Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS: > 2003


November 21, 2003

A West Milford man who contended he shot a menacing bear in self-defense pleaded guilty yesterday in municipal court to illegally injuring a bear and was fined the minimum $100 penalty.

Another, more serious, charge, a disorderly persons offense of recklessly creating a risk that served no legitimate purpose, was dropped under an agreement that spared the defendant, Patrick Flynn, the possibility of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Flynn initially planned to plead innocent to both charges and stand trial in West Milford municipal court. Outside court after yesterday's proceedings, Flynn maintained the shooting was justified, and said he pleaded guilty only because he was "tired" of fighting the charges, and having to miss work and arrange for a baby sitter.

"I'm tired of it. It's been dragged out long enough," Flynn said. "Of course I'm right ... No matter what happens, if you shoot a bear, you're in trouble."

However, the dispute is not over, as Flynn also reserved his right to appeal Municipal Court Judge George Cluff's prior refusal to dismiss the first charge.

Cluff also stayed the sentence pending appeal, meaning Flynn does not yet have to pay the $100 fine. An appeal would be heard in Passaic County Superior Court, and if successful, would erase the guilty plea and fine, said Flynn's attorney, Drew Murray.

Flynn's troubles began June 5, when he shot a male bear with a 12-gauge shotgun. At that time, his wife, Kristine, said the bear stood outside their screen door and was a growling threat to them and their 2-year-old daughter.

Flynn told police he shot the bear in self-defense from a distance of 10-15 feet.

The state Division of Fish and Wildlife tracked the mortally wounded bruin the next day and killed it. A week later, a necropsy determined the bear was "retreating" when it was shot in the rear from about 15 yards, or 45 feet, away, and thus posed no imminent danger.

The division issued a summons to Flynn for illegally shooting a bear, which carried a fine of between $100 and $300. West Milford police then followed up with the disorderly persons offense.

The case was delayed several times over the past four months for various scheduling reasons.

When it finally came to a hearing yesterday, Murray filed a pre- trial defense motion to have the bear-shooting charge dismissed. He argued that charge was based on an antiquated anti-poaching law that did not apply because Flynn was not hunting, but rather protecting his family.

Municipal Prosecutor Thomas Kaczka disagreed, saying the law's wording covered any shooting, injuring or capturing of a bear. Cluff agreed and dismissed the motion.

Both sides then were prepared to start the trial. However, during a break, Kaczka and Murray reached the plea agreement. Murray requested the minimum fine and Kaczka concurred.

Martin McHugh, director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, declined to comment on the hearing because he was not aware of its outcome. He said in a telephone interview, "We continue to hope that people who come into contact with bears use shooting them as a last resort if they feel their safety is threatened and can't do anything else."

The first resort is to call police and let trained officers handle bears, McHugh said.

However, Kristine Flynn previously said the couple thought immediate action was needed because police did not respond to an earlier call of a different bear at their screen door. Police had said they did not respond to the first call, contrary to department policy, but a dispatcher did not deem it an emergency because the bear had left.

The bear shooting was one of several encounters this year in northwest Jersey that came amid debate over the state's first bear hunt in 33 years, which is slated to begin Dec. 8. The state's bear population is estimated at between 2,600 and 3,300.

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