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NJ: Charges keep mounting against Rutherford turkey shooters

August 5, 2010

Charges keep mounting against Rutherford turkey shooters

STAFF PHOTO/JAIMIE WINTERS

A memorial has been placed near Lincoln Woods where a Tom turkey was allegedly shot by two Rutherford men. Residents can sign letters to the prosecutor and judge asking that the strictest penalties be placed on the men who now face charges by the town, state and county.

The charges keep mounting against James Garner and Garnic Hovanessian, the two Rutherford 18-year-olds who shot and killed one of the turkeys in Lincoln Woods on July 21.

The Bergen County Prosecutor's Office's Animal Cruelty Task Force (which is affiliated with the county branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) is charging the two Rutherford teens with animal cruelty. According to task force investigator Richard Siniscalchi, the charge carries with it a fine of up to $1,000 and three to six months in jail. The two were scheduled to appear in court in Hackensack on Aug. 3.

In addition, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife has charged Hovanessian, the individual the police allege shot the arrow that killed the turkey, with a violation of Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) wildlife rules, according to spokesman Larry Ragonese. The three charges are: Taking a turkey out of season with fines from $100 to $300; hunting without a license and use of an improper arrow and discharging it within 450 feet of a building with fines of $25 to $200.

"The arrow was nocked and is intended for target practice, not for hunting," he said.

Charges were supposed to be heard after press time, Tuesday, in Rutherford.

Ragonese also noted that additional evidence was found online.

"He posted his exploits on Facebook," he said.

On July 21 the two were issued summonses by Rutherford Police for violation of a borough ordinance that prohibits hunting in town. According to borough code, "No person shall discharge any gun, pistol or other firearm or shoot, use or discharge any air gun, beanshooter or slingshot or hunt for game or wild fowl within the borough." The penalty for doing so is a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail.

Mayor John Hipp at a recent council meeting said he would like to look into raising the penalty for this offense. He noted that the penalty in the borough's ordinance is currently below the maximum set by the state of $1,000.

In addition, Rutherford Police issued Hovanessian a summons for disorderly conduct, which is a misdemeanor, not a criminal offense.

Police received a call at about 6:08 p.m. on the night of July 21 from a resident who reported seeing the two of them shoot a turkey with a bow and arrow. The resident copied down the license plate number of the vehicle the two left in. Rutherford Police contacted the two of them that night and they both came willingly to police headquarters.

Garner and Hovanessian's arraignment in Rutherford municipal court on July 27 was postponed by Judge Warren S. Stroedecke pending the additional charges from the state.

Around 200 form letters were sent to the judge earlier in the week requesting that he impose as harsh a penalty as possible.

"This was an act of violence, not a boyish prank," said the letters sent to Stroedecke. "I urge you to impose upon Mr. Garner and Mr. Hovanessian the maximum penalty allowable under the law for this offense. Research shows that violence towards animals is a strong indicator of future violence towards people… By imposing a harsh penalty you will send a message to the defendants that their behavior is condemned by society, and will not be tolerated in Rutherford."

Garner's attorney, Anthony P. Alfano, was in attendance on July 27, but Hovanessian said he did not have representation. Stroedecke recommended that he retain counsel.

Feliciano noted that turkeys are game birds and that hunting them is legal in designated zones of the state with a license when in season. Feliciano said the charges would have been more severe if it had been a domesticated animal that had been killed.

Garner's attorney had no comment.

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