A poaching case out of Jonesboro, Arkansas, stems from a 2016 investigation that leads to one of the worst poaching discoveries in the state’s history. This, however, did not lead to any significant fines or jail time for the criminals.
A series of nighttime road hunting reports came into the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in 2016. Sgt. Jeff Dalton and Cpl. Bret Ditto was put on the case and found one of the most extraordinary and fertile evidence “gardens.”
According to AGFC Assistant Chief of Enforcement Maj. Brian Aston, night-hunting and road hunting are two of the hardest poaching violations to catch because the crime usually occurs so quickly. Landowners are only made aware of the activity when they hear the gunshot. By the time officers can respond, the violator is long gone
As for the Ditto and Daltons case, the deer bodies were piling up across the entire county, leading them to believe there were a bunch of different poachers. Further investigation indicated five suspects possibly being involved in the illegal taking of deer throughout the county. Officers Dalton and Ditto called on help from fellow wildlife officers Snr. Cpl. David Evans and Cpl. Chris Foshee. Evidence was compiled, and confessions were obtained during the next 72 hours, and that is when officers discovered the “deer garden” next to one of the suspect’s residences. The deer heads were neatly “planted” in a row, with antlers protruding from the ground.
All 30 deer heads, a turkey, and talons from an owl and a hawk were taken from the scene. Officers also confiscated 14 guns, three bows, and night vision goggles.
The five suspects pleaded guilty to a total of 122 charges, including Night Hunting, Deer Hunting out of Season, Turkey Hunting out of Season, Over Limit of Deer, Hunting from a Public Road, Prohibited Methods for Taking Turkey, Taking of Raptors, Big Game Checking Requirement, Big Game Tagging Requirement, as well as Aiding and Abetting a violation. They received $11,250 in fines, six years of hunting and fishing license suspensions, two years of probation, and 160 hours of community service. The court also ordered all individuals to complete a Hunter Education course.
The fact that there was no jail time is one of the craziest poaching sentencing I have come across.