Men say deer camp search illegal
Two Minnesota men charged with big game violations appeared in Hubbard County District Court Wednesday contending they were the victims of an illegal search and seizure when conservation officers found marijuana at their deer camp and called in deputies and drug agents.
Stephen Donald Battin, 60, Big Lake, and Dennis Michael Cook, 61, Bloomington, each face four charges in connection with the game violations near Badoura State Forest on leased land, and a Third Degree Controlled Substance Crime.
They are charged with growing 42 pounds of marijuana at their hunting campsite. That charge arose from the investigation into the game violations in early October.
DNR Conservation Officer Sam Hunter testified she was investigating tips of deer baiting, a common practice before hunting season starts.
On Oct, 3 she requested a DNR plane to take her up in the air to look into a suspected deer baiting operation had been set up on Potlatch-leased forestland.
Battin was the leaseholder, according to the criminal complaint.
"Hunter observed a tarp or blanket cover near a deer stand indicating to her that someone was concealing a baiting area," the complaint states.
Hunter testified DNR officers typically see tarps covering bait to keep it dry and when the aerial flyover revealed the tarps, red flags went up. She returned to her office and had a message waiting for her about a dead deer found in the same area.
She drove back and found a deer with its head cut off near an area where many deer camps are located.
ATV tracks from the deer led to Battin's camp, she testified.
When Hunter and CO Colleen Adam returned to speak to the leaseholders, they discovered marijuana growing near a trail and called in the Drug Task Force, she testified. The tarps were actually concealing a marijuana growing operation, she said.
During the investigation, Cook admitted he witnessed Battin poach the deer from a pickup and helped him drag the animal to a spot where the head was removed and the carcass left, Hunter testified.
Under cross-examination from the men's attorney, Larry A. Kimball, Hunter said it was not illegal to feed deer unless you are also hunting in the area. At the time the deer was found, the archery season had begun, she testified.
But Kimball hinted that Hunter was at the camp because hunters in the vicinity "thought he was a bad guy."
The CO acknowledged she had had complaints about Battin and Cook, and that she was there to investigate the game violations. As soon as the pot was found, she called in other agencies to deal with that, she testified.
Kimball asked "if the deer was the subterfuge for the investigation of the marijuana?"
No, Hunter replied. The deer out of season was the primary focus of her investigation, she testified.
A drug agent from the West Central Drug Task Force testified officers found a sophisticated system of batteries, pumps and tubes snaking through the pine forest. The pump fed a watering system that delivered fertilizer and moisture to the plants via the tubes, he testified.
He said the marijuana plants were concealed in between 4-foot pines and were difficult to spot.
Both men are charged with Transporting Illegal Big Game outside the season. The charge carries a maximum of 1 year and/or a $3,000 fine. Cook is also charged with Discharging a Firearm at a Wild Animal from a Motor Vehicle, Discharging Firearms and Bows and Arrows on a public highway and Wanton Waste of a deer. Each of those charges carries a maximum of 90 days and/or a $1,000 fine upon conviction.
He also faces loss of his hunting privileges.
The stiffest penalty could come from the drug charge. Both men faces the Controlled Substance crime, , which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years and/or a $250,000 fine upon conviction.
Authorities discovered drying marijuana buds in Cook's trailer, the complaint states.
Ninth District Judge Paul Rasmussen gave the defendants one month to file briefs in the case. Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne will then get two weeks to respond.
Both men are free on bond.