Fallout lingers six months after deer shootings
Resident who filed formal complaint against FLPD proposes animal dispatch policy
Six months after a Forest Lake police officer acting on a request from the DNR dispatched two deer on the property of a Forest Lake homeowner, the debate rages on regarding the steps that led to the pre-dawn incident on North Shore Trail.
A city council work session on Wednesday, July 11 marked just the latest in a series of discussions to address the issue and – with the absence of two council members – the matter came no closer to resolution, despite some energized exchanges.
The main development on Wednesday was the presentation to the council of an animal dispatch policy proposed by Jeff Carpenter, the resident who cared for the two fawns which were shot outside his home on Jan. 14.
The Forest Lake resident of about 35 years opened the meeting by outlining his experience that morning, the ramifications it had on his family and the disappointment he holds in the city and police department.
“The shocking blast and the bloodbaths that ensued that morning will forever change our lives,” Carpenter said. “These dangerous actions were taken by a Forest Lake cop using poor judgement which could have ended in a loss of human life to himself, or even worse, to us.
“We’re extremely frustrated with the Forest Lake Police Department, their stand on no wrong-doing, nor have we had any apologies ever been offered from the department, the city or the officer in the shooting.”
Rather than take pro-bono lawyers up on their offer to sue, Carpenter said he is aiming to take the high road by instead pursuing the city’s adoption of an animal dispatch policy that would prevent such delicate incidents.
Councilmembers Jim DuFour and Jackie McNamara squared off on the matter later in the work session. Each reinforced the stance they have held since the council first looked into the matter in January.
McNamara said the city “can’t just let it go” and called for the development of a policy similar to the one Carpenter presented which calls for authorities to make reasonable efforts to notify private property owners before entering their land to dispatch animals.
“People from out of state and from the other side of the country have e-mailed all of us on the city council appalled by the fact that these two innocent fawns were shot down so close to someone’s home,” McNamara said. “My personal response is there’s no excuse for it at all. I understand the relationship between our police department and the DNR. I understand we have to work together. But I also understand that there are always circumstances where conditions need to be considered.”
DuFour disagreed completely.
“I think we shouldn’t have any policy at all,” he said. “We shouldn’t tie the police department’s hands, we shouldn’t tie the DNR’s hands, to do the job that they know how to do.”
Mayor Chris Johnson jumped in when the exchange escalated and reverted to the details of Jan. 14 rather than the discussion of a policy.
“This is, I think, the third or fourth workshop on this topic,” Johnson said. “So I think we’ve pretty well hashed out our feelings on this…I feel like we’ve given it plenty of time and discussion.”
City officials remain staunchly opposed to such a policy. Police Chief Rick Peterson feels the notion of notifying property owners in such situations often would not be feasible and he said a city ordinance would hold no water.
“Whether or not the city adopts the proposed policy, federal, state and county law enforcement officers will continue to enforce current federal, state and county laws and will not be affected by the new policy,” he said. “Police officers in the city of Forest Lake will continue to enforce the federal, state and local [laws] that are passed by our elected officials as we have done so in the past.”
Peterson and City Administrator Aaron Parrish both mentioned that City Attorney Dave Hebert strongly opposes an animal dispatch policy.
“Ultimately there is a lot of potential challenges with this policy,” Parrish said. “The other component is, as the city attorney advised, there is limitations or consequences on restricting officer discretion in those situations in terms of how that works from a legal perspective.
“It’s a very challenging issue,” he continued. “I think there’s definitely some lessons learned from this issue, but the other side of it is there are instances where it is important, as [Chief Peterson] indicated, to have the discretion and ability to enter private property to enforce game laws.”
McNamara pressed Parrish as to what lessons he referred to, and he cited a higher sensitivity to such cases throughout the collective consciousness of the city and police department.
“I think that’s what we’re trying to get at with this policy,” McNamara replied. “I think to completely ignore this policy would be the wrong direction to take.”
Even with Peterson’s opposition, McNamara wants to see his department assist in the development of a policy.
“There hasn’t been anybody from the police department working on a policy,” she said. “They should be the ones. They worked on why not to have one.”
The issue will likely carry over to the city council’s July 23 meeting. A split vote appears in the cards as the two councilmembers absent on Wednesday have previously taken stances that appear to be in opposition. Mike Freer has stated that the shootings were not appropriate as carried out, while Susan Young has said she does not support establishing new protocol.