal dumping of the fish, and possession of closed-season fish. The Virginia Marine Police are also charging the suspect with illegal possession of the sandbar shark. The US Fish and Wildlife Service also assisted in the investigation.
Fishing Trip Turns Fatal After Boating Mishap – On August 14, 2022, Virginia Conservation Police Officers Barnes, Rollings, and Early were dispatched to a boating incident in Sussex County in the Blackwater Swamp. Officers arrived on scene to find that two individuals had been fishing in a small jon boat with an electric motor that overturned and sank. The investigation revealed that the front passenger was attempting to tie the boat to a nearby tree branch when the incident occurred. The tree branch broke causing the passenger to lose his balance and overturn the boat in approximately 6-8 feet of water. One individual swam to shore and the second individual tying the rope drowned as a result of the incident. Sussex Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department personnel assisted in the incident. No PFDs were onboard the boat at the time of the incident.
Suspected Deer Poacher Faces Prosecution in Court – During the 2021-22 deer hunting season, Conservation Police Officer Amanda Nevel received information about a subject that was illegally hunting deer during archery season by killing over the limit of deer and failing to tag and check the deer. Throughout the hunting season, CPO Nevel monitored the suspect’s activities and continued to collect evidence. On August 22, 2022, CPOs from Districts 11 and 16 along with assistance from the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office conducted a search of the suspect’s house by a search warrant. Officers were able to locate and collect the illegally taken deer parts from the residence as evidence for court. When confronted with the evidence, the suspect admitted to taking multiple deer with a firearm during archery only season, multiple tagging and checking violations along with over the bag limit of deer violations. During the investigation, CPO Nevel was also able to obtain evidence of illegal oyster dredging by the subject which is a felony in Virginia. Appropriate charges will be placed after consulting with the Commonwealth Attorney.
CPO’s attend Crisis Response Training for Amherst County School Staff – On August 8, 2022, VCP Officer John Daniel and VCP Officer Nick Belotte attended Crisis Response Training that was conducted for Amherst County School employees. This training was in response to the recent school shootings across the country. The previous week, at the Amherst County National Night Out for Law Enforcement, Officer Daniel had spoken with the Amherst County Schools Chief Operating Officer about this. Both he and the School Superintendent felt it was important to have Conservation Police attend the training since they will most likely be responding to such events or crisis with other law enforcement. The school staff went through three sessions of training and the officers were used for demonstration purposes. Additionally, this gave staff the opportunity to become familiar with the different uniforms and officers they may see; for example, Officer Daniel and Officer Belotte’s green uniforms with load bearing vests instead of the traditional blue or brown uniforms. The superintendent wanted staff to meet the local VCP officers and other officers because these will likely be the same officers responding should the need arise.
Boat Explosion Investigation – On August 3, 2022, CPO Bruce Young received a report of a boat on fire on Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin County. Through investigation, he determined the operator had just fueled his vessel and attempted to start it when the engine “blew up” and caught on fire. The operator and passengers were able to exit the vessel safely without injury and SML Fire and Rescue assisted with extinguishing the fire. The incident was investigated as a reportable boating incident due to the extensive damage.
Sunken Boat Investigation – On August 5, 2022, Master Officer Michael Morris received a report of a boat and trailer partially submerged in an area of Smith Mountain Lake in Roanoke County where boat travel is unusual. CPO Morris located the vessel and determined the operator launched the vessel the previous evening from the Hardy Ford boat ramp and traveled upstream where he hit a submerged rock causing extensive damage to the hull of the boat. CPO Morris assisted with removal of the vessel and the investigation was completed as a reportable boating incident.
No Wake Contact – On August 7, 2022, CPO James Hale was on patrol at the Penhook boat landing in Franklin County when he observed a vessel enter the no-wake zone at above wake speed. CPO Hale contacted the operator and determined in addition to the wake zone violation, the individual’s registration was not displayed correctly. The appropriate action was taken.
CPO Addresses Boating Safety – On August 8, 2022, CPO Tyler Routon was on boat patrol on Smith Mountain Lake in Bedford County when he observed a vessel traveling on plane with a passenger sitting on the gunwale. CPO Routon initiated a stop of the vessel and conducted a safety inspection where he determined the operator did not have the appropriate number of life jackets on board. CPO Routon explained the safety risks and the appropriate action was taken.
Officers Attend Public Meeting on Master Plan for Dove’s Landing Park – On Thursday, July 14, 2022, Sgt. Rich Goszka and Master Officer Mark Sanitra attended a public meeting in Prince William County. The meeting was held by Prince William County Parks in regards to the changes in the master plan for Dove’s Landing Park, which borders the Occoquan River above Lake Jackson. The plan will provide a kayak/canoe launch, which will be the only public access above the lake. The officers provided boat ramp access grant information and law enforcement concerns to the Chief Ranger.
Lake Anna Boaters Taking Safety Seriously – On August 6th, 2022, the sandbar on Lake Anna held its annual Glow Party. In previous years law enforcement officers responded to numerous incidents of drunk boaters, fights, and other law violations. Conservation Police Officers worked together with Louisa Sheriff’s Office, Louisa Fire & Rescue, Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office, and Spotsylvania Fire & Rescue. Conservation Police Officers stopped 23 boats with almost all having a sober operator, issued two summons, and gave 17 warnings for minor violations. During a boat safety checkpoint, one boat operator was placed in custody for Operating Under the Influence (OUI). Conservation Police Officers even learned of people paying sober boat operators for transportation to the Glow Party. This is a clear message boaters on Lake Anna are taking their safety seriously.
Illegal Possession of American Alligators – After receiving an anonymous tip regarding a Loudoun County resident in illegal possession of American Alligators, Loudoun County Animal Control contacted DWR. Sgt. Rich Goszka and SA Dan Rabago launched an investigation. On August 12, 2022, the officers along with Loudoun County Animal Control executed a search warrant on the suspected residence. Located in the residence were two American Alligators and one Caiman. An additional 4 foot American Alligator was located living in a pond at the property. The suspect was charged with illegal possession and release of prohibited predatory species.
Officers and Volunteers Staff Booth at the Prince William County Fair – The Prince William County Fair began on Friday, August 12th, and concluded on Saturday, August 20th. The fair is attended by approximately 80,000 people annually. Conservation Police Officers from Region 4, assisted by DWR volunteers, staffed the department’s permanent show booth where they met and educated the public on DWR’s programs and mission.
Illegal Feeding of Deer in Loudoun County – Conservation Police Officers in District 47 recently concluded an investigation into the illegal feeding of deer in Loudoun County. A resident of Leesburg was initially warned about the violation and told to stop feeding deer. After further citizen complaints and evidence that the resident ignored the warning, the resident was charged with the violation. The area is an urban area and deer were using the streets as a travel corridor to reach the suspect’s home.
DWR K9 Unit Event – On July 27th and 28th, The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation hosted the DWR K9 Unit for a training event. The Foundation owns over 2000 acres in Halifax County and the K9 Unit was given full access to this land and the accommodations, for training. The K9 Unit consists of eight teams that are made up of a canine and a handler. These teams are strategically located throughout the Commonwealth and due to the need for large areas of land for training, as well as the costs of lodging the K9 teams, it is difficult to get the entire K9 Unit together to train. The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation owns several lodges on the property where he graciously housed the K9 Teams. Mr. Burton and his wife Tabitha also graciously provided the K9 handlers with meals during their stay. The K9 Unit honed their skills by tracking individuals and locating hidden articles of evidence through hundreds of acres of Foundation property. Ward Burton, his family, and his Foundation have been very supportive of DWR and our K9 Unit. We greatly appreciate Ward’s hospitality and graciously thank him for all of his continued support.
Officers, Staff and Community Bid Farwell to K9 Scout – On behalf of Captain Thomas who is away on leave this week, it is with a heavy heart I share with you that Retired K9 Scout passed away on August 17th, 2022. She was one of the original 3 K9s that started the division’s very successful K9 program, along with her handler Master K9 Officer Richard Howald. You can read about her amazing career in her farewell tribute here: http://dgifwebtest.gooutdoorsvirginia.com/blog/farewell-to-k9-scout/
Please keep Master K9 Officer Richard Howald and his family in your thoughts and prayers as K9 Scout was more than Richards’s K9 partner she was a member of their family.