Prosecutors conclude bear poaching casesThree hunters plead guilty, seven cases dropped
Prosecutors wrapped up several local cases in district court last week involving defendants who were charged in a multi-agency undercover operation targeting illegal bear hunting in February.
As a result of the undercover sting called Operation Something Bruin, officers documented some 900 wildlife violations and arrested about 75 people following the four-year investigation.
Of those arrested were 10 Haywood County men who faced an array of charges from using processed food to bait black bears to illegal possession of black bears. In the end, three defendants pleaded guilty to some of their charges and the charges against the remaining seven defendants were dismissed.
Jimmie Alden Robinson, 63, of Canton, was originally charged with seven misdemeanors including unlawful possession of a black bear, taking of a black bear using bait and baiting a black bear with processed food.
According to the facts laid out by the court, Robinson was suspected of baiting black bears by filling barrels with chocolate. Officers also saw a baby bear in captivity on Robinson's property while working undercover, however the bear was not found when the property was legally searched a year later, said Assistant District Attorney Bridgette Aguirre.
Robinson pleaded guilty to the placement of processed food product and was ordered to surrender his hunting license, which will be returned Oct. 11, the day before bear hunting season opens in Western North Carolina.
David Blanton pleaded guilty to possession of bear parts and was granted a continuance on a prayer for judgment. He was also ordered to turn over his hunting license, which will be returned to him Oct. 11.
Charles Anthony Smith, 46, of Clyde, faced seven charges in court last week that stemmed from the undercover operation in which wildlife officers suspected he was involved in an illegal bear ring with co-defendant Chad Jones.
Jones pleaded guilty to two out of 15 misdemeanor charges of illegal bear baiting and possession of a black bear in June after prosecutors Jim Moore and Bridgette Aguirre presented pictures and videos of Jones at the scene of the crimes. Jones was ultimately sentenced to 12 months of unsupervised probation and $1,000 in fines.
Though wildlife officers took the stand describing phone conversations with Smith regarding the violations, the evidence was not sufficient enough to tie him to the illegal activity, Moore said. In response, Special District Court Judge Dennis Redwing agreed to the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges based on insufficient evidence by the state.
Charges against Brian Michael Carter, Shawn Ray Dennis and Johnny Wade Lanier, who were found on the property when a search warrant was executed, were dismissed oh behalf of the state because there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that they violated any wildlife laws, Moore said.
In June, three charges against Logan Glance, Terry Glance and Coleman Revis were dismissed by the state for similar reasons.
At the conclusion of all the cases, Chad Jones' attorney requested the judge order the return of the baited barrels that were seized in the operation. Judge Redwing denied that request and ordered that several pieces of evidence in the case, specifically the barrels, be destroyed.
While last week’s court session concludes the local cases, others are scheduled to appear in federal court in December. Those who have already appeared in federal court in Bryson City have faced harsher sentences — 10 men from Robbinsville who pleaded guilty to bear poaching related charges were sentenced to 30 days in federal prison and their hunting licenses were revoked for two years.