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.