Rancher arrested, but not because he shot the bear
Sheriff's Office deputy tells rancher he does not have the right to have his attorney present during questioning before he has been charged with a crime.
Arrested when he refuses to answer questions until his attorney is present for questioning
by Dawn Ballou, Editor, Pinedale Online!
May 3, 2007
Early on a Sunday morning in late April, a Wyoming rancher sees a large black bear in with his sheep. It is lambing season and the bear is in the rancher's sheep pasture with pregnant ewes.
Predation by coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, dogs and eagles is a constant threat to animals on the ranch. This rancher is proud of his low livestock loss, but it isn't by accident. His entire family works hard to watch their animals and keep them under constant vigilance. They use guard dogs and guard burros in with their herds to help keep predators away. Coyotes are a constant predator problem, but they have never seen a bear on their ranch before.
The rancher shoots and kills the black bear, which turns out to be a 4-year old adult male.
The rancher then attempts to call the local game warden to report the incident. Being a Sunday morning, it is not unusual he gets no answer. The rancher then calls the county Sheriff's office and tells the dispatcher that he wants to report that he has shot and killed a bear in his sheep pasture. The dispatcher tells him she'll have someone contact him.
A short time later, a deputy arrives at the rancher's home and the rancher again says he killed a bear that was in his sheep pasture. He offers to take the deputy to the site where the bear is located. The deputy wants to ask questions before going to see the scene.
The deputy begins asking questions about what happened. Where was the bear killed, when was it killed, what kind of a bear was it, was it killed on public or private property, what kind of weapon was used, the serial number on the gun, and more. The rancher, not sure whether or not shooting the black bear might in any way be a crime, tells the deputy he will take him to where the bear is, but he doesn't want to answer more questions than he already has until his attorney is present for the questioning.
The deputy tells the rancher he does not have the right to an attorney being present while the officer is asking questions to investigate the incident.
The deputy says if he doesn't answer the questions, he is not cooperating, and he will be arrested for interfering with the peace officer trying to perform his duty. The deputy tells the rancher he only has the right to have an attorney present if he is charged with something, but not during the general questioning of the investigation.
The officer tells the rancher he absolutely has the right to defend his livestock. He says the interference charge has nothing to do with killing the bear, or whether or not that was a crime.
The rancher refuses to answer any more questions.
He is told he is under arrest. A leather strap is placed around his waist and his wrists are handcuffed in front of him and attached to the leather belt. He is placed in the deputy's car and driven to the county jail under the charge of "interfering with a peace officer engaged in lawful duties."
At the jail, officers again try to question the rancher, but he again refuses to answer additional questions, beyond what he has already stated, without his attorney being present. He is searched, fingerprinted, stripped naked, given an orange jump suit to wear, and jailed for half a day waiting for bail to be set.
The bail bond is set at $1000 cash deposit in order to be released from jail. Bond conditions are:
1. No changing residence/mailing address without notifying Court.
2. No violations of law which rise to the level of probable cause.
3. Be law abiding.
4. Consume no alcohol; do not go to places where alcohol is served or where it is the primary source of income.
5. Do not consume or possess any controlled substances unless prescribed by physician.
The bond is a "continuing bond" unless revoked, and is given to insure the appearance of the Defendant until the final disposition of the case, at all hearings and trials, whether appealed or otherwise, and shall be void if said Defendant performs and appears as ordered and bail returned.
The rancher is baffled. He thought he was doing everything he was supposed to do. He knows he cannot shoot a Threatened or Endangered species such as a grizzly bear. In those cases, he must just watch his livestock being killed until a US Fish & Wildlife Service enforcement officer arrives to perform the control. But under Wyoming law it is legal for a citizen to shoot a coyote or black bear or other predator endangering their livestock. He promptly reported the incident to the local Game & Fish Department and law enforcement officers letting them know he was the one who killed the bear. He was in his own home when the sheriff's officer came to question him. He was polite to the officer and offered to take him to the scene. When it became clear he was going to be arrested, he didn't resist the arrest in any way.
He finds himself in handcuffs being hauled off to jail. The crime has nothing to do with shooting the bear. His crime is refusing to answer the officer's questions about the incident until his attorney could be present for the questioning. The rancher is told by more than one police officer that he does not have the right to an attorney during the questioning because no charge had been filed.
If found guilty of the misdemeanor charge of "interfering with a peace officer engaged in lawful duties", the rancher faces imprisonment for not more than one year, and a fine of not more than $1000, or both.
The entire time the case is in progress, until it is ultimately concluded, the rancher cannot even drink a beer in his own house without risking losing the $1000 bail bond.
This is the case that was set to go before a judge in Sublette County at 10:00 AM on Thursday, May 3rd. Long-time Sublette County resident Jim Urbigkit is the rancher who freely admits shooting the 4-year old adult male black bear found in his sheep pasture Sunday morning, April 22nd, approximately 10 miles east of Big Piney, along the New Fork River.
The question before the judge won't be, "Does a rancher have the right to protect his livestock and shoot a black bear, a known predatory animal, he finds in with his sheep in his sheep pasture?"
The question will be, "Can a citizen in Wyoming be arrested, charged with interfering with a peace officer, and taken to jail solely for exercising their Constitutional right to refuse to answer a police officer's questions until their attorney can be present for the questioning?"
Scroll down for photos of the arrest. Photos by Cat Urbigkit.
Want to comment on this story? E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Editor's Note: This article may be reprinted in its entirety, or excerpted from, with credit to Pinedale Online for the story and credit to Cat Urbigkit for the photos.