Dismissal of dead cub charges angers wildlife officials
The prosecutor claims he filed the right charges but the judge said the facts of the case didn’t fit those charges. Either way wildlife advocates are upset.
They say Fish and Game code violations were ignored and that in the long run can only lead to abuse of wildlife.
In this case, a car hit and killed a bear cub on Emerald Bay Road near Taylor Creek. A Meyers couple took the carcass from an unlocked freezer at El Dorado County Animal Control and skinned it.
Friday El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Jerald Lasarow dismissed four misdemeanor charges filed against Ruth Cecchettini-Hughes and Rick Hughes. Ruth was an employee at animal control for nine years when she and her husband took the bear. El Dorado County Health Department fired her after an internal investigation.
“I think the charges the DA filed did not fit the facts,” Lasarow said. “I’m elected to prosecute people on certain charges. The facts seemed pretty clear. And neither side called any witnesses.”
Hans Uthe, El Dorado County assistant district attorney, was in charge of the case during Friday’s short trial.
“The judge ruled the facts stipulated just didn’t fit the wording of the statute,” he said. “We disagree, but he’s the one who makes the eventual ruling.”
Dave Bezzone, Fish and Game warden at South Lake Tahoe, was also in court. He left frustrated because he issued the initial citation against the Hugheses. He said the couple has paid a tremendous price for taking the bear carcass, but feels the charges shouldn’t have been dismissed.
“I went in this court realizing it was more than likely the outcome given the past practice of this judge,” Bezzone said. “I’m in charge of protecting wildlife with law enforcement but I need a system to back up my actions or it won’t work.”
Lasarow said he presides over a small number of Fish and Games cases and judges them the same way he would any other case.
The charges filed against the Hugheses alleged unlawful possession of a bear without a bear licensing tag and unlawful possession of bear parts. A prosecutor filed two misdemeanors against each Hughes. Each charge can be punished with six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Cheryl Millham, executive director of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, agrees with Bezzone that dismissal of the charges sends the wrong message to the public.
“She broke the law. She should have been prosecuted,” she said. “She’s a nice person. I’ve always liked Ruth. I’m not talking against Ruth, it’s a question of law.”
She said right now at South Shore the public doesn’t fear law enforcement as it relates to Fish and Game.
“I’m upset that people who break law are getting off,” she said. “Game wardens can show up with a fantastic case, but (the defendants) usually get a slap on the hand.”
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