The way Mike Cenci sees it, Port Gamble S’Klallam fish and wildlife officers were free to request the IDs of hunters who’d just taken a bull elk along Hood Canal in early October, but the two lacked the authority to arrest the men and their approach with guns drawn was wrong.
Cenci, the deputy chief of WDFW’s Enforcement division, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office have completed their investigation into the Oct. 3 incident. Though they weren’t allowed to talk with the two officers, they presented their findings to the tribe yesterday, and have referred the matter to the county’s prosecuting attorney to determine whether to file charges.
“I certainly believe they went beyond the scope of what their authority was,” says Cenci.
One of the men who was detained, Adam Boling, has filed a complaint of illegal detention with the county. His friend Don Phipps was legally hunting elk with a muzzleloader on private land they had permission to be on.
With the sensitive nature of the case, Cenci presumes that the prosecuting attorney will seek legal advice from the state attorney general.
The tribe has said that “the officers were within their jurisdiction and operating on the tribe’s ‘usual and accustomed hunting grounds,'” according to articles in the Peninsula Daily News and Port Townsend Leader.
“Natural Resources Enforcement officers are mandated to respond when a possible violation is reported within the tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing and hunting grounds, and are expertly trained to handle these situations,” reads a statement from the tribe released midmonth.
However, Cenci says that that phrase “usual and accustomed” is misused.
“Those words are associated with tribal fishing rights — not hunting,” he says.
And when contacting nontribal members in off-reservation lands, Cenci says that the officers only had the authority to request the hunters’ IDs, not the right to arrest them.
“If an individual requests (an ID) and is told no, the tribal officer is done,” Cenci says.
He’s also sensitive to the approach the officers took. While he points out that natural-resource law enforcement is fraught with danger — it’s often done in remote sites miles from backup, some contacts involve armed felons or people wanted on warrants, and a growing number of poaching cases involve what he calls “hard-core criminal element” — he says that state fish and wildlife officers would have acted differently.
A photo slideshow on the Port Townsend Leader’s Web site shows men loading Phipps’ elk into Boling’s Toyota pickup and then being approached by the tribal officers with at least one gun drawn. The hunters are handcuffed and more police eventually arrive on the scene.
“The approach was inconsistent with how state fish and wildlife officers would approach, but it’s tricky. My gut feeling is they were operating within good faith of what they thought their authority was,” Cenci says.
The Port Townsend Leader’s article today indicates the tribe’s own investigation isn’t complete, but would be available when it is done.
Here are links to articles on the incident:
Port Townsend Leader, Oct. 7
Peninsula Daily News, Oct. 7
Peninsula Daily News, Oct. 11
Peninsula Daily News, Oct. 13
Port Townsend Leader, Oct. 21
Peninsula Daily News, Oct. 25
Peninsula Daily News, Oct. 27
NOTE: THIS VERSION CORRECTS TERMINOLOGY USED FOR THE TWO PORT GAMBLE S’KLALLAM OFFICERS. ACCORDING TO SPOKESWOMAN GINGER VAUGHN, THEY ARE FISH AND WILDLIFE OFFICERS, NOT TRIBAL POLICE OFFICERS.
SHE ALSO SAYS THE TRIBE’S INVESTIGATION WILL LIKELY BE AVAILABLE EARLY NEXT WEEK.