Jealous Cops Seize Trophy Antlers | UPDATE: Lawsuit Filed

In the Fall of 2020, David Craft, who then lived in Statesville, North Carolina, killed a monster buck in McDowell County, West Virginia, and also killed another trophy buck back in North Carolina, during the same season. David is a serious deer hunter. He does his homework; he puts in the time. He gets result. But others get jealous. Law enforcement ended up essentially stealing his antlers, posing with them for the media, dragging him through over a year of frivolous criminal prosecution, and then abruptly dropping the charging just prior to the jury trial, when it turned out they had no evidence.

You can read the full background in my first post about this case, here.

This week we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the two primary police officers involved. Here’s the full complaint:

Here’s the original video:

Officers Lose Their Trophies | They Chose Poorly…

In the Fall of 2020, David Craft, who then lived in Statesville, North Carolina, killed a monster buck in McDowell County, West Virginia, and also killed another trophy buck back in North Carolina, during the same season. David is a serious deer hunter. He does his homework; he puts in the time. He gets result. But others get jealous. Law enforcement ended up essentially stealing his antlers, posing with them for the media, dragging him through over a year of frivolous criminal prosecution, and then abruptly dropping the charging just prior to the jury trial, when it turned out they had no evidence.

Apparently accusations began to fly in early 2021. West Virginia wildlife officers, or DNR officers, from McDowell County completely ran with unfounded suspicions or allegations that David’s North Carolina buck was actually killed in West Virginia, which would be a violation due to the fact that he had already killed this monster trophy buck there, and you can’t kill two – just one. Then, while they’re at it, they for some reason conclude that the trophy monster buck must have been illegally killed somehow, either with a crossbow instead of a regular bow, or because it must have been killed on the jealous neighboring hunt club’s land. Either way, a bunch of bros in West Virginia, law enforcement included, wanted those antlers. So they dream up a story of some sinister plot to deprive McDowell County good ‘ole boys of their rightful trophy bucks, removing them to the undeserving state of North Carolina.

Why did they want them? To show them off of course. In 2022, no mere peasant can post trophy buck brag photos online – just law enforcement. A quick review of social media shows that wildlife officers in West Virginia have really gotten into this. 

Ultimately, the charges were dismissed, apparently due to a complete and total lack of evidence. A jury trial was set to occur on April 28, 2022. But on April 21, 2022, the prosecutor moved to dismiss all charges, which was granted by the Court. 

Looking back at the February 26, 2021 media report about David, let’s look at what they said back then. 

“Like a lot of things the investigation started with help from people in the community. That’s our greatest resource for information. We received information of possibly two bucks being taken illegally,” said Natural Resources Police Officer Jonathan Gills in McDowell County.” 

“According to Gills, once they learned the suspect was from North Carolina they reached out to officers with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.” “They were a HUGE help to us, said Gills. 

“Officers from the two agencies were able to come up with photographs and other physical evidence in the case which proved both bucks were killed in West Virginia. Turned out one of the bucks in question was actually checked in as being killed in North Carolina. Now, North Carolina investigators are closely watching the West Virginia case and the individual will likely face charges in his home state as well.” 

Gills said the evidence also showed both bucks were killed with a crossbow” and that “crossbows are not allowed in those four archery-only hunting counties unless the hunter has a Class Y hunting permit.”

Gills also told the media, “We’ve been sent a lot of photos and there are a lot of folks who are upset these deer were taken.” 

However, looking at the actual investigation report received in response to our FOIA request, they provided only a single grainy photo of a single deer, and it could be a great Bigfoot photo, looking almost photoshopped and inconclusive either way. Additionally, there is no mention of any involvement of North Carolina officers, other than the accompanying then to David’s house and then assisting them in seizing the antlers from the taxidermist. They didn’t appear to have provided any evidence at all against David, nor made any allegation that he had committed any crime. 

Thus the photographs and physical evidence Officer Gill claimed to possess, proving that both bucks were killed illegally in West Virginia, just didn’t exist. That was false. As the February, 2021 article goes on to say, this appears to have been more about local hunters, including law enforcement officers, trying to keep outsiders away from their deer. Officer Gill goes on to say in the article that the West Virginia legislature had recently drastically increased the so-called “replacement costs” for trophy bucks illegally killed. “Gills said it was a major weapon to deter poaching of big bucks in his county,” the article said.

“Our department was given a great asset with that. Basically, they’re stealing the deer. They’re stealing quality bucks from legitimate hunters; men, women, and kids who are trying to go out and enjoy the sport.” 

So, just because David was living in North Carolina, despite the fact that he bought a license, which mind you is way more expensive for an out-of-state hunter, he’s somehow not a “legitimate” hunter. He had a license, with which he killed one buck in West Virginia. He had a North Carolina license, with which he killed on buck in North Carolina. Both were properly checked in and all that rigamarole. This seems to have been more about hunters in one particular county protecting their trophy bucks from outsiders. 

The article ended, “So far, no court date for the suspect had been set.” Not surprisingly, there was never a follow-up article. They did no press release mentioning that they had to drop the charges and were forced to return both sets of antlers to David. But even when he got them back, the attached capes were ruined.

Here, they drug David through the mud and criminal prosecution for over a year. Then when it came time to present the evidence to a jury, they walked away. No apology, no compensation – just returned his damaged antlers. They got their photo-op. Officer Gills got to play with the antlers for a while, but he had to give them back. So that’s how this thing started.

Sounded great, right? The politicians probably loved it. The hunters back home probably loved it. But here’s how it’s going now. 

Also now, Officer Gills and Officer Damewood are going to have to answer for their actions in a section 1983 lawsuit. We have multiple constitutional violations that appear to have occurred here. I’ll provide an update with the details when the suit is filed. Wouldn’t it also be nice if the government would issue an updated press release about how this ended? If you just read the last one, it sounds like they got the bad guy and kept the antlers. If you just read the last one, David sounds like a real criminal. And the officers all sound like heroes. Let’s go ahead and set the record straight.

Two Charleston Cops Get Plea Deal For Spotlighting Deer

As I detailed in a previous post, which can be found here, two Charleston cops, who were off-duty, were caught spotlighting and shooting a deer on W.Va. 34 near Liberty. Did they admit to their crime, apologize and beg the public for forgiveness? No, or course not, the law only applies to citizens, not cops, right? They claim they were ending the suffering of a poor injured deer. Even if that were true, and even if cops are allowed to do this, would it be proper to do it at night with a spotlight? In West Virginia, there are farmhouses all over the place. How could you be sure you wouldn’t kill some innocent person?

These cops are obviously lying, and nobody seems to care. Okay, assuming they shot this deer as part of their official duty, did they radio the dispatcher as to what they were doing? Were they even in their jurisdiction? Everyone knows thats a bunch of garbage. They committed an illegal act, then they got preferential treatment. The DNR officer even stated that “it was difficult to investigate two law enforcement officers….” Why in the world would it be difficult. If I was a cop and I became aware of two crooked cops using their badge and gun to break the law, I would get great enjoyment out of busting them and taking them to task. Heck, they are slandering your profession with their reckless disregard for the law and their utter hypocrisy.

So these cops got a plea deal. They were allowed to plead no contest and were given fines. Apparently the conspiracy charges were dropped as well. The Charleston Police Chief is apparently struggling with what, if any, discipline these officers should suffer with respect to their jobs. Hello…. what about the fact that these cops are lying through their teeth while pleading no contest at the same time? How many poor saps have been convicted based on the testimony of these two cops? I say, let’s reopen all of those cases, because these two guys are liars. Despite this, nobody wants to face the fact that cops lie on the stand, under oath, every single day. Why? Who knows and who cares. They have a variety of reasons, not limited to covering up their own wrongdoings.

The fact is though, that these two cops are lying and it is obvious. The cover-up is worse than the original crime. So they spotlighted deer… in the grand scheme of things it is no big deal. Nobody is perfect, we have all done things that are illegal at one point in our lives. They should have apologized and asked for forgiveness.

These two are hypocrites and liars, period.

You can read the entire article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Charges Expected in Kanawha County Hunting Death

From the Charleston Gazette today:

Charges are expected to be filed against 19-year-old Andrew S. Hardin, of St. Albans, who allegedly shot and killed Nicholas Lee Caldwell while hunting turkey on Tuesday, state Division of Natural Resources investigators said.

Caldwell, 16, was in a wooded area off Kanawha Street near St. Albans when he was hit by shotgun pellets at about 8:30 a.m., said Hoy Murphy, spokesman for the DNR, which is investigating the incident.

People near the scene told investigators they saw 19-year-old Andrew S. Hardin, of St. Albans, hunting in the area. In an interview with officers, he later confessed he was the shooter, DNR officials said.

As in many other cases, usually the cover-up is more serious than the original crime. What if the victim was alive after the shooting and the shooter left him to die? In that case, he should face murder charges. The autopsy, which will almost positively take place, should indicate whether or not it was an immediate death.

The victim was hunting on private land near his home and he had permission to be hunting there. The shooter however, at least according to the article, appears not to have had permission to be hunting on this land. This is absolutely disgusting to me. As an avid turkey hunter, I have hunted around many other people, and almost every single one of them takes the proper safety precautions. Anyone who can’t tell the difference between a turkey and a hunter ought not to be in the woods in the first place. Furthermore, since this person was likely trespassing, he ought to go to prison for this.

You can read the entire article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Police Officers Charged With Spotlighting Deer

From the Charleston Daily Mail:

Note: Let me guess… The “injured animal” was an 8-point buck. Undoubtedly, these officers were only charged because there were credible eyewitnesses that watched them do it. If neighbors witnessed it, how far away were their homes? Shouldn’t the officers be charged with discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a residence? (if in fact that was the case) Joe Blow probably would have been charged with all sorts of firearm related felonies. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney.

Police officers accused of spotlighting deer

Two Charleston police officers are set to go to trial in Putnam County on charges they shot a deer from inside their vehicle.

Patrolman Conrad M. Carpenter and Cpl. James E. White Jr. are charged with spotlighting, hunting from an automobile, shooting within 500 feet of a dwelling, possession of wildlife parts and conspiracy.

According to a criminal complaint, White and Carpenter were driving on W.Va. 34 near Liberty to visit a friend on Dec. 5 when they spotted three deer crossing the road. One of the deer appeared to be injured, the officers told Cpl. Gary Amick, a conservation officer with the state Division of Natural Resources.

According to Amick’s complaint, Carpenter told White to stop the car so he could shoot the injured animal. White allegedly shone a light on the deer so that Carpenter could hang out the window and shoot it with a .40-caliber handgun, Amick said.

“The defendant and Mr. White did not want the deer to ‘go to waste,’ so they decided to wait around in the area for a few minutes to allow the deer to die, then they would come back and pick up the deer,” Amick wrote in the complaint.

White and Carpenter apparently took the deer with them, but neighbors witnessed the shooting and reported the incident to Amick the next day.

Neighbors took down the license number of the car, which was traced to White, the report said.

The trial, which will be in Putnam County Magistrate Court, was set following a preliminary hearing last week.

Carpenter and White have been on administrative leave since the incident, said Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster.