Five north county residents involved in a poaching enterprise were recently cited for more than 30 wildlife law violations by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers.
Trenton Lee Stokes, 19, Joseph Johnson, 41, Dustin Rhoden, 26, Brian Harris, 21, and a 17-year-old juvenile, along with David Henry Jones, 52, of Callahan, were charged with multiple violations for the illegal taking of deer and alligators as well as several hunting license violations.
FWC officers in Baker County had received several complaints of illegal hunting activity in a remote part of the county.
“After following leads and gathering information, we were able to ascertain where the illegal hunting was happening and who was involved,” said FWC K-9 Officer Bret Gill, who put together the case.
On November 2, Officer Gill and five other FWC officers, along with Baker County deputies, served a search warrant on the residence of J.N. Canaday on Moccasin Circle.
“On the way to serve the warrant, Officer Todd Hoyle saw four of our subjects being dropped off on a dirt road. The four men walked into John M. Bethea State Forest, which is part of the Osceola Wildlife Management Area,” Gill said. “However, the area wasn’t open for hunting on November 2.”
The truck driven by Cynthia Gordon pulled away. Hoyle stopped the vehicle once it was out of sight of the four men and escorted it to the residence, where the other officers were executing the warrant about 11:30 am.
They were looking for illegal deer and items commonly used to take or process deer.
The Department of Corrections K-9 team was contacted to help locate the four men, but before they could arrive, Officer Hoyle heard someone say, “Come get us” over a radio under the truck’s seat. Hoyle then had Ms. Gordon take him back to pick up the subjects.
“When the men saw the truck, they came running out of the woods, dragging two bucks,” said Gill. “They were very surprised to see Officer Hoyle step out of the truck.”
The six people have been charged with approximately 30 different wildlife law violations; nine illegally taken deer were seized, including a large buck in velvet that was confined to a small island during the Tropical Storm Debbie flood. Four guns were seized.
The violations for each person were:
• Mr. Stokes: two counts of taking deer out of season, one count of taking deer at night, one count of illegal method, two counts possession of illegally taken deer.
• Mr. Johnson: one count of taking deer out of season, two of hunting license violations.
• Mr. Jones: two counts deer out of season, two counts illegal method, two hunting license violations.
• Dustin Rhoden: two counts illegal possession.
• Brian Harris: one count illegal possession of alligator, one count possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis.
• The juvenile: five counts taking/attempting to take deer out of season, three counts taking/attempting to take deer by illegal method, two counts illegal possession, one count baiting in WMA, two hunting license infractions, three warnings for illegal WMA access.