Deer-abuse charges filed

Staff Writer

On Friday the Pennsylvania Game Commission filed charges against two Brookville teenagers who recorded social-media videos of themselves holding down and repeatedly kicking an immobile white-tailed deer.
Charged are Alexander Brock Smith, 18, and a 17-year-old juvenile male. Each faces two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty and two felony counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated animal cruelty, as well as several other misdemeanor and summary counts.
The Nov. 30 incident for which Smith and his accomplice were charged has been seen by thousands of people worldwide who viewed the videos. The Game Commission became aware of the incident soon after the videos were posted, when one viewer shared a video to the agency’s Facebook page. The agency immediately launched an investigation.
Each defendant was interviewed as part of the investigation and confirmed they were hunting together Nov. 30 in an enclosed tree stand on property Smith’s family owns in Beaver Township, Jefferson County. The juvenile shot and wounded a buck, then missed with a follow-up shot. The deer was immobilized, video was taken, then shared through the messaging app Snapchat. One recipient of the video saved it to his phone and contacted the Game Commission, and his phone, as well as the defendants’ phones, were seized for forensic analysis.
Smith was arraigned on charges today before Magisterial District Judge Gregory M. Bazylak and was released on $50,000 unsecured bail. Paperwork containing the juvenile’s charges also was filed today, which begins the process of the charges being sent to juvenile court.
A detailed list of the charges against each defendant and the possible maximum sentences based on those charges include: for Smith - each felony count of aggravated cruelty to animal and conspiracy to commit aggravated animal cruelty charge carries up to seven years incarceration and $15,000 in fines; a misdemeanor cruelty to animal charge carries up to two years incarceration and $5,000 in fines; a misdemeanor charge of corruption of minor charge carries up to five years incarceration and $10,000 in fines; a misdemeanor charge of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence carries up to two years incarceration and $5,000 in fines; a summary offense of disturbance of game or wildlife carries up to three months incarceration and $1,000-$1,500 in fines; a summary offense of unlawful possession game or wildlife carries up to one month incarceration and $400-$800 in fines; a summary offense of unlawful devices and methods carries up to $150 to $300 in fines; and a summary offense of regulations - protective material required carries $100 to $200 in fines. Each charge includes a potential multiple year hunting license revocation.
Juvenile charges have penalties to be determined in juvenile court system along with multiple years of hunting license revocation.
Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said the filing of charges brings to an end a thorough investigation about an incident that has drawn much attention and public outrage. Burhans said posts about the incident on the agency’s Facebook page have made clear the contempt hunters hold for the actions depicted on the video.
“Hunters care deeply about wildlife,” Burhans said. “It’s through their decades of dedication to the outdoors that we enjoy healthy and sustainable populations of wild birds and mammals, and that those wildlife species that encounter trouble are identified and afforded additional protection.
“Hunters are taught at an early age to hunt ethically, to be respectful of the game they hunt, the property upon which they hunt and other hunters,” Burhans said. “The Game Commission’s Hunter-Trapper Education program emphasizes these longstanding principles to new hunters.”
Posts by followers of the Game Commission’s social-media pages made it clear that many were keeping track of the case as the investigation continued. Some expressed frustration with the length of time it took for charges to be filed, but in cases where charges likely are to be brought under the state’s Game and Wildlife Code, it’s important to complete a thorough investigation before filing any charges because a hearing on the charges might be held soon afterward, and the case closed permanently.
Even in this case, where there was video of an unlawful act, investigators had to determine it happened in Pennsylvania, where the Game Commission has authority to file charges, as well as collect evidence to prove the teens committed the act and posted the videos.
“It’s easy to understand why people were outraged by the incident,” Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners President Tim Layton said. “But the worst-case scenario would have been rushing the investigation and heading into court with a case that wasn’t as strong as it could have been.
“Complicated investigations take time, and on behalf of the Board of Game Commissioners, I would like to commend the Game Commission, its Northwest Region Office and all of the game wardens who investigated the matter in cooperation with Pennsylvania State Police, local law-enforcement and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office. It’s a difficult job, and you do it extremely well.”
Jefferson County District Attorney Jeff Burkett also spoke of the length of time it takes to complete a thorough investigation.
“Obviously, this case has generated a large amount of public outcry,” Burkett said. “People have assumed that officers have been dragging their feet when, actually, the opposite is true. They have put a lot of hard work in on this case in order to present the case for prosecution. I commend the Pennsylvania Game Commission for their efforts in this matter.”
The Pennsylvania Game Commission does not release the names of minors who are charged with violations of the state Game and Wildlife Code.

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