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,
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
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
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
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
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.