One person has already pleaded guilty in a massive illegal poaching ring, and three suspects have hearings scheduled for later this month in Skamania County Superior Court.
Bryan Christopher Tretiak, 31, of Lewis County pleaded guilty to a single amended charge of second-degree illegal hunting of big game on Nov. 2.
The offense carried a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and/or a $5,000 fine, but Skamania County Superior Court Judge Randall Krog sentenced Tretiak to 14 days of community service and a $500 fine given that this was Tretiak’s first poaching-related offense. Tretiak’s 364-day jail sentence was suspended with the conditions that he not engage in hunting or possess any hunting dogs for the next two years, according to court documents.
Cowlitz County residents Joseph Allen Dills, Eddy Alvin Dills and Erik Christian Martin have “suppression” hearings scheduled for Dec. 14. After pleading not guilty to a total of 118 charges at an Oct. 12 arraignment, the three men also have trial dates set for Jan. 8, 2018.
The hearings will likely determine whether a mountain of evidence documenting illegal animal killings in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Southwest Washington and Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon is admissible in court.
“Our search warrants were reviewed and we feel confident,” said Sergeant Brad Rhoden, an investigator with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in an interview Friday. Suppression hearings are fairly routine in criminal cases, Rhoden said.
The warrants resulted in hundreds of images, videos and text messages showing many of the eight suspects now facing charges gleefully participating in the illegal killing and harvesting of more than 50 animals, including deer, elk, bears and bobcats.
News of the alleged poaching ring — members of which are accused of illegal use of dogs to pursue animals in broad daylight — shocked the public this fall and disgusted honest hunters.
WDFW investigators Tyler Bahrenburg and Denis Budai spent months retracing the suspects’ footsteps this summer using GPS coordinates embedded in photos on their seized cell phones. By the end of the investigation, investigators had compiled a vast cache of evidence that Skamania County prosecutors are using to support at least 187 total charges.
The investigation is still ongoing and more individuals could be charged, Rhoden said. Investigators with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife are still pursuing their own investigation and could also recommend additional charges for suspected crimes in Mount Hood National Forest, he said.
“There are a whole bunch of players, unfortunately, and we’re still looking at other potential charges for other individuals in other counties,” he said.
William J. Haynes, 23, of Longview was another prominent figure in the investigation whose cell phone contained graphic evidence. One photo shows Haynes with blood spattered across his face and clothing after shooting a bear at close range.
Haynes, who is facing 61 different charges, has a suppression hearing scheduled for March 1, 2018, and a trial date set for March 12.
Meanwhile, Cowlitz County resident Kyle S. Manley, 35, was charged with one count of second-degree illegal hunting of big game and one count of illegal hunting of bears, bobcats, cougars and lynx with the aid of dogs. He has a status conference hearing scheduled for Dec. 4.
Other suspects in the investigation include Aubri McKenna, 35, of Longview and a 17-year-old girl.
Aubri McKenna has a Dec. 18 status hearing and has not entered a plea at this time. She is charged with two counts of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game and one count of illegal hunting with the aid of dogs.
The 17-year-old girl has a Dec. 4 status hearing and has not entered a plea at this time. She is charged with one count of unlawful hunting of big game and one count of illegal hunting with the aid of dogs.
These aren’t the first poaching-related charges that Joseph Dills has faced.
Dills, who kept dogs with GPS-enabled collars with his father, Eddy, pleaded guilty in Wahkiakum County District Court in 2008 to second-degree unlawful hunting of big game and second-degree criminal trespassing.
Rhoden said he hopes the poaching investigation will encourage people to be more vigilant when they’re deep within some of region’s premiere state and national forests.
“I hope it opened some eyes to what some of the issues are that we’re dealing with. Obviously, this is on a grand scale, but the activity in and of itself isn’t uncommon,” he said.
“I hope this helps people understand what we need from them when they’re out in the woods as far as seeing things and reporting them.”