This FWC Weekly 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.
The FWC Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Logo. Photo: myfwc.com
There were record crowds at the 2014 Blue Angel Air Show. Considering the sheer number of people and vessels crowded into a small area, the event went very well. FWC Law Enforcement presence had a positive effect. We responded to four medical emergencies, two assists that were turned over to the Sheriff’s Office for battery and three BUI’s. Numerous citations and warnings were issued for underage drinking, boating safety violations and BUI’s. FWC officers checked 1,013 people and 291 vessels issuing over 50 warnings and citations. Following are some of the issues that occurred.
Lieutenant Berryman and Officer Lewis were on water patrol, when they smelled the odor of cannabis. Officer Lewis observed a female sitting on the bow of a boat, bent over and preparing a cannabis pipe. Officer Lewis made her aware of his presence and charged her with possession of not more than 20 grams of cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Lieutenant Hahr and Officer Hutchinson were patrolling Little Sabine Bay, when they observed several subjects consuming alcoholic beverages who appeared to be under the age of 21. Four notices to appear were issued to the underage drinkers.
After the Air Show, Officer Ramos and Reserve Officer Hahr were monitoring vessels inside Little Sabine Bayou, when they observed a vessel operating at night without navigation lights. The vessel was stopped and Officer Ramos initiated a boating safety inspection. During the inspection, Officer Ramos detected signs of impairment from the operator and began a BUI investigation. After administering field sobriety tasks, Officer Ramos determined the operator was impaired and placed him under arrest for BUI. The operator was transported to the BUI Command Post where he refused to submit to a breath test. He was charged with BUI and transported to the Escambia County Jail for processing.
While monitoring vessels exiting Little Sabine at the conclusion of the Blue Angels Air Show, FWC officers noticed a vessel operating unusually quickly through the maze of boats and swimmers navigating the narrow channel. The vessel passed a US Coast Guard (USCG) vessel and was warned by the USCG crewmen to slow down. The vessel’s operator complied for a few seconds, then gunned the motor, and continued through the maze of vessels. The FWC officers stopped the vessel and moved out of the channel to discuss the operator’s maneuvering. After a short discussion, the operator showed signs of impairment and Officer Bartlett began a BUI investigation. After completing the battery of tests, Officer Bartlett determined the operator was impaired and placed him under arrest for BUI. The operator was transported to the BUI Command Post where the operator provided two breath samples of .194 and .204. The operator was then transported to the Escambia County Jail for processing.
Officer Marlow observed a vehicle parked on the side of Highway 98 and observed the hood was still warm. After looking in the area, he observed foot tracks leading to the edge of wetlands approximately 200 yards away from the vehicle and subsequent drag marks through private property. Two individuals were later located in a vessel frogging and were found to be trespassing in the area.
While on foot patrol near Bristol Landing, Officer Mims conducted a boating safety inspection on a small vessel with two occupants. The driver had been drinking and, after showing multiple signs of impairment, the driver was arrested for BUI and booked into the Liberty County Jail.
SANTA ROSA COUNTY
Officer Lewis was on patrol in Blackwater River State Forest at Riley’s Bluff primitive area when, across the river, he observed a male rolling a cannabis cigarette. The male subject smoked the cannabis cigarette and handed it to another male subject. Officer Lewis made his presence known to the subjects and asked them to bring the cannabis cigarette and the rest of the drugs they had with them across the river. The subjects complied. There were seven children in and around the river. After locating the children’s mother to care for the children, Officer Lewis issued the two male subjects misdemeanor citations for possession of not more than 20 grams of cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia.
The following day, Officer Lewis was at the Red Rock Primitive area when, across the river, he observed a man throw a bottle into the woods and discard a cardboard box onto the ground. Officer Lewis waited for the man and the rest of his group to cross the river and leave the area before he made contact. When the subjects were in the vehicle, Officer Lewis approached them just as the driver of the vehicle threw two soda cans out of the window. The cans barely missed hitting Officer Lewis. Officer Lewis issued citations to the male and female subjects for littering.
Lieutenant Pearce and Officers Marlow and Bunker were working the River Sink Tract of Wakulla Springs State Park. The officers had information received from Lieutenant Hooker and Officer Raker regarding large groups gathering and alcohol consumption. Officer Marlow entered the sink area in plain clothes and observed a large group of individuals drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana at the main sink area. Lieutenant Pearce and Officer Bunker arrived to assist and 11 citations and 9 warnings were written for possession of marijuana and consumption of alcohol.
Officer Marlow observed a vehicle briefly turn on its headlights in a marsh area of Wakulla County. Three individuals were attempting to cast net bait and were smoking and in possession of additional marijuana. Officer Hoelscher and Lieutenant Pearce arrived to assist. All three subjects were cited for less than 20 grams of marijuana. All three will be placed in a civil diversionary program in lieu of prosecution.
COP (Community Oriented Policing)
Investigator Wilkenson received an invitation from the Escambia County Environmental Enforcement Division to participate in an outreach event with a neighborhood watch group. Investigator Wilkenson spoke of the responsibilities and core missions of FWC and the role FWC plays in the protection of Florida’s natural resources through education, investigations, and enforcement of environmental crimes.
Investigators Wilkenson and Nelson and Lieutenant Clark participated in an outreach event regarding the commercialization of businesses operating on Crab Island as it relates to public safety. The meeting was held at the USCG Station Destin. The meeting involved multiple agencies as follows: County Commissioner, USCG, Military Security Force, Okaloosa County Tax Collector, Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office, Department of Health, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Agriculture, and County Code Enforcement. The goal of the meeting was to establish who has statutory/regulatory authority in regulating the commercial industries. FWC involvement was related to boating safety, vessel versus floating structure, marine sanitation device, and commercial use of submerged land lease.
NORTH CENTRAL REGION
FWC officers responded to the scene of a missing scalloper off St. Martin Keys. A storm developed nearby which caught the scallopers off guard. The micro burst that developed struck the area and pushed the scalloper’s vessel away. The two vessel owners were in the water during the storm, so the husband swam to and removed his vessel while his wife remained behind. When the operator returned to the area where his wife had been, he was unable to find her. Lieutenants Jones and Loyed, Officers Phillips, Seiler, Reid and Investigator Thomason responded to the area to assist with the search. During the search, the weather conditions deteriorated to a point that required the small search vessels to return to the dock. FWC officers, Citrus County Sheriff’s officers, USCG and Sea Tow vessels remained on the scene and continued the search. The search efforts were suspended until daylight at which time Sea Tow located the woman at a nearby island.
Citrus County officers made two resource cases where offshore vessels were found to be in possession of US red grouper and another vessel was in possession of a greater amberjack during closed season.
Citrus County officers responded to a vessel crash where a vessel operator was distracted by his cell phone during which time he struck the port stern of the vessel in front of him. The vessel at fault sank in the Crystal River near Shell Island.
Officer McDonald was traveling east on CR 252 when he observed a vehicle on the shoulder of the road. Officer McDonald also observed a gopher tortoise walking down the edge of the highway. Officer McDonald continued on and then pulled over. He observed a man exit the vehicle, pick up the tortoise and put it in the back of the truck. A traffic stop was conducted on the vehicle and the gopher tortoise was located in the bed of the vehicle. The man was cited and the tortoise was returned alive.
Over the weekend, Lieutenant Kiss and Officer McGrath responded to a missing person call originating from O’Leno State Park. Information received indicated that two men were camping at O’Leno State Park and they decided to go drinking at a local bar. One man made it back to the camp site and the other did not. The men were scheduled to check out Sunday afternoon and the man with the tow vehicle did not show up, so a search began. Lieutenant Kiss found the man asleep in his truck at the High Springs Boat Ramp. According to the man’s story, he did not come back to the camp site because his friend drinks heavily and he did not want to be around him. Later that night, the officers were called out, along with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and responded to the same camp site, this time for a lost hiker. The intoxicated man called 911 because he could not find his way back to the main road within the park. Due to the facts at hand, including the concern of the safety of the campers, the man was evicted from the park along with his utility trailer. A cousin of one of the campers arrived and towed the trailer away.
Officer Butler responded to a complaint from a landowner who had found a wounded deer in his peanut field. During conversation with the landowner, the landowner advised that he had gotten a tag number from a suspicious vehicle in the area of his peanut field the night before. Through investigation, Officer Butler located the suspect who then admitted to shooting the deer at 2:00 a.m. the morning before. Officer Butler will be filing charges with the Dixie County State Attorney’s Office for taking deer during the closed season and shooting from a road right of way.
Officer Shearer worked in the Resource Protection Services capacity and conducted resource inspections on vessels fishing the first red snapper mini-season in the Mayport area. Citations and warnings were issued for undersized cobia, over the bag limit of vermillion snapper, undersized black sea bass, fishing licenses and boating safety issues.
Officer Cooper was checking boat ramps on the Santa Fe River when he discovered a car parked at a hidden ramp. Further inspection revealed two subjects in possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and assorted drug paraphernalia. Both subjects were cited for the marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
Officer Wiggins and Officer Cooper followed up on an illegally taken alligator that was found dumped in a wooded area just off SR 47 in Columbia County. The officers interviewed an individual whose trash had been dumped alongside the alligator and found that they had previously lived next door to another individual who had made comments about alligators a couple of weeks earlier. Through investigative work, Officer Wiggins located the subject. During interviews, the subject admitted to taking the alligator from a pond on a construction site where he was working and bringing it to his residence to clean it. The subject stated that when he attempted to clean the alligator, it came alive and he then shot it in the head. After cleaning the alligator, he hauled the hide to the area where the officers found the dumped carcass along with the trash and left it all there. The subject produced a 22 caliber rifle which he claimed to have shot the alligator with. The rifle, alligator skull and a cell phone which contained photographs of the subject posing with the dead alligator were seized. The subject was identified through dispatch as a four-time convicted felon. Charges will be direct filed with the Columbia County State Attorney for possession of a firearm by convicted felon, taking/possession of alligator and littering.
COP (Community Oriented Policing)
Officer Davenport spoke to approximately 30 children attending 4-H Camp at the R.O. Ranch in Mayo. Officer Davenport had a 4-foot alligator on display while speaking about safety.
Officers Boone, Davenport, Langford and Mobley participated in the Annual Rotary Club Duck Race in Branford. Officers were tasked with controlling vessel traffic on the Suwannee River and ensuring the overall safety of the event staff during the race.
While on patrol of US Highway 1 in Melbourne, Lieutenant Urban came across a traffic crash which had just occurred. After notifying dispatch, Lieutenant Urban went to assess the situation. He found an unresponsive male on the ground next to one of the vehicles with a local emergency room nurse tending to him. Within seconds, the male stopped breathing and lost his pulse. The nurse and Lieutenant Urban began two-person CPR on the male and continued until EMS arrived. When EMS arrived, the male still had no pulse and was not breathing. EMS continued CPR and used a defibrillator on the male. They were eventually able to reestablish a pulse. EMS transported the male to the hospital where, as of four hours after the crash, he was listed in stable condition.
While on patrol in the Merritt Island area, Officer Lightsey observed a man fishing from the shoreline. The officer saw the man put a fish in a five-gallon bucket and place it in his trunk. The plain-clothes officer approached the man and started a conversation about what kind of fish he had caught. The man explained that he had caught whiting and a spotted seatrout. The officer asked if he could see the seatrout. The man showed the officer a spotted seatrout which was clearly undersized. The officer told the man that the fish looked very small and that he should probably throw it back. The man told the officer he would not throw it back. At this point the officer revealed that he was a plainclothes FWC officer and issued the man a citation for possession of undersized spotted seatrout.
ST. JOHNS COUNTY
Officers Hickman, Miller, Greenier and Thornhill welcomed the opening weekend (first of three consecutive) of the federal red snapper “mini-seasons” by teaming up with USCG Reserve personnel out of Sector Jacksonville. The officers got underway Saturday morning for the joint operation in three FWC patrol boats with eight USCG Maritime Enforcement Specialists participating in the Joint Enforcement Agreement (JEA) patrol. The three enforcement teams boarded/inspected 22 boats in waters nine to 15 miles east of St. Augustine Inlet. The teams noted several nice catches of cobia, mangrove snapper and vermillion snapper but only inspected one boat with red snapper on board. The officers also issued citations and warnings for minor violations ranging from failing to possess a saltwater fishing license, to unserviceable (expired) visual distress signals (flares), to possession of undersized vermillion snapper (being used as bait).
Officers Ervin and Smith received a complaint concerning a subject feeding sandhill cranes everyday at a certain time from a residence near Lake Istokpoga. Both officers were at the residence at the appointed time and observed the subject distributing grain to the waiting cranes. The subject was issued a citation for the misdemeanor.
Officer Morrow was dispatched to the Fort Myers fishing pier to investigate the report of a male subject who caught a snook which was reported to be in a white cooler. When the officer arrived on scene, he found five people fishing from the pier with no cooler in sight. An investigation was conducted and one of the male subjects admitted that he caught a snook and put it in his girlfriend’s vehicle which was parked nearby. A white cooler was spotted in plain view and permission was given to search the vehicle which revealed a 28 ¾-inch snook. The subject was issued a citation for possessing a snook out of season and given a court date.
Officer Bell and Lieutenant Barrett stopped a vessel returning from an offshore trip near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. The officers were shown one legal red grouper in a cooler. Upon further inspection, the officers located two undersized red grouper in a deck hatch being used as a live well. Appropriate citations were issued and the fish were returned to the water alive.
Officer Bell and Lieutenant Barrett observed a vessel operating on full plane in a slow speed zone, at night, near the Caloosahatchee River ICW. When they stopped the vessel for the violation, the officers noticed several signs that the operator had been drinking alcohol. The officers conducted field sobriety exercises with the operator, determined he was in fact impaired and arrested him for boating under the influence.
Officer Laskowski was patrolling the Skyway fishing area when he saw two individuals that were fishing and had started to walk back after packing up their fish gear. Officer Laskowski asked if they had any luck fishing and asked to inspect their catch. A cooler they were carrying revealed one 18-inch snook. One of the individuals admitted to catching the snook and was issued a citation for possession of snook during the closed season.
Officer Laskowski was patrolling the Sarasota Bay area for fishing activity. He saw two individuals wade fishing, working their way to shore. When they reached the shore, Officer Laskowski asked to inspect the catch they had in a bag. The bag contained a 27-inch snook. One of the individuals admitted to catching the snook and said, “It’s not even legal size.” The individual was issued a citation for possession of snook during the closed season and a written warning for possession of an undersized snook.
Officer Laskowski was patrolling Sarasota Bay and saw four people wade-fishing in the area. When the four people waded to shore, he asked if they had luck fishing. One of the individuals said he had caught a snook and had it on his stringer. Officer Laskowski informed the individual that snook season was closed. The individual said he knew the season was closed and just brought it to shore to photograph the snook which measured 32 inches. The individual was issued a citation for possession of snook during the closed season.
While on water patrol near Bunces Pass, Officer Bibeau stopped a vessel that was returning from fishing to conduct a boating safety and fisheries inspection. At the conclusion of the fisheries inspection, Officer Bibeau located 24 undersized red grouper, the largest of which measured only 18 ½ inches. The six occupants on board the vessel admitted to catching four red grouper per person. Officer Bibeau issued a misdemeanor citation to each individual for possession of undersized red grouper.
Officer Hinds was patrolling the Ft. DeSoto Park area for fishing activity. Officer Hinds saw an individual coming in from wade-fishing carrying several buckets. Officer Hinds asked to inspect the catch in the buckets and noticed he had left one bucket behind at the seawall. He asked what was in the bucket at the seawall and he said, “Bait that needed water.” Officer Hinds inspected the bait and found a 22-inch snook in the bait bucket. The individual was issued citations for possession of snook during the closed season and possession of an undersized snook.
Officer Hinds checked another individual that was wade-fishing in the Ft. DeSoto Park area. While inspecting his catch, he found a 20-inch snook in a bucket. The individual told Officer Hinds that snook was in season. Officer Hinds told the individual that snook season was closed and, if it was open season, the snook was still undersized. The individual was issued a citation for possession of snook during the closed season.
Officer Hinds was patrolling Ft. DeSoto Park area for fishing activity when he stopped to check two individuals who had been fishing from kayaks and asked to inspect their catch. One of the individuals said he had caught a redfish and had it in a bag. Officer Hinds checked the fish, which measured 29 ½ inches. The individual thought the redfish was legal sized. The individual was issued a citation for possession of oversized redfish.
Officer Hinds was watching several individuals wade-fishing at Pinellas Bay Way. Both individuals came up to their vehicle and when Officer Hinds approached them, one of them walked back down into the mangroves. The individual came back to the vehicle with an empty stringer. Officer Hinds checked the mangrove area and found three redfish. The individual admitted to catching the redfish and removing them from the stringer. He also said he knew the bag limit for redfish. The individual was issued a citation for possession of over the bag limit of redfish.
Officer Hinds was at Ft. DeSoto Boat Ramp and was watching two individuals at the boat wash area after fishing. Officer Hinds approached their boat to do a safety and fisheries inspection. Both individuals said they had caught fish and the fish were in the cooler. In the cooler were 24 legal-sized mangrove snapper. Officer Hinds informed them that the bag limit is five snapper per person. One of the individuals said he had caught five snapper. The other individual said two other family members were fishing with him and had just left and that was his explanation of the extra nineteen snapper. The individual was issued a citation for possession of over the bag limit of mangrove snapper.
SOUTH REGION A
Investigator Teems was on patrol at John U. Lloyd State Park when she observed a silver Toyota, bearing a Florida tag and traveling north on the main road. When she initiated a traffic stop, dispatch advised there was no vehicle information. When she ran the VIN, the vehicle was registered in Georgia. The driver presented Investigator Teems with a Florida Identification Card. The driver had a suspended driver’s license with multiple suspensions since 2013. When asked for information on the vehicle, he was not able to produce any documentation or dealership information except a Georgia registration, registered to another person. The subject was issued three citations and the vehicle was towed. The tag was seized and turned into Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Officer Moss responded to a beached whale call a few miles north of Jensen public beach. He arrived on scene with about 15 bystanders circled around a small whale. Harbor Branch Rescue and Marine Research was also on scene, and they advised it was a three-month-old pygmy sperm whale. Officer Phillips and Officer Pifer arrived on scene and assisted with crowd control while Harbor Branch rescue personnel assessed the whale’s condition. The whale was unable to be saved and Officer Moss and the other officers helped with the removal.
PALM BEACH COUNTY
Officer Nasworth was conducting freshwater fisheries inspections at Pahokee Marina. Officer Nasworth made contact with a subject that was fishing. He ran the subject through dispatch who advised that the subject had an active warrant for possession of undersized sea bass. Dispatch confirmed the warrant and Officer Nasworth placed the subject under arrest. Officer Nasworth had Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office transport the subject to the jail for booking.
Officer Nasworth and Officer Barber were conducting a freshwater fisheries inspection at the Canal Point Locks on Lake Okeechobee. A subject was found to be in possession of seven undersized black crappie. The subject was issued a misdemeanor notice to appear for the violation.
Investigators Luher and Wiernicki were on duty when FWC received an oil spill complaint in Palm Beach County near the Riviera Beach marinas. The location of the spill was near New Port Cove Marina or Riviera Beach Marina, located on the west side of Peanut Island. Lieutenant King, Officer(s) Trawinski, Spanier, Maurizio, and Investigator Booth responded by land and water. Environmental Investigator Luher and USCG responded by water and are jointly working this investigation. The point source was located as a sunken sailing vessel near New Port Cove Marina. The case is under investigation.
ST. LUCIE COUNTY
Lieutenant Rogerson was working late one night when he came upon a parked vehicle at a local park. The area closes after sunset but is frequented by fishermen wanting to gain access to good grouper fishing. Lieutenant Rogerson walked along the shore looking for the fishermen, but found no one. Returning back to the parking area, he heard talking north of his location. He then found two subjects, one male and one female along the foot path to Taylor Creek. An interview of the subjects ensued to try and determine their identities, vehicle ownership, who had driven to the location and what they were doing there that late. Both subjects appeared to have been drinking and the female was found to have concealed a small bottle of Smirnoff Vodka in her back waist. Names and stories were checked out, but to no avail. After some time, it was determined that the male subject was in the country illegally. No alerts or holds were noted so he was advised to leave the park on foot. The female, however, after some long research by FWC dispatch, was located under a different name and date of birth. A picture of her was sent to Lieutenant Rogerson and he was able to verify and confirm her true identity. She was transported and booked in jail on an active St. Lucie warrant for: failure to appear, driving while license suspended/revoked, and giving false name while detained/arrested.
During the course of a boating accident investigation, Investigator Patterson was called in to aid in determining the true ownership and identity of the vessel. The documentation provided by the victim showed the vessel was registered in his name as Homemade; although the Hull Identification Number (HIN) on the transom identified it as a McKee Craft. The displayed FL numbers did not match the HIN and the HIN displayed came back with other FL numbers; they also showed another owner. When the subject brought the trailer for the vessel to be removed from the water, an inspection of the trailer VIN was observed to have been scratched out. The trailer tag also came into question at this time as not being assigned to the trailer. At this time, both the vessel and trailer were seized as no proper ownership could be determined. The investigation will be coordinated in collaboration with the Saint Lucie Sherriff’s Office. The subject was not arrested at the time pending the outcome of the investigation.
COP (Community Oriented Policing)
Officer Greene taught the Law portion of Hunter’s Education to a 4-H group in Labelle. The students were very enthusiastic and asked many questions about wildlife and laws pertaining to hunting.
SOUTH REGION B
While on land patrol, Officer Thurkettle received a call regarding a subject harvesting snook using a cast net. Officer Thurkettle arrived on the scene and spoke with the subject. The subject admitted to having a snook in his cooler and catching it with a cast net. The subject indicated that he was unaware of the state regulations and was issued citations for being in possession of a snook out of season and harvesting the snook by illegal method (castnetting). The snook was alive and released back into the water.
As a result of a 911 call and a request to assist the Collier County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO), Lieutenant Caraker and Officer Tolbert responded to Picayune Strand State Forest to locate a disabled vehicle and its occupants. Upon locating the vehicle, the occupants were identified and one of them was determined to have violated a protective order. The occupant was transported from the wooded area to the roadway where he was then turned over to the CCSO Deputy Sheriff. Lieutenant Caraker and Officer Tolbert assisted CCSO in removing the vehicle and its occupants from the mud and out of the Picayune Strand State Forest.
Officers Futch and Tolbert participated in “OPERATION: Deep Woods III”, a week- long detail in remote and restricted areas of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Hundreds of acres were patrolled by vehicle, ATV and on foot. The officers utilized stationary surveillance within specific areas of concern and noted vast improvement regarding unauthorized entry into the park. The officers did not find evidence of hunting or any other illegal activity including destruction of State property.
FWC Officers working a joint operation with rangers from Biscayne National Park targeting vessels returning from the Bahamas netted a significant catch. During one of the stops, officers searched a vessel returning from Bimini and discovered 51 wrung lobster tails, 12 of which were undersized. The captain was cited accordingly.
Investigator Brown and Officer Dion were working the area of Waltz Key Basin in Key West when they received information that two men were spear fishing lobster in the area. The concerned citizen who initiated the call stated that the two men were on board a small gray skiff. As the officers strategically positioned their vessel to see the men, the skiff took off. The officers initiated their blue lights and gave chase. One of the men on board the skiff began to throw wrung lobster tails overboard as the skiff made several attempts to lose the officers. It was not long after that the skiff came to a stop and the officers were able to come along side. A subsequent fisheries inspection revealed that the two men were in possession of 88 wrung lobster tails, a mutton snapper, and an undersized gray snapper. The men were arrested and transported to jail where they face a multitude of resource charges.
COP (Community Oriented Policing)
Officer Dube was the guest host for the locally televised show “BUZZ TV” filmed on location in Key West. The subject of discussion was the upcoming lobster mini-season as well as diver safety and boating safety in general. The show will be aired several times before the upcoming mini-season.