Editor’s note: The original press release from ODFW misidentified the poached buck’s subspecies and that information has been updated and corrected below
THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
SALEM, Ore. —Jackson County Assistant District Attorney Melissa LeRitz, has won 2020 Prosecutor of the Year honors from the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division.
The case of a black-tailed deer poached in Ashland sealed the deal. When a poacher shot a trophy-sized black-tailed deer buck bedded down next to a house in the early hours of Oct. 16, 2019, the incident left an opening for LeRitz to add to her own trophy case of wins.
Neighbors in the Ashland neighborhood that morning reported seeing a man load a dead deer into the back of his truck. They gave the license plate and description of the truck to OSP Fish and Wildlife Troopers, who responded to the scene. Troopers found a blood trail that started where a deer had bedded down in shrubs next to a house. They also found a bullet that had passed through the deer and lodged into an exterior door frame of the same house.
Troopers contacted the truck owner, Dustin McGrorty, age 38, from Riddle, OR. McGrorty eventually confessed to shooting and taking the animal, then hiding it and his rifle next to the Tiller/Trail Highway. Troopers recovered the trophy class black-tailed deer buck, donated the meat to charity and opened an investigation. After they built the case, they contacted the District Attorney’s office, and LeRitz entered the picture.
On Sept. 2, 2020 McGrorty entered a guilty plea in Jackson County Circuit Court. LeRitz’s recommendations to the judge reflected the severity of the crime. McGrorty received fines and restitution of $8,420; he forfeited his weapon and other hunting gear, received a five-year suspension of hunting, fishing and trapping privileges and two years bench probation during which he is not allowed to possess firearms. He also must complete 80 hours of community service.
LeRitz’s win follows five years of dedication to prosecuting crimes against fish and wildlife. When she started in the DA..’s office, she was offered the choice of working with wildlife crimes, and she grabbed it. Her caseload also covers general felonies, major crashes and financial crimes.
Wildlife crimes often end up as caseloads for new or junior attorneys learning the ropes. After a year or two, those attorneys often move on to larger districts, leaving local law enforcement to train a new attorney. LeRitz sees herself as part of the long-term solution.
“I love it here,” LeRitz said, “The hunting and fishing community really cares about the rules and they hold themselves accountable. And OSP troopers make it easy to be part of an integrated team that works well together,” she added.
OSP Fish and Wildlife Sergeant Jim Collom appreciates her efforts.
“She answers whenever I call for questions, search warrants and seizure processes,” he said, “Some D.A.s plea bargain to avoid trial. She grabs the reins and says, ‘If you want to go to trial we will,’ and that’s nice, too.”
LeRitz cares about both her job and the resource. She shows dedication and passion in prosecuting those who commit fish and wildlife crimes and despite her increased work load at the District Attorney’s office, she requests to lead fish and wildlife cases. LeRitz also works actively with the Rogue Valley Team by putting on educational trainings to keep them keep current with case law.
Poaching is a big issue for sportsmen and elevating wildlife crimes to the trial level is important to avid hunters and anglers who follow fair chase rules, according to Fred Walasavage, Chair of the Oregon Hunters Association (OHA). OHA manages the Turn In Poachers (TIP) Line reward fund, which gives cash rewards to people who report poachers, if the report leads to a citation. Walasavage emphasizes that after sportsmen do their part to turn in poachers, it’s up to local district attorney offices to prosecute.
“Without the D.A.’s support, this (anti-poaching) program won’t work,” he said, “Requirements for restitution are extremely important to keep programs going. OHA would like to acknowledge the efforts district attorneys are putting forth for the anti-poaching campaign.”
Prosecuting wildlife crimes is difficult. Evidence can walk off the scene of the crime. Remains decay and degrade from weather and animals. Shell casings, bullets and arrows are difficult to find, so searchers have the arduous task of using metal detectors to comb through large areas.
LeRitz is humble in accepting the Prosecutor of the Year award, and laughs at how she found out about it.
“I thought I was going to a staff meeting,” she said, “Then they presented me with this award!” She quickly acknowledges it is not a one-person job.
“When I came in I didn’t know anything about wildlife crimes,” she said, “OSP has helped build me up and teach me. It’s good working with people who care about their job and it helps me to do mine.”
The Stop Poaching Campaign educates the public on how to recognize and report poaching. This campaign is a collaboration among hunters, conservationists, land owners and recreationists. Our goal is to increase reporting of wildlife crimes through the TIP Line, increase detection by increasing the number of OSP Fish and Wildlife Troopers and increase prosecution. Oregon Hunters Association manages the TIP Line reward program. This campaign helps to protect and enhance Oregon’s fish and wildlife and their habitat for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Contact campaign coordinator Yvonne Shaw for more information. Yvonne.l.Shaw@state.or.us.