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FWC Division of Law Enforcement Weekly Report

This report represents some events the FWC handled over the past week; however, it does not include all actions taken by the Division of Law Enforcement.

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The FWC Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Logo. Photo: myfwc.com

NORTHWEST REGION

ESCAMBIA COUNTY

Over a five-day period, FWC officers aboard the 31-foot offshore patrol vessel, FinCat, patrolled the state and federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico anticipating early red snapper activity and for the opening of the red snapper season. On the first day through midnight, the crew conducted 11 vessel boardings, of which three vessels were found to be in violation. Violations included possession of red snapper fillets, red snapper and gag grouper during a closed season. Other violations included over the bag limit of vermillion snapper and interference with a Federal Officer. Over the next several days, more than 14 boardings were conducted with citations and warnings issued for over the bag limit of red snapper, undersized vermillion snapper, undersized greater amberjack and no saltwater fishing license.

SANTA ROSA COUNTY

Officer Jones responded to a report of a sinking vessel in Santa Rosa Sound between Tiger Point and Gulf Breeze. Lieutenant Lambert and Officer Manning, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the Gulf Breeze Fire Department also responded. When the responders arrived, they found that the distressed boat had sunk. The four occupants of this vessel were rescued from the water and taken aboard by a passing vessel. All were unharmed and were transported to their residences by the officers. After interviewing the captain of the vessel, it was determined that the 18‑foot vessel took on water and sank.

Officer Hutchinson and Lieutenant Hahr were working on the Blackwater River when they noticed a drug pipe next to a subject during a boating safety inspection. A subsequent search revealed that the man was in possession of cannabis and 18 hydrocodone pills without a prescription. The man was arrested and booked for possession of controlled substances without a prescription and possession of not more than 20 grams of cannabis.

Officer Hutchinson and Lieutenant Hahr were patrolling on the Blackwater River when an approaching vessel turned abruptly in front of them. The man operating the boat immediately stated that he was not driving and that his 14‑year‑old daughter was. He exhibited several signs of impairment. It was clear that the young lady was not in command of the vessel and was unable to operate it by herself. The man performed poorly on field sobriety tasks and was arrested for BUI. Due to difficulty dealing with the other passengers on the vessel, the man did not provide a breath sample until 2.5 hours later, but was still over the legal limit at .087%. During the investigation, he admitted that he had not transferred the title after purchasing the vessel and that he never had transferred a title on any of his vessels. He was also charged with failure to transfer a vessel title.

Officers Lewis and Hutchinson and Lieutenant Hahr were patrolling in the Blackwater State Forest when they encountered a group of people in a primitive campsite. When they saw Officer Lewis walk by, a male subject immediately tried to hide something in a bag. Officer Hutchinson asked him what he hid in the bag and located a drug pipe, cannabis, and some suspected hydrocodone pills. The man admitted that they were his. He was issued a notice to appear for possession of not more than 20 grams of cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia. Further charges are pending analysis of the pills by FDLE.

Later, the officers located a group of underage subjects with a case of beer. One of the subjects admitted that he brought it and was the only one that had begun drinking. He was issued a notice to appear for the violation. Later, the officers located a group of 15 to 17 year-olds who were sleeping on a sandbar. Several beer cans were sitting in the sand around them. After the officers questioned the subjects, one of them admitted that when they saw the officers’ trucks, they hid their cooler full of beer in the woods. The officers located the beer and called the juveniles’ parents to pick them up from the area.

Officer Lewis, Lieutenant Hahr, K9 Officer Pineda and K9 Kane were patrolling in the Blackwater State Forest when they approached a primitive camp. They smelled a slight odor of cannabis and spoke to the people in the camp. One of the campers tried to hide a marijuana grinder when he stood up and another hid a pipe under some baby wipes. A small amount of cannabis was found on each of the subjects and both were issued notices to appear for possession of not more than 20 grams of cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Lieutenant Hahr was on patrol in the Perdido River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) when he observed an ATV travelling towards him on the highway. He attempted to conduct a traffic stop, but the young man fled into some private property and then into the WMA. Lieutenant Hahr located the abandoned ATV and contacted the Escambia County Road Prison and Investigator Goley for assistance. They tracked the subject back to the highway. In the meantime, a car full of young men and women approached the officers and said they were looking for their cousin. They gave the name of a subject who lived nearby. Lieutenant Hahr went to the residence and while questioning the occupants, the suspect walked inside the house. He was the same one that told the other officers that it was his cousin. After recognizing the subject, Lieutenant Hahr obtained a confession. He was issued notices to appear for resisting arrest and driving on a suspended driver license. The 17-year-old was also cited for operating an ATV on the highway and in the WMA. He had been cited four days earlier by Lieutenant Lambert after attempting to elude him while operating the same ATV in the WMA. The ATV was seized and the suspect’s parents were called to pick him up.

OKALOOSA COUNTY

FWC officers were conducting boating safety inspections in the Destin Pass area when they located a vessel with 13 occupants on board. Concerned for the safety of the occupants, the officers conducted a boating safety inspection. The inspection revealed that there were no personal flotation devices (PFDs) on board. It was also discovered that the vessel was rented to the group without providing the PFDs. The officers stayed with the vessel until the livery delivered the proper number of PFDs. The livery was later cited criminally for not providing the proper safety equipment.

FRANKLIN COUNTY

FWC officers, Florida Highway Patrol troopers, and Franklin County Sheriff’s deputies participated in a public safety operational detail coinciding with the 2014 ‘White Trash Bash’ held on the Memorial Day holiday weekend at Dog Island and Alligator Point. The detail was designed to protect Florida’s boating public through enhanced boating safety patrol, increase voluntary compliance from the boating public through education and enforcement of the BUI and DUI laws as well as all highway safety and traffic laws, provide a highly visible law enforcement presence and increase multi-agency working relationships. During the detail, 69 vessels were boarded with 504 users being checked. The citations and warnings issued included 17 boating safety warnings, 21 resource warnings, 8 uniform boating citations for boating safety violations, 1 arrest for operating a vessel while impaired, 23 uniform traffic citations, and 23 traffic warnings. Twelve individuals were assisted during the detail with three being medical emergencies that required transport to the mainland for medical treatment.

GADSDEN COUNTY

Officer Jones received information that a subject possibly was over the bag limit of crappie and was cleaning the fish at a local marina on Lake Talquin. Officer Jones arrived on scene and found the subject cleaning fish as reported. Officer Jones conducted a fisheries inspection and found the subject to be in compliance with the crappie bag limit but found him in possession of undersized striped bass. The subject was cited.

WAKULLA COUNTY

Officers Anderson and Harrison received a complaint about an impaired boat operator at the Fort Boat Ramp in St. Marks. The officers located the vessel and observed the vessel operating erratically and also observed the operator fall down in the boat several times. The officers conducted a vessel stop and tried to communicate with the operator which was very difficult due to his slurred speech. The individual could not stand and appeared to be severely intoxicated. The operator was unable to complete several field sobriety tasks. The operator was eventually arrested for BUI and transported to the Wakulla County Jail.

COP (Community Oriented Policing)

Officer Hutchinson and Lieutenant Hahr represented FWC at NAS Whiting Field on their “Summer Brief” to military personnel. The officers talked to approximately 200 Navy personnel giving information and answering questions about boating safety and local regulations.

NORTHEAST REGION

PUTNAM COUNTY

Lieutenant Allen, and Officers Florence and Campbell responded to the report of a boating accident in front of a restaurant on Crescent Lake. When the officers arrived on scene they learned the operator had been refused service at the restaurant because he seemed extremely intoxicated. The operator got into his vessel and ran into a dock as he was leaving. The operator refused to perform field sobriety tasks. After an investigation, he was booked into jail for BUI, reckless operation, and resisting arrest.

VOLUSIA COUNTY

Officers Goodreau and Malicoat were on water patrol in the New Smyrna Beach area and stopped a vessel operator for violation of the regulated slow speed zone. A check through the officers’ database revealed that the adult male had an outstanding arrest warrant for failing to appear on a criminal complaint filed by FWC. Officer Meurlot had filed a criminal complaint earlier through the local State Attorney’s Office after investigating a Facebook entry depicting the man in violation of possessing goliath grouper. He was subsequently booked into the Volusia County Branch Jail.

Around midnight, Officer Bertolami was on patrol in the Daytona Beach area and saw that about 15 feet of one of the wooden bridge fender structures under the Main Street Bridge was on fire from top to bottom. He notified the bridge tender and the Daytona Beach Fire Department (DBFD). The DBFD arrived on the bridge and were able to extinguish most of the fire; however, because of the awkward angle from the bridge roadway, Officer Bertolami transported the Fire Battalion Chief and firemen in the FWC patrol boat to the bridge to continue extinguishing the fire.

Officers Malicoat and Yetter were on water patrol in the Edgewater area and stopped a vessel to check for the required safety equipment. After completing the inspection, a BUI investigation was initiated on the adult male operator. He was subsequently arrested for the criminal BUI charge and transported to the Volusia County Branch Jail.

Officers Yetter and Ransom were patrolling the St. John’s River when they observed a vessel operator run his vessel aground in shallow water and stall the motor. He then re-fired the motor and powered off of the bottom. The officers stopped the vessel to perform a safety inspection and, during the inspection, they observed empty beer cans and detected signs of impairment from the operator. Based on the results of the operator’s performance during seated field sobriety tasks, he was placed under arrest for BUI. The operator refused to give a breath sample.

Lieutenant Baer made contact with a vessel at a remote boat ramp after dark after he observed the vessel operating in the ICW with no navigation lights. Lieutenant Baer observed an open can of beer next to the operator and several empty beer cans in the boat. During a safety inspection, Lieutenant Baer noted several signs of impairment. Based on the operator’s performance during seated field sobriety tasks, he was arrested for BUI. The operator provided two breath samples, with BAC results of .118 and .117.

While Lieutenant Baer was conducting a BUI investigation at a boat ramp, he observed another individual, who had previously displayed obvious signs of impairment, backing a trailer toward the boat ramp. Baer stopped the driver and requested assistance from nearby officers. Investigator Crews arrived on scene and took over the DUI investigation. Based on the driver’s performance during field sobriety tasks, he was placed under arrest for DUI. The driver submitted to one breath sample with a BAC result of .212. The driver then refused to give a second breath sample. He was charged with DUI and refusal to submit to a breath test, second offense.

Officers Ransom and North were patrolling the ICW in Ormond Beach after dark when they observed a vessel with no lights towing a water skier. The officers made the stop and found the operator to be a local juvenile who lives on the river. This same juvenile has been warned for multiple violations in the past by FWC officers and was cited two days prior by Lieutenant Baer for towing a skier on plane through a manatee zone. Officers Ransom and North issued citations for no navigation lights and towing a skier at night. They then escorted the juvenile to his house on the river where they were met by his mother. She told the officers that she was watching her son from the living room and that he wasn’t hurting anything. She then asked them, “Don’t you have anything better to do?”

Officer North observed a man fishing with a cast net in Spring Garden Run from a canoe. Upon inspection, Officer North found a 5-gallon bucket containing a cast net and some mullet. The fisherman advised that was all he had caught. Officer North sorted through the mullet and found a 12-inch black bass hidden on the bottom. The man was cited for taking freshwater game fish by unlawful method and given a warning for possession of undersized black bass and no freshwater fishing license.

SOUTHWEST REGION

MANATEE COUNTY

Officers Laskowski and Buckson were patrolling off shore near Bean Point when they noticed a fishing boat coming in from off shore and stopped the boat to do a boating safety inspection. The two individuals were asked if they had caught any fish, and they said “yes.” After conducting a fisheries inspection, two gag grouper and one red grouper were checked. Officer Laskowski issued one of the individuals a citation for possession of gag grouper during the closed season. He was also issued a written warning for possession of undersized gag grouper, which measured 20 and 21 inches in length. Officer Buckson issued the other individual a citation for possession of undersized red grouper which measured 16 inches in length.

Officer Laskowski and Lieutenant Hinds were checking several people wade fishing in the Anna Maria area. One of the individuals waded back into deeper water and untied his stringer. The stringer was recovered with a 31-inch redfish. The individual was issued a citation from Officer Laskowski for possession of oversized redfish.

SOUTH REGION A

GLADES COUNTY

Officer Taylor was off duty at his home when a neighbor came to his house and was frantically looking for help. A vehicle lost control and crashed just down the street. Officer Taylor ran to his patrol truck to retrieve a first aid kit and had his girlfriend drive him down to the accident scene to administer first aid. The vehicle left the roadway at a high rate of speed and struck a tree broadside in the driver’s door. The driver received lacerations to the face as well as a broken collar bone and some broken ribs. The subject was transported to the hospital by EMS and the scene was turned over to Glades County Sheriff’s Office

MARTIN COUNTY

Officer Nasworth and Lieutenant Brown were on state water patrol in the area of the St. Lucie Canal when they observed a suspicious vehicle in the bushes on the south side of the river. A records check revealed the vehicle was stolen. Martin County Sheriff’s Office responded and processed the vehicle.

ST. LUCIE COUNTY

During the Memorial Holiday weekend, officers actively enforced boating and resource laws while on patrol in Fort Pierce and Port Saint Lucie waterways. Public safety was a main concern also with possible consumption of alcohol while operating a vessel. Officers issued multiple citations and warnings for boat safety violations and also resource violations. Patrols in the state park resulted in multiple traffic citations being issued for excessive speed, safety belt and expired tag violations. Overall, approximately 225 vessel stops were conducted resulting in 600 individual contacts. An ATV was also used to patrol the state park in order to access pedestrian, picnic and beach areas.

Officers Willems and Pifer were on water patrol when they conducted a vessel stop for a boating safety and resource inspection. While conducting the stop, a 29-inch redfish was discovered. Redfish are regulated by a slot size harvest limit of between 18 to 27 inches. The occupants were educated on the size limit requirements. A citation was issued for the violation of oversized redfish.

Officer Payne and Pifer were conducting boat safety and resource inspections when they stopped a vessel with fishermen fishing near the Ft. Pierce Inlet. During the resource inspection, four undersized mangrove snapper and two undersized mutton snapper were discovered. One subject admitted to catching the fish. A citation was issued for the violation.

Officer Payne was conducting resource inspections at a boat ramp in Ft. Pierce when a vessel came to the ramp with two people on board. As Officer Payne approached the vessel, one of the subjects asked what the size limit of spotted sea trout was. An inspection revealed that the subjects were in possession of three spotted sea trout over 20 inches. Also on board the vessel was a 26-inch snook. A citation was issued for the violations.

Officer Payne stopped a vessel that was pointed out by other boaters as being operated in a reckless manner. As Officer Payne approached the vessel, he recognized it from a previous stop. The vessel did not display the correct Florida registration numbers and did not have a Hull Identification Number (HIN) attached. The vessel was also missing several pieces of safety equipment. Citations were issued for multiple violations.

Investigator Turner was on land patrol in Fort Pierce Inlet State Park when he observed a vehicle with an expired tag exiting the park on the main road. A traffic stop was initiated and contact was made with the driver. A check of the driver’s license revealed it had been suspended. The driver was made aware of the situation and was asked to exit the vehicle. While under arrest, a search of the person revealed a personal use amount of cannabis in a plastic baggie, and a small blunt in another container. The subject was transported and booked in jail on several charges.

During the holiday weekend, Officer Pifer was conducting fisheries inspections at the Black Pearl Boat Ramp in Ft. Pierce when he made contact with a vessel returning from a fishing trip. During his fisheries inspection, several legal fish were observed in the vessel’s forward fish box. Officer Pifer asked to look in a cooler located in front of the center console and one individual said “Sure, there’s only bait inside:” however, located beneath the bait and ice was an undersized scamp grouper. The individuals stated that they thought scamp did not have a size limit. One individual on board claimed possession of the fish and received a citation for the violation.

Officer Pifer and K-9 Officer Payne were conducting boating safety and fisheries inspections in the Ft. Pierce Inlet when they stopped a vessel with two individuals on board. During a fisheries inspection of the vessel, Officer Pifer observed three undersized mutton snapper on board. Both individuals claimed that the other person had caught the fish, so both individuals received a citation for possessing undersized mutton snapper.

Officers Pifer and Payne made contact with multiple individuals trespassing on private property along the ICW. A fisheries inspection of a five-gallon bucket revealed two undersized gag grouper and a puffer fish. One adult stated that the kids had caught the illegal fish. The adult responsible for the children was identified and issued a citation for possession of undersized gag grouper, a warning for possessing puffer fish in St. Lucie County, and all received trespass warnings.

Officer Irwin and Investigator Turner were on vessel patrol near the Fort Pierce Inlet when they observed a vessel enter the Ft. Pierce Inlet while displaying a Bahamian flag. After contacting US Customs, Officers Irwin and Turner conducted a vessel stop/boarder search of the vessel. During the vessel stop, Investigator Turner made contact with a female passenger. When asked if there were any fish products on the vessel, she advised there were a few bags of conch in the freezer. She then produced 13 sandwich-size bags of conch meat. After explaining to her the law regarding conch, which states it is unlawful to possess, transport or land queen conch regardless of where harvested, she advised that the conch was purchased in the Bahamas. The conch was not sealed in market-type packaging and she could not produce a receipt for the purchase. Investigator Turner issued one notice to appear for the violation. The conch meat was seized and retained as evidence.

SOUTH REGION B

COLLIER COUNTY

Officer Futch was on land patrol adjacent to several privately owned fresh water lakes. He observed two subjects emerge from the property carrying three bass. During the interview, the subjects admitted to trespassing. Officer Futch issued citations for the trespass and for possession of oversized black bass.

Investigator Haney and Officers Harris, Van Trees and Miller assisted the Collier County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit responding to a call for assistance involving an armed and under-the-influence man causing a disturbance on a vessel. Officers quickly deescalated the potentially volatile situation with no confrontation and the case was turned over to Collier Sheriff’s Office. Nearly simultaneously, the Officers stopped two vessels that had just left a marina without paying for their fuel. Vessels were escorted back to the marina where they paid for their fuel purchase. The marina refused to press charges since they were paid in full. Both incidents resulted in positive outcomes and are examples of the multi-jurisdictional teamwork present in Collier County.

Investigator Haney, while on water patrol, stopped a vessel returning from offshore for a fisheries inspection. The vessel was found to be a charter trip that had been to federal waters, but neither the captain nor the vessel had a charter fishing license or federal charter permit. State and federal citations were issued for the violations.

While on water patrol, west of Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Officers Harris, Miller and Van Trees stopped a vessel returning from offshore for a fisheries inspection. Upon inspection of the vessel’s cooler, the officers found four gag grouper and an undersized red grouper. Resource citations were written for the out-of-season and undersized fish.

Officer Barringer was conducting land patrol in Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park when he observed two occupants in a vehicle with open alcoholic beverages. As Officer Barringer investigated the violations, a strong odor of cannabis was detected from the vehicle. The driver admitted to having drug paraphernalia in the vehicle and was cited for the possession of cannabis, possession of drug paraphernalia and other traffic violations.

Officers Barringer and White were on land patrol in Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park when they observed two subjects walking in the roadway. As they passed by, one subject threw a coffee mug that struck the patrol vehicle. When the officers exited the vehicle to address the situation, one of the subjects began throwing their possessions at the patrol vehicle, causing minor damage to the door. As the officers began detaining the subjects, the subjects immediately became aggressive and resisted by physically pushing the officers away. Officer White diffused the situation and arrested the subject. Officer Barringer pursued the second subject. A minor struggle ensued but the second subject was also arrested. Both subjects were charged with multiple felonies including battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer with violence.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY

Officers Martin and Padilla stopped a vessel at Crandon Park Boat Ramp returning from a day of fishing. The avid hunter/fisherman stated he, his son and his father caught 19 legal sized dolphins that day. An inspection of the catch revealed four undersized dolphins hidden at the bottom of the pile. The man was cited accordingly.

Officer Martin responded to assist two Miami Dade officers who observed a man on the beach at Key Biscayne attempting to harvest queen conch from the shell. The man was in possession of a live queen conch and a knife, and was attempting to break the shell. He was cited accordingly and the conch was returned unharmed to the ocean.

MONROE COUNTY

Officer Rafter was patrolling the area of Islamorada on the oceanside when he saw a large twin-engine vessel approximately 200 feet ahead of him violently turn as the passengers on the boat frantically waved their hands and screamed in an effort to get his attention. Officer Rafter then saw the vessel in question run aground on a nearby flat. Once Officer Rafter managed to maneuver his vessel close enough to the grounded vessel, he was told by the occupants that the operator, a 26-year-old male, had suffered a seizure and in the process hit his head on the side of the vessel causing him to fall unconscious and lose control of the vessel. Officer Rafter managed to get the young man on his vessel and rush him to the FWC’s sub-station at the Whale Harbor Channel where fire rescue units stabilized the victim and transported him to a nearby hospital. Several hours later, Officer Rafter visited the young man at the hospital who was conscious but remembered nothing of the incident.

While monitoring traffic leaving the Keys around County Road 905 near Dagny Johnson State Park, Officer McKay stopped a truck for driving 62 MPH in a posted 45 MPH zone. During the stop, the driver admitted he was driving with a suspended license for a previous DUI arrest. The driver was arrested for felony driving with a suspended license. He was also charged with several traffic violations. The female passenger was cited for open container.

Upper Keys officers were dispatched to a medical call on a moored vessel off of the Ocean Reef Club in North Key Largo. A male was reported to be suffering extreme chest pains and other signs and symptoms of a heart attack. When the officers arrived on scene, they assessed the victim and transported him to a waiting ambulance that ultimately transported him to a local hospital.

Officer Munkelt was dispatched to a report of an entangled sea turtle at the Channel Five Bridge on Lower Matecumbe Key. Once on scene, Officer Munkelt found a small Loggerhead sea turtle entangled in line. The Loggerhead turtle was completely exhausted as it kept struggling to surface while fighting the current. Lieutenant Riesz coordinated efforts with FWRI biologists who responded to the scene and assisted FWC officers in capturing the turtle and freeing it from the fishing line.

Officer Swensson was patrolling the waters off of Key Largo when he stopped a vessel that was heading back from the ocean. Officer Swensson conducted a boating safety and resource inspection. While searching the vessel, a very small billfish was located. The billfish was an undersized sailfish that only measured 52 inches. The subject was cited for possession of undersized sailfish.

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