December 21, 2009
Huntington, Pennsylvania - It started with a telephone call from a
concerned citizen in Colorado. Then Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife
Conservation Officers joined with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to help
solve a case spanning three states and including 20 officers. Three men from
West Virginia – John Davidson, 41, of Romney; Jeremiah Tyson, 33, of
Hedgesville; and David Park, 38, of Hampshire - were charged with 49 counts of
Crimes Against Wildlife in Colorado before pleading guilty to reduced charges.
The original connection to Pennsylvania focused on two sets of antlers from mule
deer, a species found in western states, allegedly illegally killed in Colorado
and then transported, by Davidson, to Fulton County for processing as mounted
specimens. However, in an initial search of a business in Pennsylvania on Dec.
16, Game Commission investigators seized eight sets of mule deer antlers and one
set of elk antlers, all taken in Colorado and with ties to Davidson. Later, Game
Commission officers returned to the location to extract tissue samples and
collect hair from eight mule deer “capes,” which is the skin from the head to
the shoulders of a deer.
Leading the Pennsylvania investigation, District Wildlife Conservation Officer
Kevin Mountz said that precise extraction of tissue was vital for correct DNA
“DNA can be used to correctly match wildlife with items left at a wildlife crime
scene or match separated parts of the same animal,” WCO Mountz said. “Besides
removing tissue and the related hair samples from the capes, the antlers
required core drilling to the interior of the antler beam to obtain material for
the most accurate test.
Mountz was provided an airplane ticket by Colorado officials to fly out and
testify on the findings. However, when the defense learned that WCO Mountz was
enroute to testify in court, the information weighed heavily on Davidson’s
decision to plead guilty without a trial.
“Colorado takes violations against wildlife seriously,” said Rich Palmer, Game
Commission Bureau of Wildlife Protection director. “Davidson was convicted of
willful destruction of big game, a Class 5 felony in Colorado, and sentenced to
pay $9,800 in fines and serve 30 days in jail. He currently is incarcerated.”
Palmer noted that Tyson and Park each pled guilty to various misdemeanors in the
case. Additionally, Davidson and Tyson face lifetime suspensions of their
hunting privileges in Colorado and 32 other states as part of the Interstate
Wildlife Violator Compact, of which Pennsylvania is not a member. Park has been
sentenced to a five-year license suspension. Total penalties included
confiscation of about 25 sets of antlers, three big game skins, and a trophy elk
head, 78 packages of meat, six rifles and about $22,000 in fines.
“These guys are the guys you go for,” said Mike Swaro, District Wildlife Manager
in Colorado. “If everybody hunted like these guys did last year, we wouldn’t
have a deer left in Colorado. This was the biggest poaching case in my career.”
Palmer congratulated Mountz and Deputy WCOs Robert Strait and J. Mike Deluca for
their excellent forensic work. Palmer also noted that gathering forensic
evidence is not as cut-and-dry as TV programs would lead viewers to believe.
“Developing credible, accurate forensic conclusions to present at a trial
demands that everyone up the line be incredibly precise, starting with the field
collection of evidence,” Palmer related.
Palmer also said that this case has a touch of irony for Pennsylvanians, as the
state is not a member of the IWVC and has lower penalties than Colorado.
“Colorado places a high value on its wildlife resources,” he said. “Felonies,
incarceration and seizure of implements of the crime are their penalties for the
serious wildlife offender, as well as appropriate revocation of hunting
“More important, 32 states that belong to the Interstate Wildlife Violators
Compact (IWVC) will honor the Colorado revocation in their state, including
Pennsylvania’s neighboring states of Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia.”
Palmer said this is one more example of why the Game Commission continues to
support House Bill 1859, sponsored by House Game and Fisheries Committee
Chairman Edward G. Staback (D-Lackawanna), which would increase fines and
penalties for specific wildlife violations, as well as House Bill 1832,
sponsored by Rep. Marc Gergley (D-Allegheny), which would enable Pennsylvania to
join the IWVC.
“Because Pennsylvania is not a member of the Interstate Wildlife Violator’s
Compact, there is nothing keeping habitual, serious offenders in other states
from hunting in Pennsylvania,” Palmer said. “Because these defendants are barred
from hunting in their home state of West Virginia and those surrounding it,
except for Pennsylvania, they may very well hunt in our state.
“Coupled with lower fines and penalties for poaching, as more states enact the
legislation necessary to join the IWVC, Pennsylvania is one of the last few
states left where these offenders can continue to hunt while on revocation in
the majority of states, creating the risk of Pennsylvania becoming the