DECATUR, Mich. (CBS Detroit) — The discovery of nine poached trophy bucks in a barn has led to 15 state wildlife charges against a Van Buren County man, authorities said.
Justin Ernst, 33, of Decatur, was arraigned Nov. 9 in 7th District Court in Paw Paw and is scheduled to reappear in court on Dec. 20. He is free on bond. He faces up to $59,500 in reimbursement to the state if convicted.
The charges against Ernst include nine counts of taking game illegally, four weapons counts and one count each of hunting with a revoked hunting license and obtaining a hunting license when ineligible.
“It’s a shame that this criminal ruined the chance for ethical, legal hunters to have their opportunity to take one of these trophy deer,” said Lt. Gerald Thayer, of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. “Not only did this felon steal from the natural resource, he also damaged agriculture crops, and has been doing so for some time. The financial penalty is the minimum he should serve.”
According to the DNR, Ernst is suspected of driving his truck through fields, shining a light on the deer and shooting them.
Michigan State Police troopers investigating an October domestic violence complaint discovered the bucks in a barn in the village of Decatur.
Officials said state police alerted DNR conservation officers, who went to the residence to investigate the deer. With the homeowner’s permission, the officers conducted a search and located eight illegal bucks, five 10-pointers and three with 8-points.
Two days after receiving the initial tip, investigators learned Ernst was arrested and held at Van Buren County jail on a domestic violence charge, according to the DNR. The tipster also said that another buck was in the barn. Officers returned to the residence to conduct a second search with the homeowner’s permission and found a 9-point buck that appeared to have been shot in the last 48 hours.
Officers interviewed Ernst at the jail and he denied connection to the poached bucks, officials said.
However, DNR officials said officers executed a search warrant and located two shotguns, a bloody crossbow, a bloody crossbow bolt from the bed of Ernst’s vehicle, a cellphone that didn’t work and a handheld spotlight under the driver seat of the vehicle.
It wasn’t clear whether Ernst has an attorney who might comment on his behalf.
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