More poachers

Trial Dates Set for Five Key Suspects in Massive Poaching Ring

By Jordan Nailon / jnailon@chronline.com

A new suspect was charged in Skamania County District Court this week in connection with one of the largest poaching operations state wildlife authorities have ever seen. 

Additionally, trial dates have been set for at least five of the original seven suspects from an extensive poaching operation that is believed to have resulted in the unlawful killings of more than 100 big game animals in Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon. 

The animals the group are suspected of poaching, often with the illegal help of hunting dogs, include bears, bobcats, deer and elk. The bodies of the poached animals were often left to rot in the woods with only their trophy parts removed.

On Monday, Kyle S. Manley, of Cowlitz County, became the eighth poaching suspect to be charged by the Skamania County Prosecutor’s Office since August. Manley, who appears repeatedly in the initial photographic and text message evidence gathered by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife investigators, was charged with one count of second-degree illegal hunting of big game as well as illegal hunting of bears, bobcats, cougars of lynx with the aid of dogs. His next appearance in district court is scheduled for 9 a.m. Nov. 20 for a status conference.

A photo posted on Manley’s public Facebook profile shows a bear in a tree. That photo was posted on June 27, 2017, nearly two months after the poaching investigation was announced by the WDFW. A comment left below the photo by another user notes that the bear “looks sad and scared all at once,” to which Manley replied, “He probably is sad he got blue balls (…) his lady friend is in the same tree as him.” 

WDFW Police Captain Jeff Wickersham was not surprised to learn about the public posting from Manley, whose Facebook page contains numerous photos of his hunting dogs and wildlife kills.

“Like we’ve talked about in the past, the brazenness to put this all on social media and to text about it back and forth, they really documented everything,” said Wickersham. “It shows they weren’t at all concerned about getting caught, and that’s pretty troubling to us.”

Adam Kick, Skamania County prosecuting attorney, noted on Wednesday that additional suspects are likely to be charged in the future.

“What we’ve been told by WDFW is that they are still investigating related activity, so it’s possible we will continue to get requests for charges on additional defendants as these cases are pending,” Kick wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

Wickersham confirmed that the WDFW is continuing to work on its investigation into additional suspects believed to have been operating within the prolific poaching ring. 

“This next group of individuals that we’re working on charges for, a lot of their activity is moving over into that Oregon area,” explained Wickersham. He was unable to offer a date that those charging recommendations would be forwarded to the Skamania County Prosecutor’s Office, but said it will likely be before the end of the year.

Wickersham added that law enforcement in Oregon have been working diligently to put together their own case against the poachers, who are suspected of routinely hopping state lines on their killing excursions. The WDFW investigation has already noted instances of mass killings and decapitations of buck deer near The Dalles as well as illegal bobcat kills conducted with the aid of dogs in other parts of Northwest Oregon. Wickersham believes there is a strong chance that the investigation by authorities in Oregon will uncover many more violations by the poaching ring south of the Columbia River. 

“I do know that Oregon is working on finalizing their case,” said Wickersham. “Ill tell you from just the little bit that I know that what they’ve put together is pretty impressive.”

The first set of charges were recommended to the Skamania County Prosecutor’s Office by the WDFW in late August just days before a critical date related to Washington’s statute of limitations was set to take effect. That statute stipulates that individuals cannot be charged for gross misdemeanors after more than two years have elapsed from the alleged crime. The first poaching activities on a timeline created by the WDFW during a year-and-a-half long investigation are alleged to have happened on Aug. 29, 2015. So far, the first eight suspects have accumulated at least 191 criminal counts, including 33 felony charges.

In recent weeks, trial dates were set for the most serious of the accused offenders.

“There’s obviously a lot going on with charging right now,” said Wickersham. 

On Oct. 12, Eddy Dills and his son, Joseph Dills, both of Longview, entered not guilty pleas. Their jury trials are slated to begin on Jan. 8, 2018. Joseph Dills was recommended for 64 charges by the WDFW, including four for first-degree unlawful big game hunting for the illegal use of dogs. He previously pleaded guilty in Wahkiakum County District Court in 2008 to second-degree unlawful hunting of big game and second-degree criminal trespassing, which could result in inflated charges for the most recent round of alleged infractions. Eddy Dills, who is alleged by the WDFW to have served as a campground host at Takhlakh Lake during the years-long killing spree, is looking at 37 assorted charges.

Erik Martin, Longview, also entered a plea of not guilty on Oct. 12 and was subsequently assigned a Jan. 8, 2018 start date for his jury trial. Martin is facing 28 charges of gross misdemeanor violations, in addition to other charges.

William “Billy” Haynes, Longview, pleaded not guilty on Sept. 14. A suppression hearing in his case is scheduled for Nov. 30 and his jury trial is set to begin on Dec. 11. Haynes was recommended for 61 charges by the WDFW, including 26 charges of first-degree illegal hunting of big game. Haynes was previously convicted of second-degree unlawful hunting big game in Cowlitz County on Oct. 3, 2013, which means that the new big game charges could be considered Class C felonies that carry a penalty of up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Bryan Tretiak, of Morton, had eight charges against him dropped on Oct. 12 but is still facing two poaching-related charges. Tretiak will have a status conference on Nov. 2 and his jury trial is scheduled to begin on Dec. 11. Tretiak currently faces one count of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game and one count of unlawful hunting of bears, bobcats, cougars or lynx with the aid of dogs. Both crimes are alleged to have been committed on Aug. 29, 2015.

“It looks like Mr. Tretiak’s charges were amended to reflect just two gross misdemeanor counts,” explained Kick in an email to The Chronicle this week. “It is my understanding that additional information from and discussion with WDFW led to the amendment of the charges.”

The cases of Aubri McKenna and a 17-year-old related to the Dills are being handled by the Skamania County District Court. Both suspects were scheduled for a status hearing on Oct.  2. Multiple requests for updated information have thus far gone unanswered by the clerk’s office. McKenna was recommended by the WDFW for two counts of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game, one count of illegal use of dogs to hunt, one count of waste of fish and wildlife, one count of second-degree unlawful purchase of a license and one count of the unlawful possession of fish and wildlife taken in violation of another state’s laws. The 17-year-old was recommended for six counts of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game, five counts of the unlawful use of dogs to hunt and two counts of waste of fish and wildlife. It is unclear if any changes have been made to those recommendations at this time.

In related court proceedings, the Dills family has made themselves the plaintiff in a case against the State of Washington. In a civil case filed on June 29, 2017, in Cowlitz County, Eddy Dills, Joseph Dills, Angela Dills and Aubri Mckenna (listed as Dills on court paperwork) all lodged an official complaint against the state in an attempt to have property that was confiscated during the WDFW investigation returned. 

Items seized from the Dills include cellphones, GPS receivers, GPS-equipped dog tracking collars, a Nissan Frontier pickup, a rifle, 84 packages of game meat including deer and elk, and a whole frozen bobcat. That case is still active.

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