Bear killing case hits Placer County DA’s desk
TAHOE CITY – One month after the killing of three sleeping bears under a Tahoma-area home, a Placer County Deputy District Attorney began investigating the incident this week to determine if legal action should be taken against the hired hunters and homeowners.
The Department of Fish and Game submitted an incident report to Placer County Deputy District Attorney Chris Cattran, who will review the documents and determine if criminal charges should be filed.
Russell Tonda, a Granite Bay resident and homeowner in the Chamberlands neighborhood, obtained a depredation permit for the killing of the one bear he thought had caused more than $100,000 worth of damage to his home and was still sleeping underneath his house.
Tonda hired three licensed hunters, who shot and killed all three bears on Feb. 4, although their permit only allowed for the removal of one bear. The hunters reportedly told DFG Warden Vada Comacho, who arrived on the scene of the shootings, that the bears had charged them, forcing them to kill all three.
BEAR League Executive Director Ann Bryant disputes this, saying that the hunters wrongfully killed a mother and her two cubs – a family of bears that Bryant said she offered to remove from the house weeks before the shooting. Bryant said she would like to see legal action taken against the homeowners and the three hired hunters.
“In all the cases previously where this has happened (the DFG) has turned a blind eye and have never taken (legal action),” Bryant wrote in an e-mail to the Tahoe World. “However, as dramatically opposed as (the BEAR League) has normally been in the past, this time we will support the DFG and will walk by their side in hopes of winning a conviction against these cold-blooded killers.”
The DFG, as a state agency, cannot file charges on its own, but can recommend to the district attorney to take legal action. According to DFG spokesman Pat Foy, the agency submitted a report but is not suggesting that a crime has occurred.
“What we submitted was an internal document called a wildlife incident report, which is when something takes place that is related to wildlife but not related to crime, like when a mountain lion runs through a school yard,” Foy said.
DFG Capt. Mark Lucero confirmed the department’s actions.
“We’ve gathered the facts of the incident and submitted them to the district attorney for his review,” he said. “He’ll deem what, if any, action should be taken.”
Bryant, as well as two other BEAR League members who were present at the scene, will also be submitting witness statements to Cattran for his review.
Since the killing of hibernating bears with a valid depredation permit does not violate state law, there’s no guarantee the incident will warrant prosecution. It will be up to Cattran to decide if there is sufficient evidence for criminal charges. Cattran said that although he doesn’t envision any decisions being made in the next couple of days, the initial steps have been taken.
“The DFG has submitted the report to our office for consideration of filing criminal charges,” Cattran said. “That information hasn’t been entered into our system yet or any decisions made.”
Foy said he’s fielded many calls to clear up confusion as to whether or not DFG would be pressing charges. He even called Tonda to tell him that the agency will not be asking the district attorney to press charges against him.
“We are done with this whole incident,” Foy said.
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When the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center was built 40 years ago, there were only 19,400 people living in Douglas County.