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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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Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Patrol, Protect, Preserve

NORTHWEST REGION

ESCAMBIA COUNTY
Officer Pettey was patrolling along the Perdido River inspecting fishermen. While checking a subject bream fishing along the river, Officer Pettey asked the man how many fish he had. The subject appeared to be over the bag limit. He commented he didn’t know because he wasn’t counting. Officer Pettey counted 55 bream. Officer Pettey issued the subject a notice to appear citation for over the bag limit of bream.

Officer Manning received information that two individuals were attempting to sell sheepshead (fish) without the proper license. Officer Manning contacted our Investigations Section for assistance with purchasing the fish. Two individuals sold eight sheepshead to an Investigator. Officer Manning issued the individuals citations for the violations.

LIBERTY COUNTY
Officers Johnson and Mims were on patrol on the Ochlockonee River, checking fishermen who were actively fishing for Striped Bass. They had received reports that violations were occurring at Ed & Bernice’s Fish Camp regarding stripers. As night fell, the officers observed a vessel in operation on the river without any navigation lights. As the vessel pulled into the boat ramp at the fish camp, the officers made contact with two subjects who appeared agitated. The officers addressed the navigation lights violation. When asked if they had caught any fish, the subjects were quiet. They admitted they had caught some striped bass. A fisheries inspection revealed that the subjects were over the daily bag limit of striped bass. Citations were issued for the violations and a warning was issued for the navigation light violation. Eight striped bass were seized as evidence.

SANTA ROSA COUNTY
Officer Arnette responded from his residence to a search and rescue call after receiving information of some overdue boaters. He arrived on scene a short time later in the area of the Blackwater River where the subjects were supposed to be. After searching the area, he later located five subjects stranded on a sandbar. The subjects were wet and cold and all were safely returned to their vehicle.

Officer Lewis was patrolling near the Blackwater State Park when he observed a parked vehicle near a camping area. He recognized that it belonged to a man who had been camping there for longer than the allotted time. He also observed another vehicle parked near it that belonged to a woman who had a protection order against the man. He located the man’s camp and observed the man and woman together on the other side of the river, in violation of the protection order. He contacted the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office for assistance. Officers Johnson and Hutchinson went to the scene to assist with a small vessel. The man was arrested by the responding deputy. The officers assisted the woman in removing the camp and transporting her belongings across the river to her vehicle. Shortly afterward, Officer Hutchinson was leaving the area and observed a woman flagging him down on Highway 90 just west of Harold. As he slowed to stop, he observed a badly burned man with a sheet wrapped around him. He called for EMS and examined the man’s burns. The skin was hanging from his legs and it appeared to be a chemical burn. After EMS arrived on scene and transported the man, Officer Hutchinson questioned the woman about how the man was burnt. He was originally told that the man was working under a truck and smoking a cigarette when some gasoline ignited. When he asked to see the scene, the woman was evasive and deceptive. Officer Hutchinson determined that the man had been taken to his mother’s home just before being transported to the highway intersection. After speaking with the mother, he learned that a friend had dropped him off there. He went to the friend’s residence and observed a fire burning in the backyard. He called the fire department and Sheriff’s Office for assistance. Upon their arrival, they discovered a meth lab and the scene where the man had been burnt. A woman at the residence was immediately arrested for possession of methamphetamine. The lab was turned over to the sheriff’s office for investigation.

COPS (Community Oriented Policing)
Officers Manning, Clark, Livesay and Investigator Goley set up and worked an informational booth for the grand opening weekend for Gander Mountain in Pensacola. During the two days, officers spoke to approximately 300 customers answering questions and handing out hunting, fishing, and boating brochures.

Officer Hoomes attended a field day event at Blackwater State Park for students from Brown Barge Middle School. Officer Hoomes spoke to approximately 50 students about the role and responsibilities of an FWC Officer. He was also available to provide other information and answer questions.

NORTH CENTRAL REGION

DUVAL COUNTY
On two separate instances this week, Officer Troedson was conducting fisheries inspections on an individuals when after further investigation and confirmation through dispatch, the individuals ended up having a warrant issued for their arrest. In both circumstances, the warrant was for previous traffic violations. Officer Troedson arrested each of the subjects and transported them to the Duval County Pre-Trial Detention Center in compliance with the warrants.

Lieutenant Arkin was patrolling the Atlantic Beach area when he observed a vehicle in front of him swerving in and out of the lane then backinto the lane, increasing and decreasing speed abruptly and stopping in the lane. After initiating a traffic stop and further investigation through standard field sobriety exercises, the subject was subsequently arrested for DUI. The subject indicated that he had been drinking vodka and took an unknown pill he purchased at a local “sex shop.” The subject refused a breath and urine test.

Officer Griffis was on vessel patrol when he stopped to do foot patrol at Reddie Point Park. He made contact with two individuals who were sitting inside a vehicle filled with smoke. Based on his training and experience, he noticed common signs of individuals smoking cannabis. After further investigation, the suspects turned over a bag of cannabis, smoking pipes and a bong. Officer Griffis issued notices to appear to two of the suspects for possession of cannabis under 20 grams and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Lieutenant Arkin and Officer McGregor were on vessel patrol in the Ortega River near the Roosevelt Boulevard Bridge. They conducted a vessel inspection on a Sea Ark vessel anchored near the bridge with two subjects on board fishing. Immediately upon pulling up to the vessel, Lieutenant Arkin and Officer McGregor detected a strong odor of burnt cannabis. There were also several empty beer cans on the floor of the vessel. The operator of the vessel admitted to smoking cannabis and eventually handed over a small plastic bag containing a small amount of cannabis. The operator also admitted to drinking six beers during the evening hours. After further investigation and seated field sobriety exercises, Lieutenant Arkin placed the vessel operator under arrest for BUI. Lieutenant Arkin issued the operator a notice to appear for possession of cannabis under 20 grams. The vessel operator refused to submit to a breath and urine test at the jail.

Lieutenants Wright and Arkin coordinated a joint operational plan titled, “Operation Drum Run Marathon” during the weekend of April 12 and 13. Officers McGregor, Brown, Troedson, Griffis, Waldo, Stuhr, Lentz and Investigator Izsac also participated. During this detail, the following cases/arrests were made: one DUI arrest, one BUI arrest, one warrant arrest, two notices to appear for possession of cannabis, one notice to appear for possession of drug paraphernalia, several resource citations and warnings for size and bag limit violations on regulated saltwater species, and several boating citations and boating safety warnings.

Officer Holleman conducted an investigation which involved interviewing witnesses and reviewing surveillance video which resulted in the arrest of two suspects who were molesting crab traps in Duval County. Officer Holleman obtained felony arrest warrants on the two suspects. Officers Holleman, Shearer, Quarterman and Sapp executed the warrants and seized the suspect’s boat as forfeiture.

NORTHEAST REGION

VOLUSIA COUNTY
Officer Meurlot stopped a vessel in the New Smyrna Beach area with an adult male operating the vessel in violation of a regulated speed zone. After completing the required vessel safety equipment inspection, the criminal investigation of a possible BUI was initiated. The operator was subsequently arrested for the criminal violation of a BUI and assessed the $500 civil penalty for refusing to consent to a breath test. He was booked into the Volusia County Jail.

MARION COUNTY
Officer Dias was working multiple baited hunting blinds on the same tract of land in south Marion County. After several weekends of no activity, Officer Dias watched a vehicle pull into a gate, drop individuals off and then leave the property. Officer Dias listened as a gobbler began gobbling near one of the bait sites. Officer Dias listened to the individual inside the blind using a turkey call for a while before making contact. Officer Dias issued the hunter a citation for attempting to take turkey over bait.

BREVARD COUNTY
While on night patrol of Sebastian Inlet State Park around midnight, Officers Rutherford and Lightsey observed a truck pull into a parking lot. The truck backed out and attempted to park in a parking space three times. The truck was driving in a careless manner and then double parked very close to another vehicle. The officers approached the truck to make sure the driver was not impaired and to address the parking issue. As the driver rolled down the window, the officers smelled the very strong odor of cannabis coming from the passenger compartment. A male, sitting in the cab area, admitted to having cannabis in his possession. A search of the male revealed a prescription bottle containing cannabis. A search of the passenger area revealed more cannabis and a glass pipe used for smoking. A notice to appear was issued for possession of under 20 grams and possession of drug paraphernalia.

COP (Community Oriented Policing)
Officers Goodreau, McDonough, Malicoat, Ransom, Salberg and K-9 Officers Miller and North accompanied Regional Director Shannon Wright at the 2014 Lagoonacy Event in New Smyrna Beach sponsored by the Marine Discovery Center. This event was open to the public and provided a vast amount of expertise to educate on a variety of issues, such as marine species, the marine environment, harmful practices and innovative answers to environmental challenges. FWC personnel were able to help the public better understand our approach to handling marine issues from a law enforcement and agency perspective.

Investigator Saunders, Officers Salberg and Horst assisted with the FWC Exotic Pet Amnesty Day that was held at the Wickham Park Pavilions in Melbourne. Officers stood by to answer questions and assist FWC civilian personnel throughout the event. The event attracted well over a hundred onlookers, and about 30 exotic pets were surrendered. The pets included gopher tortoises, iguanas, red-eared sliders, ball pythons, an Italian walking duck, a pygmy rattle snake and a 13-foot Burmese python.

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY
While on patrol of Sebastian Inlet State Park, Officers Rutherford and Lightsey observed a car exceeding the speed limit near the campground area. When the operator of the vehicle saw the officers, he turned around to leave the area. After checking the tag, FWC dispatch advised that the owner of the vehicle had a suspended driver’s license. A traffic stop was conducted after determining the driver had multiple suspensions by court order, the driver was placed under arrest. The female passenger informed Officer Lightsey that the driver had a bag of cocaine, but she did not know where it was now. The female also admitted to having cannabis in her possession. A search revealed that she was in possession of cannabis, a glass pipe and codeine without a prescription. Sebastian Police Department K-9 arrived on scene to assist in finding the bag of cocaine. A search was conducted of the area but no cocaine was found. Officer Rutherford placed the man under arrest for driving while license suspended with knowledge (3rd offense), and Officer Lightsey placed the female under arrest for possession of cannabis under 20 grams, possession of drug paraphernalia and felony possession of a controlled substance (codeine). Both were booked into the Indian River County Jail without incident.

OSCEOLA COUNTY
Officer Trusley was on routine patrol in Prairie Lakes Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and noticed two vehicles parked in an area closed to hunting. Approximately two hours later, Officer Trusley noticed two individuals exiting the woods; both were wearing hunter orange. Both individuals were carrying shotguns loaded with #4 shot, turkey calls and admitted to hunting turkey. Officer Trusley showed them on the area pamphlet that they were in a closed area. A notice to appear for hunting in a closed area was issued to both subjects.

SOUTHWEST REGION

HIGHLAND COUNTY
Officer Ervin conducted an outreach presentation at Mini Ranch Road in Sebring. The residents were concerned about living with Florida’s black bear after numerous nuisance bear complaints have been generated in this area and the other incidents that occurred in another county with black bears. Officer Ervin spoke about the ways to avoid conflicts with bears and FWC’s policies in handling bear complaints. The residents at the meeting expressed appreciation and were supportive of FWC’s actions regarding past bear incidents.

HERNANDO COUNTY
Officer Williams located a small pickup truck in the Croom WMA with a visible gun case and a large number of shotgun shells on the front seat. Just before dark, a subject wearing camouflage and carrying a shotgun returned to the vehicle. The subject was turkey hunting in the WMA despite it not being open to turkey hunting. The subject was cited accordingly and also warned for hunting turkey in the WMA after 1:00 p.m.

Officer Williams was working a bait site he had located earlier in the week when an individual wearing all camouflage and in possession of a shotgun walked to a ground blind near the bait site. Just as it began to get light out, the individual was seen and heard working a turkey call. Officer Williams made contact with the individual and was able to determine that his ground blind was only 50 feet from the bait site. The individual received a citation for attempting to take turkey over bait.

LEE COUNTY
Officers Adams and Morrow were on land patrol traveling over Whiskey Creek when they observed a bicycle secured to a railing on top of the bridge. They parked their patrol vehicle and walked down to the creek and found a man fishing beneath the bridge. Upon inspecting his catch, they observed a snook and five mangrove snappers on a stringer. The snook measured 17.5 inches and three of the mangrove snappers were undersized. The legal size for snook possession in the Gulf is 28-33 inches. The subject was issued two misdemeanor citations and given a date to appear in court. The snook was released back into the water alive and unharmed.

Information was received from Lee County Solid Waste in reference to frequent felony dumping in Lehigh Acres. During a four-month investigation by Investigator Williams, a suspect was identified. Subsequently, a court order was obtained to place a GPS tracker on the suspect’s vehicle. Investigators Williams, Jernstedt, Cooke and Sushil covertly installed a GPS tracker on the suspect’s vehicle. The tracker was then monitored for illegal activity. In a culmination of these investigative efforts, the suspect was arrested for felony dumping and driving on a suspended license. The suspect was transported and booked into the Lee County Jail.

SOUTH REGION A

BROWARD COUNTY
A call came into dispatch about a very tame deer in a residential neighborhood just east of Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport. The caller said it would come right up to you and take food. Officers Kuester and Coffin responded to the area to see if they could locate the deer. When they arrived, they found a very small deer lying in some brush. It was a species neither of the officers had ever seen before. Our Captive Wildlife Investigator Howell checked and no one had a permit for any deer species in that area. Officers Kuester and Coffin were able to pick up the deer and put it into Coffin’s caged backseat. Back at the office, the officers met with Lieutenant McDonald and they were able to determine it was a female Muntjac deer, the oldest known living deer species and is native to Asia. The males grow tusks like a boar and small antlers. The deer was taken to a local wildlife facility, Flamingo Gardens, who was thrilled to have him! Three days later, the owner called dispatch stating that her neighbors are doing construction and took down her fence and the deer got out. Investigator Howell contacted the owner and she did not have the required Class III personal pet permit. Investigator Howell is working with the owner to obtain the permit and get her deer back from Flamingo Gardens.

GLADES COUNTY
Officer Taylor was checking fishing licenses at a local fishing spot in Glades County. When Officer Taylor exited his patrol vehicle, he noticed a subject acting suspiciously who began to quickly walk towards their vehicle. Officer Taylor engaged the subject in conversation but the subject did not respond and began to run for the vehicle. Officer Taylor intercepted the subject as he opened the rear passenger door and began to reach for something inside. Officer Taylor quickly gained control of the subject and removed him from the area, fearing he was reaching for a weapon. As Officer Taylor was securing the subject in restraints, the subject’s brother began running towards them in an attempt to help his brother. Officer Taylor gave the brother commands to stop, show his hands, and sit down on the guard rail, which he eventually did. After all subjects involved were secured and back-up arrived on scene, it was found that the item the subject was reaching for was a marijuana pipe. The subject was subsequently arrested and booked into the Glades County Jail on charges of possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

OKEECHOBEE COUNTY
Officer Davis received info from Officer Lafoy regarding an individual feeding alligators from his dock. Officer Davis set up in an unmarked truck and watched the individual who just so happened to be cleaning fish on his sea wall. Officer Davis noticed a four-foot-long alligator sitting about 10 feet from the sea wall. Officer Davis observed the suspect walk over to the edge of the wall and toss a fish carcass to the gator. This happened on two separate occasions. Officer Davis made contact with the subject and issued him a notice to appear for feeding or enticing an alligator.

The South Region Environmental Investigative squad, along with Lieutenant Strenth, presented an overview of Environmental Crimes to Okeechobee Sheriff’s Office personnel. The presentations provided resource and public safety training on the detection and identification of environmental crimes, the laws associated with them and the resources that are available through our partnering agency – Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Office of Emergency Response and DEP Regulatory. The presentation was successful not only in mentoring but in establishing a working relationship with Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office in Environmental Crimes. Presenters included Investigators Luher, Sierra, Martinez, Wiernicki, Cambi and Lieutenant Strenth.

PALM BEACH COUNTY
While on water patrol on Lake Okeechobee, Officer Nasworth beached his boat on the lake side of Canal Point and walked up the structure by foot. Upon approaching the top of the structure, Officer Nasworth observed a male and a female subject fishing with a cane pole. The male subject observed the officer walking in his direction at which time he reached down into a white bucket and attempted to grab a fish and throw it back into the water. Officer Nasworth announced to the subject to take his hand out of the bucket and not throw any fish back. Upon making contact with the subject, he advised that the fish in the bucket are his niece’s. Officer Nasworth asked the niece if the fish were hers and she advised him yes. The female subject was in possession of six black crappie less than 10 inches. Officer Nasworth seized the fish and placed them into evidence at Fisheating Creek. The female subject received a citation for the violation.

ST. LUCIE COUNTY
Investigator Patterson observed a gray Hyundai pull into a handicap parking space at a Foot and Ankle doctor’s office. No handicap decal or placard was displayed. Investigator Patterson approached the vehicle to ask the driver to move into a proper parking spot when he observed a child under three years of age in the backseat without a car seat. He then asked the operator for her identification and registration. At this time, he also observed a Heineken alcoholic beverage bottle, open and half empty, in the cup holder next to the driver. He asked dispatch to run the operator for warrants which revealed she had an active warrant for fraud. The female driver was arrested and booked in jail. She was also cited for driving on a suspended license with knowledge, child restraint device violation, and open container – driver.

Officer Pifer was on water patrol in the Fort Pierce area when he conducted a vessel stop near the South Bridge. He observed a subject fishing and conducted a license and resource inspection. The subject was in possession of a gag grouper that was under the 24-inch size limit. Gag grouper is also regulated by a closed season, which is currently in effect. The subject was cited for the violations.

Investigators from South Regions A and B participated in a joint inspection operation of a Miami River shipping business. Three agencies participated including the US Coast Guard (major interest is the ship/crew in port), US Customs & Border Patrol (major interest is shipping containers contents, persons working in the ship yard) and FWC (major interests are resources within ship or property, environmental crimes, storage or misuse of liquid or solid waste or hazardous materials on property or ship). After initial entry and securing the property and ship, FWC Investigators Martinez, Leathers, Cambi, Sierra, and Luher fanned out in preplanned teams to different areas. The property was mainly full of old vehicles and clothing bound for Haiti and other Caribbean ports. All warehouse and property spaces were checked for storage or use of solid or liquid waste or new material. About 20 of the vehicles were VIN checked to make sure there were no stolen vehicles on the property. The ship was checked for oils and other storage and to make sure there were no fisheries resources on board. No violations were found of FWC concern. There were a few small forklift oil spill concerns that were promptly remediated by shipyard staff. There was no bulk oil or petroleum storage on the property and no other issues that constituted environmental crimes or crimes of any other type found on the property or ship. The shipyard manager was able to produce some basic records of used battery disposal for equipment on the property.

SOUTH REGION B

MONROE COUNTY
In a joint effort, FWC officers, officers from the Key West Police Department and members from the United States Coast Guard participated in a waterborne exercise in support of the Department of Homeland Security. The exercise was an effort to detect, locate, and secure radioactive test targets and radiation sources that may, hypothetically, be transported into state waters around the port of Key West or potentially another harbor within the state of Florida.

Officer Mattson received information from the United States Coast Guard that there were two men in the water under the Snake Creek Bridge near Islamorada with no divers down flag being displayed. Officer Mattson immediately responded into the area where he contacted the subjects who were uncooperative and attempted to hide their true identity. After a thorough records check, Officer Mattson learned that the two men were from Ukraine and, more importantly, one of the subjects was in the country illegally. Agents from the United States Boarder Protection responded to the scene and transported the subjects to a detention facility. In the mean time, Officer Mattson returned to the original scene where, after a short while, he found a pole spear, gloves and six wrung lobster tails hidden on the water’s edge. Officer Mattson requested that the two men be returned back to the scene. Once the men were returned, Officer Mattson read the two their Miranda Rights giving them the opportunity to remain silent. After the two agreed to talk, one of the men admitted to illegally harvesting the lobster in question. As a result, the subject was charged accordingly and transported to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

Officers Dube, Steinmetz and Investigator Daniels responded to an emergency call off the waters of Key Largo where a Good Samaritan reported that he located a young, unconscious man on a kayak near shore; however. the man did not know his exact location. The officers mounted an extensive search ultimately finding the kayaker unconscious and in need of emergency help. The officers immediately transported the teen to shore where he was transported to the hospital.

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