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Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS: > 2004

MAYOR CITED FOR ALLEGED HUNTING VIOLATIONS

By: GEORGE TRESNAK

The Park Falls Herald

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 07th, 2004 03:18:53 PM

PARK FALLS -- Mayor Eugene Schneider has declined comment on five counts of hunting violations that he faces in Price County Circuit Court involving his alleged illegal shooting of an eight-point buck on Oct. 26.

The Park Falls Herald asked Schneider to comment after the Wisconsin Outdoor News broke the story about the charges last week.

Schneider also declined comment on a statement attributed by the Wisconsin Outdoor News to Rusk County District Attorney Kathleen Pakes that she expects Schneider's attorney, Dave Deda of Phillips, to defend Schneider from the point of view that the DNR was picking on Schneider because he supported Voices of Wisconsin (VOW) during the deer baiting/feeding ban discussion last year.

Price County District Attorney Mark Fuhr appointed Pakes as special prosecutor in the case, claiming that he has a conflict, and Pakes filed two misdemeanor and three "forfeiture" charges against Schneider in Price County Circuit Court in late December.

Schneider did note in response to a question by The Herald concerning Pakes' statement speculating on Deda's defense plans that although he supported VOW's position at a meeting hosted by the organization in Park Falls, he did not contribute to the organization and was not a member.

Schneider said Deda, who was on an excursion with a scouting group in the Bahamas and wasn't expected to return until this week, had advised him not to make any public comment on the charges.

Schneider is scheduled to make an initial appearance in Price County Circuit Court at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, and said he would grant a full interview following disposition of the case.

Among questions he declined to comment on were an accusation quoted in the complaint, as allegedly stated in an eight- page letter to Fuhr and DNR Regional Warden Mike Bartz in Spooner, that DNR wardens Dan Michels and Kendall Frederick had coerced him into signing a statement.

He is quoted in the complaint as stating in the letter that the statement he signed was untrue. The statement was put together following what Park Falls Police Chief Scott Straetz described as "mediation" that he provided between Schneider and the two wardens after Schneider called Straetz and asked him to go to the cabin where he was being questioned by the wardens.

Straetz emphasized that his role was entirely unofficial, and that he went to the cabin strictly as Schneider's friend in response to Schneider's phone call on the night of Oct. 26 when the wardens alleged that the violations had occurred.

The complaint states that Straetz arrived in civilian clothing and his private vehicle. Straetz told The Herald that when Schneider called him, the mayor told him that the two wardens were on his property but that they would not provide him any information about what was going on. He said Schneider asked him to come to the cabin to help him get information.

Emphasizing again that he did not go to the cabin in any official capacity, and that "the police department was not involved," Straetz said that he basically advised Schneider to tell the wardens the truth during what he called his mediation of the conversation between the wardens and Schneider.

"After my mediation, Gene and Michels went into Michels' pickup truck," Straetz said.

He said he assumed the reason was to continue the discussion that led to the statement that Schneider signed.

"I was not privy to the conversation," Straetz said.

In the eight-page letter to Fuhr and Bartz as quoted in the complaint, Schneider claimed that he shot the buck at 5:10 p.m., not 6:15 p.m. as alleged by Michels. Schneider charged that Michels refused to let him read the statement, and wouldn't let him go home until he signed the statement.

He is quoted in the complaint as saying in the letter that he was "coerced to sign each page, without reading it, so that I could go home, get my pain medications, and go to bed."

Michels didn't know when asked by The Herald whether the DNR would address, separately from the court case, Schneider's charge that he and Frederick had coerced the mayor into signing the statement. He said he understood Schneider had sent the original to Fuhr, and also sent a copy to Bartz. He said he understood that Bartz met with Schneider after receiving the copy of the letter.

Bartz confirmed, when asked by The Herald whether he had met with Schneider about the letter, that he had met with the mayor. He said the meeting followed a conference call between him, the mayor and the regional DNR superintendent, who also received a copy of the letter from Schneider.

He said Schneider sent copies of the letter to a number of people, both inside and outside of the DNR.

Bartz said he addressed Schneider's charge that the wardens coerced him into signing the statement on Oct. 26 "one on one" in the conference call and the direct meeting with the mayor after that call. He said if the DNR addresses the mayor's allegation separately from the court case, it won't be until after disposition of the case.

Bartz said it will be up to the court to determine if Schneider was coerced into signing the statement. He said if the court determines the mayor's signature was coerced on Oct. 26, the statement bearing Schneider's signature will be thrown out.

He said the special prosecutor and court system provide an objective third party to make that determination, and he didn't feel that he or anyone else should try to influence their decision.

The Herald asked Straetz about a reference by Michels in the complaint that he had observed Schneider talking with two uniformed police officers in the parking lot when the warden drove to a DNR building to place the buck in cold storage after leaving the cabin. Straetz said he had no idea what that was about or why it is in the complaint.

A copy of the the statement which Schneider allegedly claimed in the letter to Fuhr and Bartz had been coerced is included in the complaint. It reads:

"I, Gene A. Schneider, have been informed that I am not under arrest. I am free to leave, and am making this statement voluntarily.

"My wife and I bought archery tags prior to the archery season and I hunted alone at my deer stand on Town Hall Road. My wife has hunted with me on her brother's, Ken Slack, property west of Park Falls on Slack Road.

"I bait the stand every day. Usually myself or my friend, Willis Blevins, baits it for me when I am out of town. I have hunted the stand on Town Hall Rd. since about the second week of the season.

"I usually turn the motion/heat sensing light on which is positioned on the back of my stand and pointed at the bait to illuminate deer and other animals while I am hunting. I have seen several does and bucks as well as raccoon, grey fox, partridge and red squirrels near the bait while hunting with the light.

"Without using bait I don't see as many deer or other animals. I also see many animals at the cabin when I am not hunting. I shot at a large buck from the stand on Town Hall Road about a week and a half ago. I shot the buck a couple of hours before dark. I got help tracking that buck, but we never found it. We looked until 9-10 p.m. the night I shot it with Ken Slack and his friend.

"The next day I looked again with Jerry Ernst and others, and we didn't find the deer. After losing the first buck, I kept hunting the stand on Town Hall Road. I keep the crossbow cocked and a bolt locked sitting on the table on the left. I sit on a chair facing out the opened window on the back of the stand.

"If no deer come in, I shut the light off, take the arrow off the bow and case the crossbow. I usually take the bow with me when I leave. I usually don't hunt from the stand later than 7:45 p.m. Sometimes I leave earlier.

"On October 26, 2003, I arrived at the stand on Town Hall Rd. at about 3:30-3:45 p.m. I put the crossbow on the table and put an arrow on it. I also put bait out which consisted of apples, corn, soybeans and sunflower seeds. After putting bait out I went back in the stand and sat in the chair and on the bed for awhile.

"At about 6:10 p.m. I went to my truck to get some more .22 caliber shells and loaded my .22 rifle because two raccoons came into my lighted bait pile and I wanted to shoot them.

"About five minutes after getting back in the stand an 8-point buck came into the bait from the left and walked up to the bait. I picked up the crossbow and aimed at the buck's lung area, which I could easily see through my scope and light over the bait pile.

"I shot at the buck and it took off. I couldn't tell if I hit it or not. I waited about 5-10 minutes and then went out to look for the arrow. I had called Willis before looking for the arrow to tell him I shot a deer.

"I did not find the arrow but found blood. I decided to go back to the stand and wait for help and to give the deer time to die. I met warden

Michels by the front door of the cabin. I went with Michels and we followed the blood and found the buck. As far as the deer my wife registered earlier in the season, she shot it herself with her bow. I had my wife's back tag with me only because I hang on to it for her when we hunt together."

A "probable cause" narrative in the complaint reads:

"On October 6, 2003, Price County Conservation Warden Dan Michels received an anonymous complaint that Eugene Schneider was hunting after hours with the aid of a floodlight and bait pile at a cabin located on Town Hall Road in the town of Eisenstein, Price County. Warden Michels knows that it is illegal to hunt wild animals after hours and it is illegal to shine wild animals while hunting or possessing weapons.

"Michels conducted surveillance on the cabin on Oct. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 26, 2003. The cabin is a small, one-room structure, approximately 10x12 feet situated on a wooded lot just east of Park Falls city limits.

"On October 19, 2003, warden Michels observed the cabin from 4-8 p.m. Shortly after dusk, Michels observed the floodlight come on, and remain on until 7:45 p.m. A few minutes after the light went off, the defendant, who was alone, and wearing an archery tag on his back, came out of the cabin with a cased crossbow, got into his truck, and drove away. Warden Michels knows that hunting hours ended at 6:30 p.m. on October 19.

"On October 20, 2003, Warden Michels observed the floodlight come on at 6:30 p.m. and stay on until 7:44 p.m. The defendant then exited the cabin with a cased crossbow and was wearing a back tag. He left the property in his truck at 7:47 p.m. Hunting hours ended at 6:28 p.m.

"On October 23, 2003, Warden Michels observed the cabin from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Michels saw the floodlight come on at 6:28 p.m. At 6:32 a gray fox wandered into the illuminated area near a bait pile. At about 7:18 the floodlights turned off, and then on about 30 seconds later. Warden Michels heard a deer snort to the south of the cabin. A few minutes later the light turned off and then on again. As the light turned on, Warden Michels again heard a deer snort. At 7:48 p.m. the light turned off and the defendant walked out of the cabin, wearing his back tag, with a cased crossbow.

"On October 26, 2003, Warden Michels began observing the cabin at 5:20 p.m. At that time, the floodlight was on, and remained on, the entire time Michels conducted surveillance. At approximately ten minutes after six, Michels observed the defendant step out of the cabin, walk to his truck, and return to the cabin. A few minutes later, Michels observed an 8-point buck walk into the illuminated area by the cabin.

"Warden Michels, looking through binoculars, noted that the deer had a set of antlers 12-14 inches wide with four points on each side. Michels noted that the two end points on the left antler were partially broken off and shorter than the end points on the right side.

"As he was observing the buck, Michels heard what he knows from his training and experience to be a crossbow discharge, heard the arrow hit the deer, and heard the deer crash into the woods. Michels simultaneously saw the buck flinch, spin around, and run to the south, southwest. Michels looked at his wristwatch, which read 6:15 p.m. and wrote that time on the palm of his right hand with his pen. Michels knows that hunting hours ended at 5:18 p.m. on October 26, 2003.

"Michels then called Warden Kendall Frederick to let Frederick know Michels had witnessed a deer shot after hours with an artificial light.

Records from warden Michels' cell phone show that this call was placed to warden Frederick's home at 6:13 p.m.

"Michels continued to watch the cabin. About five minutes after the buck ran off, the yard light on the east of the cabin turned on. The defendant exited the cabin with a flashlight and went to the area where the buck had been standing. Michels observed the defendant look around on the ground with a flashlight.

"Michels then walked out of the woods towards the cabin. Michels identified himself to the defendant. The defendant invited Michels into the cabin, a small one room structure. The defendant was alone. Michels observed a loaded .22 caliber rifle and two boxes of ammo sitting on a bed and a cased crossbow on a table on the opposite side of the cabin.

"The defendant stated he had just loaded the rifle and was going to shoot raccoons. Michels noted two chairs in the center of the cabin facing a window with an unobstructed view of an illuminated bait pile. The bait pile was about 13 yards from the cabin. The defendant claimed he shot a buck at 5 p.m. and was just now going out to look for it.

"Michels and the defendant went out to the bait pile which consisted of corn, apples and other material. Michels observed drops of blood which he and the defendant followed into the woods. About 60 yards south-southwest of the bait pile Michels observed a dead 8-point buck with the same rack he had witnessed through the binoculars. Michels photographed the deer. He and the defendant returned to the cabin.

"Warden Michels called Warden Frederick at Frederick's cell phone.

Phone records show Michels placed this call to Warden Frederick's cell phone at 6:28 p.m. Warden Frederick arrived shortly thereafter at the cabin.

"The defendant commented that he had prior connections with attorney Scott Hassett, who was currently the DNR secretary and that he also had connections with the current Price County district attorney. The defendant stated that the DNR was picking on him because he disagreed with the ban on baiting.

"The defendant used his cell phone to call a personal friend, Scott Straetz, who came out to the cabin (in civilian clothing and his personal vehicle) to speak with the defendant. After Mr. Straetz arrived and spoke with the defendant, the defendant agreed to give a truthful statement to warden Michels.

"The defendant told Michels he arrived at the cabin shortly after 3:30 p.m. Upon arrival, he put out a bait pile, consisting of apples, corn, soybeans and sunflower seeds. The defendant stated he usually turns the motion/heat sensing light on and pointed at the bait to illuminate deer and other animals while he hunts. The defendant stated that at about 6:10 p.m. he went out to his truck to get .22 shells to load into his rifle because two raccoons came into the lighted bait pile and he wanted to shoot them.

"He returned to the cabin and about five minutes later an eight-point buck came into the bait pile. The defendant stated he picked up the crossbow. The buck was easily seen through the scope and under the light.

"The defendant stated that he shot the crossbow, and the deer took off. A few minutes later the defendant went outside to look. Michels reduced the defendant's statements to writing and went over it with the defendant.

The defendant made corrections and additions. The defendant signed the statement (a copy of which is attached and incorporated by reference).

"Michels also found that the defendant was carrying his wife's archery tag in his back tag holder. The defendant stated that he always carries his wife's tag for her.

"Wardens Frederick and Michels left the cabin at 10:30 p.m. The defendant remained at the cabin with Mr. Straetz. The wardens transported the buck to the evidence locker at the DNR service center in Park Falls.

After Michels put the deer in storage, he observed the defendant driving from the north on 3rd Avenue and pull into the parking lot next to two uniformed Park Falls police officers. Michels observed the defendant speak with the officers for about 10 minutes and then leave the parking lot at about 11:30 p.m., driving south on 3rd Avenue.

"A few days later the defendant sent an 8-page letter to the Regional Supervisor for the DNR, Warden Bartz. (The statement was also sent to the Price County district attorney).

"Warden Bartz forwarded that statement to Warden (Dave) Oginski, Park Falls Area Supervisor. In that statement, the defendant recanted much of what he had told Michels the evening of October 26.

"In his new statement, the defendant claimed that he had shot the deer at 5:10 p.m., before hunting hours closed. The defendant claimed DNR Wardens Frederick and Michels coerced him into making a false statement. The defendant claimed that warden Michels refused to let him (defendant) read the statement and that Michels told him he could not go home until he signed the statement. The defendant stated he was 'coerced to sign each page without reading it,' so that 'I could go home, get my pain medications, and go to bed.'"

Schneider faces maximum fines totaling $9,000, and varying jail terms for each count, with a maximum jail term of six months each for the two misdemeanor counts.

The complaint identifies count one as the illegal shining of deer, an unclassified misdemeanor. Schneider is accused under that count of using "a light for shining deer while hunting deer with a crossbow, contrary to sec. 29.314(3)(a)Wis. stats., a misdemeanor." It states that upon conviction, he "shall be fined not less than $1,000 nor more than $2,000 or imprisoned not more than 6 months or both and, in addition, the court shall order the revocation of all approvals issued to the person under this chapter and shall prohibit the issuance of any new approval under this chapter for three years and confiscation of equipment used during incident."

The complaint also identifies count 2 as the "illegal shining of deer, also an unclassified misdemeanor. Schneider is accused under that count of shining deer while in possession of a firearm, a misdemeanor under the same code section as count one, with the same maximum fine and/or prison sentence, and the same provision for a judge's order for revocation of chapter 29 privileges for up to three years and for confiscation of equipment used during the incident..

The complaint identifies count three as the illegal shining of wild animals, a forfeiture offense contrary to sec. 29.314(4)(a)Wis. Stats.

Schneider is accused of using a light for shining wild animals while hunting or in possession of a firearm, bow and arrow or crossbow. Upon conviction he could be fined not more than $1,000 under the code section, and under code section 29.971(12), the court could order the revocation of all chapter 29 privileges for a period of up to three years.

The complaint identifies count four as possession of another's license, a forfeiture offense contrary to sec. 29.024(2)(e), Wis. Stats. He is accused of possessing a license issued to another person while hunting.

Upon conviction, he could be fined not more than $2,000, and in addition, as with the count 3 forfeiture, the court could order the revocation of all chapter 29 privileges for a period of up to three years.

The complaint identifies count five as hunting deer after hours, a forfeiture offense contrary to Administrative Code NR 10.06(2)(b). Schneider is accused of hunting after established hunting hours, "namely after 5:18 p.m." Upon conviction, he could be fined not more than $2,000, and in addition, as with the counts 3 and 4 forfeitures, the court could order revocation of chapter 29 privileges for up to three years.

If Schneider pursues the defense that the DNR was picking on him because he supported VOW's position during a public hearing on a proposed permanent baiting and feeding ban at the Park Falls High School Auditorium on March 19, 2003, he apparently can't count on any public support for his position from VOW.

The charges against Schneider were the lead story in the Saturday, Jan. 3, issue of The Daily Press of Ashland, and the story recalled comments by Schneider at the hearing that Park Falls police officers would not enforce the baiting/ feeding ban if it were enacted. It was one of a series of hearings on the controversial DNR proposal, which ultimately was defeated.

Responding to questions from The Daily Press about Schneider's comments at the hearing, VOW Vice President Casey Edwards said that Schneider "did some pretty courageous things as mayor."

But, he told the newspaper that for Schneider's attorney to use the mayor's comments as a defense would be "kind of weak."

"The DNR has more class than that. I don't think the DNR would target any one person. They're not being vindictive," Edwards was quoted as saying.

The hearing, attended by about 200 people, followed a VOW meeting at the Park Falls High School auditorium weeks earlier, attended by about 400 people, most of them opposed to the proposed baiting/feeding ban.

Most of those attending the March 19 hearing also were opposed to the proposal, and the majority in the crowd were pleased at Schneider's comments. According to The Herald's report of that meeting, Schneider at one point in his comments appeared to be inviting defiance within the city limits of any future permanent ban on feeding.

According to that report, Schneider, his voice rising as he warmed up to the subject, said city officers would not enforce the ban unless he is personally told by Gov. Jim Doyle or the attorney general that they must do so.

Calling it an economic issue, Schneider said what is supposed to be over a $1 billion deer-hunting industry in the state was likely to drop to a $1 million industry soon under a baiting and feeding ban.

As he did at the Jan. 22 VOW meeting, Schneider again noted that he chaired a state committee (Wisconsin Hunting & Fishing Alliance) working on a favorable vote on a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to hunt and fish, and urged "yes" votes on the constitutional amendment.

Schneider expanded on that position a few days later when he addressed members of the Park Falls Area Chamber of Commerce at the organization's spring banquet at Moose Jaw resort on March 27.

Schneider, substituting as featured speaker for Dan Gunderson, executive director of the Wisconsin Hunting & Fishing Alliance, said his first task, both as Gunderson's substitute and as president of the alliance, was to urge everyone to vote the following Tuesday in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to fish, hunt, trap and take game.

Schneider said that hunting and fishing then was a privilege under the law, but with adoption of the amendment, it would become a right.

When Schneider completed what he said was his wish and obligation to spread the alliance's message about the April 1 vote, he said he was both putting on his mayor's hat and joining in solidarity with others concerned about what he said would be a devastating effect on the local economy of the DNR's proposed permanent baiting and feeding ban.

Claiming the temporary ban had already done a considerable amount of damage by reducing the numbers of deer hunters the previous season, he said three-quarters of the DNR conservation wardens and DNR personnel in northern Wisconsin were opposed to a permanent ban.

Referring to the baiting of deer as a right, Schneider told the chamber members the DNR was trying to take that right away. He said hunter surveys determined that hunting was down the previous year, not because of chronic wasting disease, but because of the baiting ban.

Schneider told the chamber audience that the Park Falls Common Council voted unanimously to go on record in opposition to the baiting and feeding ban, reflecting the sentiments of the majority of the people.

He urged that members of the audience contact the DNR with their comments opposed to a permanent ban before the deadline at the end of March, and also urged that they contact State Sen. Russell Decker, State Rep. Mary Williams, and Steve Willett of the Natural Resources Board to urge that they vote against a permanent ban.

Since the story appeared in the Wisconsin Outdoor News last week, some people have contacted The Herald to complain that they had to read about the charges Schneider faces in a newspaper from outside the community, rather than in The Herald.

Some contended that if they, their relatives or friends faced such charges, that information would be published in The Herald immediately.

Information about charges might appear immediately under The Herald's policy if they were felonies and were already filed with the Price County Clerk of Court, or if they were misdemeanor charges against a high-profile person and were already filed with the clerk of court.

When The Herald received tips that the mayor allegedly was being charged with hunting violations, the newspaper immediately checked with the clerk of court's office to see if charges had been filed.

Upon finding that no such charges had been filed, The Herald contacted District Attorney Fuhr, who declined to reveal outright that Schneider faced such charges. Fuhr said such charges had been filed against an individual, and he had appointed Pakes as special prosecutor for those charges because he had a conflict.

Pakes confirmed that Fuhr had appointed her special prosecutor for charges against Schneider, but because of case load, she probably wouldn't get around to making a decision on whether to prosecute based on the DNR warden's information until sometime in February.

The Herald's efforts to get information from Michels, Warden Supervisor Dave Oginski, Fuhr and Pakes were unsuccessful, but Pakes finally said that since it was a high- profile case, she would get to it sooner than she would have otherwise.

She assured The Herald that she would fax a copy of the complaint to The Herald if and when she filed a complaint with the Price County Clerk of Court. That was just days before the Wisconsin Outdoor News story appeared, quoting a complaint filed by Pakes in Price County Circuit Court on Dec. 19.

The Herald called Pakes for an explanation. She was not in, but a staff member said she doesn't ordinarily fax copies to newspapers and that it was up to the newspaper to find out from the clerk of court's office whether charges had been filed in any case.

The Herald then called Dean Bortz of Wisconsin Outdoor News to see if he had received a faxed copy of the complaint from Pakes. He said Pakes told him she had faxed The Herald a copy of the complaint. The Herald never received the fax.

The Herald does not have access to DNR incident reports providing details of investigations as it does with the Park Falls Police Department and Price County Sheriff's Department. The newspaper's stories based on the police department's and sheriff's department's incident reports do not include the names of those accused.

Names of those charged with felonies after being identified in incident reports may be published in stories in the newspaper, including information about details of the charges, after the felony charges are filed with the clerk of court and again after disposition of the case or cases.

Names of those identified in incident reports but only charged with misdemeanors or forfeiture offenses are not usually included in news stories prior to their court dates. Their names only appear after disposition of their cases, and only in the "court news" fine print.


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