MANDAN, N.D. - Charges have been filed in connection with two deer poaching incidents that occurred in November and December in or near the Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp in Morton County, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said.
According to Bob Timian, enforcement chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck, the Morton County state's attorney's office has filed criminal complaints against four men identified in two separate incidents of illegally possessing deer in North Dakota.
The incidents occurred in November and December, either in or near the protest camp near the mouth of the Cannonball River, Timian said.
Timian said he believes both incidents occurred on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land.
Charged with unlawful possession of big game in the December incident were Sean Carney of Center Conway, N.H., and Danny LeClaire of Pocatello, Idaho. North Dakota authorities have issued warrants for their arrest, but the men are believed to have left the state.
The two were identified in a photo skinning a deer they likely weren't licensed to possess.
Charged with unlawful possession of big game in connection with the second incident, which occurred in November, were William Larkin of Olean, N.Y., and William Bighorse of Freeville, N.Y. The two were charged based on a video showing a whitetail buck being dragged from the Cannonball River in November. The video then shows the men killing the buck by stabbing it with a knife and then suffocating it in the mud.
Authorities still are trying to identify other suspects in the video, which was released to the public Jan. 5.
Arrest warrants for Larkin and Bighorse were issued, but they also are believed to be out of state.
According to Timian, the charges resulted from an investigation that began in December, when Game and Fish received a photograph of deer that may have been taken illegally. The department then issued a news release seeking the public's help in identifying the people in the photo.
That's how they found out about the November incident.
"Based on that, we got sent an anonymous video of the second one where the deer was being dragged out of the water and stabbed," Timian said. "We had no idea the second incident with the video even existed until after we sent out that news release."
Game and Fish then released the video asking for additional information. Through all of that, authorities were able to identify Larkin and Bighorse, Timian said.
"We still don't know everybody in the video, but we were able to identify two actively involved in the killing of that deer," he said. "This is all based on concerned citizens in the public sending us information."
In both cases, Timian said, the department was able to collect enough information to convince the Morton County state's attorney to pursue charges.
Unlawful possession of big game in North Dakota is a Class A misdemeanor and is punishable by a maximum penalty of one year's imprisonment, a fine of $3,000, or both.
"Obviously, these people are innocent until proven guilty, but we had enough evidence" to file charges, Timian said.
Because the men likely have left the state, they potentially could lose their hunting and fishing privileges nationwide because of a multi-state agreement called the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, in which violations that occur in one member state are recognized as violations in all member states.
North Dakota, New York, New Hampshire and Idaho all are members of the compact.
Anyone witnessing a potential hunting or fishing violation in North Dakota should call the state's Report All Poachers hotline at (800) 472-2121.