DNR defends FLPD in killing of collared fawns
An incident early Saturday morning in eastern Forest Lake left police surprised, a homeowner infuriated and two fawns shot dead.
Dispatching of deer by law enforcement is a common occurrence. However, what appeared a routine case for the DNR this weekend came together in such a fashion that Capt. Greg Salo, a regional supervisor for the DNR’s enforcement division, said he has never seen anything quite like it.
A quiet summer Saturday morning quickly turned exciting last June for Jeff Carpenter of 10010 North Shore Trail. Into the dog house had wandered a baby fawn. It appeared to be just days old, so Carpenter felt obligated to help. He led it to the woods past his back yard, but the deer returned close to his house. At dusk, Carpenter once again took the animal to the woods, thinking her mother may be looking for her there.
He recalled seeing two dead does in the area over the prior few days, and when the fawn came back again, he began to think she was an orphan.
That night, Carpenter and his wife, LeeAnn, heard two animals bleating. A venture by flashlight revealed a second baby fawn.
“I assumed they had nowhere to go and were just trying to survive,” Carpenter said. “I thought ‘Okay, let’s keep them alive and in a great situation where there is deer passing through all the time. Maybe one of the other deer that comes through here might let them latch on.’”
As days became weeks and weeks became months, the fawns not only stayed, but became popular throughout the neighborhood and took on names.
“They kind of got to be everybody’s friend,” Carpenter said. “There are four or five of us in the area with corn feeders out for deer. The deer make a big loop. It’s a unique area for deer to roam around.”
When Pinkie’s namesake hoof turned to black from the color she was named for, the local Realtor tied ribbons around her and Abbie’s necks to tell them apart.
The pair came by nearly every day, foraging for oak leaves, acorns and apples. They won over Carpenter’s two labradors in the process.
“It was almost like they were one of their own kind,” Carpenter said. “Those four were the best of friends.”
For being raised without a mother, the fawns seemed to be in good shape. As far as Carpenter could tell, they were only different from the other deer in that they were friendlier.
“They were doing great, as healthy as healthy can get,” he said.
Unbeknownst to Carpenter, he and his neighbors were not the only ones keeping an eye out for Abbie and Pinkie. The DNR had received numerous calls about a pair of deer in that area wearing bright collars. That set off a standardized process in which Salo’s department checked with DNR officers and the Department of Natural Health to see if any local deer farmers had reported an escape.
No reports came in, and on Jan. 3 the DNR advised the Forest Lake Police Department to dispatch the deer if located.
“They have the potential to carry a lot of diseases,” said Salo on Monday. “Between the bovine tuberculosis to the north and the positive chronic wasting test down by Rochester a couple of years ago, we have zero tolerance regarding escaped deer.”
While driving in the vicinity of Carpenter’s property near 7 a.m. on Saturday, a Forest Lake police officer nearly struck a pair of fawns with his squad car. According to FLPD captain Greg Weiss, the officer, whom Weiss declined to name, recognized the collars from the DNR’s description and took out a department-issued shotgun. The officer confirmed the order with a shift sergeant before dispatching one deer about 10 yards off the roadway. The other deer ran off, but the officer followed it and dispatched it in an area he deemed to be safe.
Carpenter was in his home office when he heard the shotgun blasts. He rushed outside to find the officer standing over the second deer. Carpenter said he did not realized the man was a police officer, and that he became even more outraged upon receiving no response to his initial flurry of questions. Once Carpenter realized the man was a police officer, his wife and son convinced him to return indoors.
A conservation officer transported the deer to a DNR center. They will be tested for disease this week, Salo said.
By the Book
The situation played out in a way FLPD could not have foreseen, said Weiss, who acknowledged it might have been handled differently had all the information been available.
But Salo assured that the Forest Lake authorities handled everything by the book.
“We ask for help a lot from local law enforcement and they do the same for us,” he said. “They have coverage 24/7, and we wanted to get these deer sooner rather than later. They were only acting at our request. We told them, ‘Shoot them if you see them.’”
Though the location was not ideal, Salo said the officer had no choice but to fulfill his order when he came across the deer.
“We’re opportunistic in this kind of thing,” he said. “When we see a [targeted] deer and have the chance to destroy them, we do.”
Weiss reviewed the case and found no wrongdoing on the part of his officer, who remains on active duty.
“You’ve got to put yourself in the officer’s position,” Weiss said. “At the time, and with the information he had, they were to be dispatched. We take [the DNR’s] information and we put it into play.”
The case remains under investigation. The DNR plans to meet with the county attorney to discuss the possibility of bringing charges against Carpenter for raising the deer without a permit.
Carpenter on Monday said he had had no further communication with FLPD or the DNR. The sides remain at odds over details from the incident and actions that led up to it.
The law enforcement representatives feel Carpenter’s handling of the deer crossed the line from discouraged to illegal when he affixed the collars.
“The part that sealed the fate of the deer is when they put collars on them and didn’t tell us,” said Salo. “We would’ve just said to cut them off. Based on the information we had and the research we did, it all led us to believe that captivity was involved with these two deer.”
Carpenter said the fawns were never penned or tied up, and the collars were merely ribbons used for identification. He doubts that authorities truly felt the animals escaped from a deer farm.
“I don’t know of any deer farms in a 10-mile radius from where we live, and deer don’t travel that far,” he said.
Carpenter also disputes FLPD’s version of the shootings. A police statement describes the dispatchings as taking place approximately 50-60 yards from the residence. Carpenter said he would “bet anything” the distance was more like 30 feet.
“I’m a contractor by trade, so I know my distances,” he said.
Officers are trained to carry out such orders in a safe manner and that is a main reason why the Carpenters were not given advance notice, according to Weiss.
“We don’t go knocking house-to-house and tell people we’re about to dispatch deer,” he said.
Weiss estimates the department dispatches about 25 deer per year. Most are injured from vehicle collisions, and many are put down on private property.
In Carpenter’s mind, there had to have been a better way to resolve the situation.
“The result we can’t change, but it should’ve been thought out, it should’ve be been talked about,” he said. “The way it was handled was ridiculous.”
In the end, all agree the case is an example of good intentions that butted into the letter of the law, however harsh it may seem.
“Let’s get real here – don’t put a collar on a wild deer,” said Weiss. “Our officer did what he was supposed to do.”
Carpenter is left to cherish seven months of fond memories.
“It was really a lot of fun while it lasted,” he said. “We were just trying to do what we thought was right.”