Officers Forehand and Hayes located two turkey blinds with cracked corn and millet seeds scattered within 30 yards of the blinds prior to turkey season. On opening morning, they witnessed two hunters actively calling and hunting for turkeys from the baited blinds. Both hunters were cited for taking or attempting to take turkeys over bait.
While patrolling in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Lieutenant Marlow and Officers Boyd and Nelson located a vessel in the south end of the Middle Grounds Habitat Area of Particular Concern, 95 nautical miles south of Carrabelle. While approaching the vessel, the captain of the vessel ran from the port side to the starboard side and began throwing fish into the water. The fish were recovered and the officers found the occupants to be in possession of reef fish not landed in whole condition (fillets), undersized gag grouper, gag grouper during closed season, over the bag limit of vermillion snapper, along with the use of “J” hooks with natural bait and the violation of throwing fish overboard as law enforcement approached. The occupants admitted to the violations and were issued the appropriate citations and warnings for the violations.
Officer M. Webb was on patrol in the Gulf of Mexico when he conducted a federal marine fisheries inspection on a vessel 11.5 nautical miles offshore. The captain of the vessel was actively fishing and had in his possession six gray triggerfish. A federal resource citation was issued for possession of gray triggerfish during closed season.
Officer H. Webb responded to a complaint of anglers harvesting over the daily bag limit and possession of undersized red and black drum under the Highland View Bridge. He arrived at the location and saw a man loading a stringer of what appeared to be undersized black drum into the back of his truck. Officer Webb conducted a fisheries inspection on the man and discovered that he was in possession of eight undersized black drum. A citation was issued for the violation. Following that stop, Officer Webb saw more anglers on the shoreline with a large stringer of fish. He conducted a fisheries inspection on the group and discovered that they were in possession of several black and red drum. Two of the red drum and one of the black drum were undersized. A citation was issued to the responsible party for possession of undersized red drum and a written warning was issued for possession of undersized black drum.
Officer Boyd was working the area of Mashes Sands when he saw a vessel inbound with two occupants. After conducting boating safety and resource inspections, Officer Boyd located three red snapper in a cooler. A citation was issued for possession of red snapper during closed season.
On opening morning of spring turkey season, Officers Nelson and Mandrick located a blind that was approximately 15 yards from and overlooking corn that had recently been distributed. The officers saw a shotgun barrel protruding from an opening in the blind. The officers approached the blind and made contact with the individual inside. When asked about the bait present in front of the blind, the individual denied having any knowledge of the bait present in the location he was hunting, even though the bait was clearly visible from the blind. After conducting a short interview, the individual admitted to knowing the bait was present and that he was hunting turkeys over bait. The appropriate action was taken in regards to the violation.
DIRECTED CONSERVATION PATROLS
Officers Manning and Allgood concentrated their efforts on offshore fisheries inspections in the Gulf of Mexico. Four vessel operators were found in possession of undersized greater amberjack. Notice to appear citations were issued for these violations. Later that day as they approached another vessel, they noticed the operator throw some fish into the water. As Officer Allgood boarded the vessel, Officer Manning retrieved two gray triggerfish that were still floating. Officer Allgood questioned the operator of the vessel about the triggerfish and he admitted to throwing them. During his inspection, a strong odor of marijuana was present. One of the passengers admitted to having a small amount of marijuana and a pipe. The pipe and marijuana were seized and notice to appear citations were issued for possession of undersized gray triggerfish, possession of cannabis, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
COMMUNITY ORIENTED POLICING
Officer Greene attended a Hunter Safety class at Hard Labor Creek Plantation, where he taught the law portion of the class to approximately 12 individuals. Numerous questions relating to legal aspects of hunting were answered.
NORTH CENTRAL REGION
Lieutenant Huff and Officer Gill worked two bait sites for turkeys that Officer Burnsed had found the previous week. After daylight, a hunter came into one of the bait sites, placed a decoy in the bait site and began to call for turkeys. The officers located the hunter who admitted to knowing the bait was there. The hunter was cited for attempting to take turkey over bait.
Officer Nichols was on patrol in a remote area of Hamilton County when he saw fresh tire marks entering a farm field where he had previously located a site baited with cracked corn and a whole corn feeder. He decided to check the area for turkey hunting activity. From a concealed location, he saw several turkey hunting decoys set up in the baited area. Approximately 20 minutes later, he saw one hunter emerge from the wood line of the baited area. He had crossed a fence onto the adjacent private property. Officer Nichols watched as the hunter entered the wood line of the private property carrying a pair of binoculars. He then saw two more hunters emerge from the wood line of the baited area. After approximately 10 minutes, the first hunter returned and climbed back over the fence. The three hunters began to gather their decoys, shot guns, and other hunting equipment. Officer Nichols decided to return to his vehicle and conduct a turkey hunting inspection on the three subjects. Upon inspection, it was found that all three hunters were adults hunting during the youth-only hunting season. The three men had been turkey hunting approximately 5 yards from the whole corn feeder and 10 yards from the cracked corn. It was also found that none of the hunters had permission to be across the fence on the adjacent private property. All three hunters were issued citations for adults hunting during the youth turkey hunting season and hunting turkeys within 100 yards of a baited area. The three subjects also received citations for non-resident hunting license violations. After speaking with the owner of the fenced private property, one hunter was issued a warning for trespassing.
Lieutenant Kiss was off duty when he saw two suspicious vehicles parked on the edge of private property in Lake City. The area in which the vehicles were parked is known for trespassing as well as hunting and fishing related violations. Lieutenant Kiss notified Officer Johnston who was on duty a few miles away, who arrived and located the four individuals shortly after dark as they returned to their vehicles. All subjects were seen trespassing on the private property and admitted to accessing the property to go fishing. One subject appeared nervous as Officer Johnston was educating him on trespass laws. The subject gave consent to search his person and spontaneously admitted to having a marijuana pipe. He also admitted to having marijuana in his vehicle. Officer Johnston successfully located the marijuana pipe and a bag of cannabis. All four subjects were issued trespass warnings while the one subject was issued a notice to appear for possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia.
K-9 Officer Gill received a call for assistance about a subject fleeing from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office while deputies were trying to serve a warrant. K-9 Friar was deployed on the subject’s last known location. The officer and his K-9 tracked the subject a lengthy distance until the track ended at a residence. K-9 Friar alerted that the subject had fled into a garage at the residence. The deputies entered the residence and located the subject hiding in a closed room. After the subject was arrested, K-9 Friar also recovered a deputy’s lost cell phone.
Officer Johnston received a call from dispatch about a hawk being shot with a pellet rifle. The hawk was taken to a rehab facility where a pellet was removed from the wing of the hawk. The original complainant provided the names of likely suspects which included one adult and one juvenile. Both subjects were located shortly after receiving the call and admitted to being involved and present when the hawk was shot. The adult stated the juvenile was the one who shot the hawk while the juvenile stated the adult shot the hawk. After consulting with the local state attorney’s office, Officer Johnston will file charges on both subjects. The hawk is currently undergoing rehab and is expected to survive.
Officer McDonald was on foot patrol on private land checking for illegal turkey hunting activity when he went to a field where he had located bait at an elevated hunting blind. As he neared the field, he saw two turkey decoys in front of the blind. Officer McDonald set up surveillance of the area and after approximately one hour, he saw two hunters entering the field and walking toward the blind. A short time later, Officer McDonald found one hunter in the blind. The hunter was armed with a bow and a rifle and admitted to attempting to harvest turkey. The hunter was cited for attempting to take turkey over bait.
Captain Redmond, Reserve Captain Lee, Lieutenant Huff and Officer Gill worked a hunting club detail for turkey hunters on opening morning where Officer Gill had previously found numerous baited sites for turkeys. The officers went into the club in the early morning to begin surveillance on the baited sites. Shortly before daylight, several hunters came into the bait sites and, at daybreak, began calling for turkeys. The officers located the hunters who admitted to trying to kill turkeys on the baited sites. A total of three hunters were cited for attempting to take turkey over a baited area.
Officer Burnsed worked a hunting club detail where he had previously found several baited sites for turkeys. After setting up surveillance, he saw three hunters go to the different bait sites and, after daylight, began to call turkeys. Officer Burnsed contacted he hunters who all admitted to hunting the turkeys over the bait. The three subjects were cited for attempting to take turkey over a baited area.
COMMUNITY ORIENTED POLICING
FWC Day at Lafayette Elementary went well with approximately 650 students in attendance. Officers Dwain, Drew, Vazquez, Aubrey, Wiggins and K-9 Friar, along with Lieutenant Humphries, attended the event. Officer Dwain brought a 5-foot alligator, Officers Drew and Vazquez spoke on boating safety and the work of FWC officers, while Lieutenant Humphries described hunting decoys.
Officer Eller received information from an informant about an individual who was keeping gopher tortoises to eat. Officer Eller contacted Lieutenant Bonds and they made their way to the residence to investigate. Upon arrival at the residence, the owner was very nervous and confrontational. Officer Eller developed a dialogue with the suspect and got consent to look around the property. Officer Eller located a gopher tortoise penned up in the subject’s backyard. The owner was notified of the violation and issued a criminal citation for possession of a protected species, specifically a gopher tortoise. The gopher tortoise was seized and relocated back into the wild.
Officer Scrambling was working turkey hunting on private property adjacent to a closed portion of Seminole Forest Wildlife Management Area (WMA), when he saw a subject using a turkey call with two turkey decoys approximately 60 yards from his blind. Bait had also been placed on the ground less than 100 yards from where the hunter was hunting. The subject was given a notice to appear for the violation.
Officers Simpson and Guirate received information about a baited blind in Crescent City and went to the location in the early morning of the opening day of turkey season. They came upon a subject from Ohio and a guide from Massachusetts, who were issued citations for hunting turkey over bait. The guide was then questioned about his guide service and locations of other subjects. The guide provided directions to another piece of property. Officers Jones, Ward and Lieutenant Baer responded to their request for assistance. They arrived at the next piece of property where they saw foot sign leading into the woods. Officer Simpson deployed K-9 Moose who tracked straight to a baited blind with two subjects inside. The guide was from Virginia and the subject was from South Florida. They again issued citations for hunting turkey over bait. Officer Jones had obtained more information as to where other subjects were. The officers then relocated to a separate piece of property where another individual from South Florida was found to have killed a turkey over bait. None of the guides had a hunting license or turkey permit. A total of five citations were written for hunting turkey over bait, two warnings for no hunting license, and all parties involved were educated on the bait rule in the State of Florida.
Officers Teal and Phillips were on patrol in Richloam WMA a few days before opening weekend of turkey season, when they found a truck parked near a closed area of the WMA. They saw turkey decoys in the back of the truck and heard someone using a turkey call not far from them. The officers followed foot sign from the truck where they saw two individuals, dressed in camo and holding shotguns, actively calling turkeys. After a post Miranda interview, the subjects admitted to trying to kill turkeys for the past few days. Both individuals were cited for hunting turkeys during closed season.
Lieutenant Eason and Officer Thornton walked through an area near Venetian Bay Estates looking for possible turkey bait violations prior to the opening of the season. They found cracked corn and bird seed just outside of a construction area within an 800-acre private hunt lease. On opening morning, Officers Thornton and Sapp worked the area and saw a subject attempting to take turkey within 100 yards of the bait. The subject was issued a criminal citation for the violation.
Investigator Sumpter responded by land to a report that a vessel had overturned and two people were holding onto it. When he arrived on the scene, there was one person holding onto the overturned vessel. He communicated with the person via PA and provided reassurance. While scanning the debris field for the other occupant, he saw a person standing on the far shore. A U.S. Forest Service (USFS) employee said he could get a kayak on the scene in 20 minutes. Once the kayak arrived, Investigator Sumpter and a Marion County firefighter paddled to the person holding onto the boat. The 66-year-old man was hypothermic and exhausted, but still alive because he had managed to put on a lifejacket after he went into the water. Investigator Sumpter tied a rope around the man and towed him to shore with the kayak. Officer Dias arrived with a patrol vessel and he and Investigator Sumpter went to look for the other subject that was now lost in the woods. He was found a short time later, hypothermic, exhausted, and having trouble breathing. Marion County firefighters joined the FWC officers and carried the 69-year-old man out of the woods. USFS Officer Stokes transported him to a waiting ambulance. Investigator Sumpter and Officer Dias recovered the vessel and debris from the water, including the fishermen’s cooler with the fish still in it. Both men were treated on the scene and released. They returned home that day because they had PFDs and used them.
Officer Birchfield was on water patrol when he saw two individuals catching multiple sheepshead from a local railroad trestle. A resource inspection revealed one of the individuals was over the bag limit and in possession of undersized sheepshead. A notice to appear was issued.
Officers Norris, Zampella, Sehl and Pilot Fields patrolled multiple nights in the Cecil Webb WMA. They encountered multiple vehicles in the area after hours and operating on closed roads. A total of seven citations and five warnings were issued for various violations.
Investigator Ervin saw a subject hunting turkey over bait on private property. The area had been baited with cracked corn, and the subject was operating a turkey call from a ground blind. An early morning resource inspection was conducted and the subject admitted to hunting turkey over bait. The subject gave a sworn written statement and was given a notice to appear for the violation.
Lieutenant DeLacure saw a truck at a gas station in north Tampa with the truck bed containing approximately 25 used/waste tires and noticed an expired waste tire collector permit displayed on truck. The lieutenant approached the occupants of the truck after they exited the store and requested identification and a valid waste tire collector permit. Neither subject could produce any documentation. Investigators Hough and Holcomb were in the immediate area and responded to the gas station to assist. Investigator Hough took over the lead upon arrival due to his extensive knowledge of environmental crimes and charged the female driver for driving with a suspended license with knowledge and failure to produce a valid waste tire collector permit. Investigator Hough transported the female subject to the Hillsborough County Jail on the charges and the vehicle was impounded because the accompanying subject did not have a valid driver’s license.
Officer Martin was on land patrol near Bicentennial Park in Oldsmar when he witnessed multiple subjects cast netting the park ponds. Upon inspection, a 20-inch snook was discovered in a plastic bag. The subject admitted to catching the snook with the cast net and did not have a fishing license. The subject was cited for multiple violations.
Officer Carter was on land patrol at the Saddle Creed Park Fishing Management Area when he saw two subjects fishing from a bank. He approached them and asked if they caught anything and both subjects said they did not. When asked for their fishing licenses, neither subject had one. Both subjects were issued a citation for no fishing license.
Officer Cristofaro patrolled multiple days at Alafia River State Park. During this time, he issued 13 traffic warnings and one traffic citation for traffic-related offenses.
Officer Polaszek was conducting fishery inspections along the North Venice Jetty and encountered an individual in possession of six undersized sheepshead. The subject was cited appropriately and the fish were photographed and seized.
Officers Hughes and Ridgway were on water patrol near the Ken Thompson Boat Ramp and noticed a group of people collecting some sort of marine life out of the waters of Sarasota Bay. During a resource inspection, they found that the group had collected several bags of sea urchins. After conducting interviews, two members of the group were given criminal citations for possession of over the bag limit of marine life; they are required to appear in court.
Officers Stasko, Thompson, Curbelo, Thurkettle and Lieutenant Ruggiero responded to a search and rescue late one evening after a hiker was reported missing. The hiker was supposed to be back to his vehicle by 9 p.m., but by midnight he had not returned. The FWC K-9 began tracking, and around 2 a.m., the sheriff’s department helicopter located the man deep in the woods. An ambulance was called to the scene just in case the man was injured. After being rescued, the man was evaluated by medical staff, given a blanket to prevent hypothermia, and released. The man was very grateful for the response and happy to be out of the woods.
Officer Sierra was off duty at his residence when he heard frantic screaming coming from his neighbor’s residence. Knowing that there were young children at the residence, Officer Sierra rushed over to find a one year old child had fallen into the pool and was unresponsive, not breathing, and had no pulse. Officer Sierra started CPR and continued until EMS arrived. The child was transported to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburgh and is reported to be in critical condition.
COMMUNITY ORIENTED POLICING
Officer Salem and K-9 Officer Stasko participated in the Youth Turkey Hunt at the RV Griffin Reserve in southwest DeSoto County. Six youth hunters from around the state had the opportunity to take a turkey and a hog during the two-day hunt. A total of four turkeys and two hogs were harvested. The officers gave a brief overview of the agency and provided a K-9 demonstration.
Lieutenant Grover conducted a presentation to a local group of Weeki Wachee residents. He spoke about the FWC mission, capabilities, and enforcement efforts on the Weeki Wachee River. He followed up with a question-and-answer session by the residents.
Officer Sweat did an outreach at the Davenport School of the Arts and had approximately 90 attendees. He talked about the duties of an FWC officer, and he brought an alligator. At the end, everyone was given the opportunity to ask questions.
SOUTH A REGION
PALM BEACH COUNTY
Officers Hankinson, Brevik, Morrow, Kirkland, Godward, Investigator Phillips and the Palm Beach County Fire Rescue responded to the JW Corbett WMA regarding an elderly male experiencing chest pains. Upon arrival, the officers encountered the patient and directed rescue to his location. The patient was then transferred to rescue personnel for evaluation and transportation.
MAJOR WILDLIFE ASSISTANCE
Officer Cobo responded to an anonymous complaint of a raccoon which had been inside an animal trap for more than 24 hours. After further investigation, it was determined that the owner had trapped the raccoon legally but was not aware of the legalities of leaving the animal with no food or water for more than 24 hours. The owner was given a warning and directed to MyFWC.com for information on nuisance animals.
SOUTH B REGION
Captive Wildlife Investigator Smith responded to a possible theft of a Marmoset Monkey. The complainant stated that the local police department investigated the theft and made an arrest. She also stated that they returned the monkey to her. A search of the license database indicated the complainant did not possess a valid license for the monkey and was also exhibiting the monkey at her place of business. Further investigation determined that she had a license for the monkey that expired nearly a year ago. She was issued warnings for possessing and exhibiting the animal without a valid license and is in the process of license renewal.
A Good Samaritan south of Key West found a kayak with personal effects on board but no occupants. The USCG and FWC started a search of the area to look for a possible swimmer/diver with no success. Officers Garrison and Piekenbrock encountered a swimmer near shore who claimed he had just lost a kayak earlier in the day. Officers Messier and Way met up with the Good Samaritan to return the kayak to its possible owner only to find contraband in the kayak. The investigation led to misdemeanor citations to the swimmer for harvesting live rock, over the limit of ornamental sponges, over the limit of octocorals and other marine life violations.
Officer Mattson responded by water to a complaint of a vessel with two occupants that were possibly diving on lobster traps offshore of Tavernier. When Officer Mattson arrived on the scene, the boat had left the area. Officer Mattson located the vessel a short time later and stopped the vessel and performed a fisheries inspection of the boat. The inspection revealed that the operator was in possession of five undersized spiny lobster. He was cited accordingly.
While performing license and fisheries inspections near the Jetport in Collier County, Officer Araujo was approached by a subject who stated that he had a camp nearby in the Big Cypress National Preserve, and that when he arrived at his camp earlier that day, there was a subject who had taken up residence. The complainant showed Officer Araujo a picture of the subject on his phone, and stated that the subject had walked to the camp after getting his vehicle stuck. Officer Araujo located the subject’s car nearby and ran the license plate. The registered owner came back as missing/endangered out of Miami-Dade County. Officer Araujo contacted Lieutenant Bulger as well as the National Park Service (NPS) and updated them of the situation. Using an FWC swamp buggy and a NPS swamp buggy, Officer Araujo, Lieutenant Bulger, and five NPS rangers proceeded to the camp to locate the individual. Upon arriving at the camp, the subject was located and transported back to waiting EMS units. The subject stated that he had gotten stuck and “just started walking” and that he had been in the Big Cypress for six days when the officers located him.
Officers Curbelo and Thurkettle were notified of a missing hiker within the Crew WMA. The subject had been riding the trails with a companion when he decided to go off trail, advising his companion that he would catch up with them later. Near dusk, the subject got a message to his companion that he could not find his way back, and relayed his coordinates before his phone died. Officers Curbelo and Thurkettle, Lee County officers, Collier County Sheriff’s Office deputies and their helicopter joined in the search. The helicopter located the subject near his last location where Officers Curbelo and Thurkettle found him. The individual was checked out by EMS and released.
Officer Arbogast and his fiancé were enjoying their evening off duty when they saw a 5- year-old boy in the middle of a busy, four-lane road near midnight in Greater Naples. Officer Arbogast saw the boy crying and waving his arms hysterically. Officer Arbogast immediately recognized that the boy’s safety was in danger and that he needed to act immediately. Officer Arbogast approached the boy, and identified himself as a “policeman.” Once Officer Arbogast showed the boy his badge, the five-year-old relaxed and began to explain that he could not find his mother and was “scared of monsters he saw.” Officer Arbogast contacted the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for assistance. FWC Officer Lugg, who was also off-duty but near the scene, also responded to assist. Once investigators arrived, they found that the boy’s 1-year-old sister was also in the residence alone in a baby crib. They waited for the mother to return. Sheriff’s investigators arrested her for felony driving on a suspended/revoked driver’s license and felony child neglect. The children were left in the care of a family member and the Florida Department of Children and Families was informed.
Officer Way responded to a 911 call of two persons on a small sailing vessel that took on water and sank just south of Big Coppit Key near Key West. A nearby Good Samaritan on a nearby vessel took one passenger on board and to shore, while Officer Way recovered the vessel and the operator, who was still clinging to the sunken vessel a short time later. There were no sustained injuries and the vessel was later removed by commercial salvage.
DIRECTED CONSERVATION PATROL
The FWC, US Coast Guard and Miami Police participated in Operation Picnic Basket during the weekend. The goal of the operation was to enhance boater safety during the busy spring break boating season throughout the county. FWC Officers issued 163 boating citations, 68 warnings, 2 BUIs, and one misdemeanor citation for out-of-season red grouper. They also arrested one subject with an attempted murder warrant, another for felony fleeing and eluding, and recovered one stolen PWC which led to a subsequent arrest.
COMMUNITY ORIENTED POLICING
Officers Garrison, Mobley and Carroll worked with the Marathon Turtle Hospital to release six different species of turtles, one of which was a 330-pound green turtle that Officers Adams and Carroll rescued a month prior. All the turtles were released offshore of Marathon. The event was attended by photographers, a video crew from The Weather Channel and representatives from several other organizations. It attracted several media outlets allowing more opportunity to relay our message of protecting our natural resources and sea creatures that live in them.
Officers Sapp, Martino and Carroll worked the FWC and NOAA information booth at the “Original Marathon Seafood Festival” in the middle keys. Officers spoke with roughly 250+ people and educated everyone about fishing regulations and boating safety. Officers also recruited multiple people who had interest in becoming an FWC officer.