ENDANGERED SPECIES — Boundary County Prosecutor Jack Douglas has sent a letter to media outlets with his account of the May 8 grizzly bear shooting that has resulted in federal charges against Jeremy Hill, 33, of Porthill, Idaho.
Douglas said neither he nor the Idaho Fish ad Game Department was involved in filing charges against Hill and makes the case that Hill never should have been charged.
Click continue reading below to see Douglas's letter, released this afternoon, and details on the case he said he's learned from interviews with IFG officers and the Hill family.
S-R reporter Becky Kramer covered Monday's hearing in which Jeremy Hill, 33, pleaded not guilty to the charges, backed by a lot of community support.
The S-R's Boise reporter, Betsy Russell, has filed this report on Otter's request that the U.S. Secretary of Interior step in and have the charges dropped.
See my Thursday Outdoors column for less politically popular thoughts on the case from the grizzly bear's side of the story — at least until more details are revealed from the investigation.
From Boundary County Public Information, Bonners Ferry, ID 83805, (208) 267-7212; email firstname.lastname@example.org
On May 8, 2011, Jeremy Hill, a lifetime member of the Boundary County community was involved in an incident that not only disrupted the lifestyle of his family but has also raised serious concerns within the community I serve as Boundary County Prosecutor.
Jeremy was forced to take lethal action against one of three animals recognized as a potentially dangerous predator, the grizzly bear, which he saw stalking his children’s 4-H pigs near where those children had been playing on his 20-acre ranch near Porthill.
In a normal case, the first person, besides the investigating officer, who would know that criminal charges were being considered would be the person responsible for filing those charges on behalf of the State of Idaho, the county prosecutor.
In the case of Jeremy Hill, 33, Porthill, no state charges were ever brought forward. Yet he is facing up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $50,000 for killing a two year old male grizzly bear May 8 as a federal charge was leveled August 8.
“In the weeks since the federal charge was filed, I’ve seen this community and our state and local elected officials, including Governor Butch Otter, stand up on behalf of Jeremy and his family,” Douglas said. “As an elected official and as prosecuting attorney for this county, I’ve heard the concerns of local citizens and feel it’s my duty to take a closer look at the issues, even though I’m not involved with this case. I owe it to the people of Boundary County to be a beacon pursuing justice.”
The federal charge came as a complete surprise, Douglas said, as Idaho Fish and Game would have notified his office first had a crime been committed.
“That they didn’t,” Douglas said, “indicates to me that those officers are convinced that no state crime was committed.”
While he hasn’t been involved in prosecuting the case, Douglas has, he said, been gathering what facts he can on the case, and the more he learns, he said, the more convinced he is that the officers who conducted the initial investigation on the day of the shooting were correct.
“These were seasoned officers,” he said. “Even before he fired the final shot that killed the grizzly, Jeremy Hill had the phone book out to call Greg Johnson.”
Instead of rushing right to the scene, officer Johnson, knowing the importance of the Endangered Species Act, took the time to contact fellow Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer Brian Johnson (no relation), as well as the region’s foremost expert on grizzly bears, IDFG Senior Wildlife Research Biologist Wayne Wakkinen, who has studied and tracked bear in Boundary County since 1990. According to Douglas, all three were at the Hill property, which fronts Highway 1, within two hours of the call.
“By the care Greg took in making sure he had the people on hand he did, it’s obvious he understood the importance of the case and took this incident very seriously,” Douglas said. “I’ve worked with Greg for years, and he is usually very thorough in his investigative work. There is no doubt in my mind that had he found any evidence that a crime had been committed, charges would have been filed or at least the case would have been brought to my attention.”
In fact, Douglas said, Johnson reportedly told Hill before he left the property that there should not be any issue, as he was protecting his family and property.
Because the killing of a threatened or endangered species falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government, Johnson, pursuant to protocol, provided his report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. According to Douglas, it allegedly took about a month for the USFWS to show up to begin their investigation.
Despite not being involved, Douglas is confident that the facts he’s derived are accurate.
According to Douglas’s findings, on May 8, Mothers Day, Jeremy Hill, his wife, Rachel, and four of their six children were home together as the event unfolded at about 7 p.m. The children, he said, were outside shooting baskets in front of the house, Rachel, not feeling well, had gone to lay down and Jeremy was in the shower.
Rachel, not able to sleep, looked out her bedroom window and spotted the bears about 40 yards from where the kids were playing, and ran outside, shouting for the kids to get in the house.
Jeremy, finishing a shower, heard the screams and looked outside, where he saw the bears. He grabbed up the only weapon at hand, his daughter’s .270 rifle, which was wrapped and unloaded, found three bullets, loaded the weapon and raced outside, not knowing where his children or his wife were, but knowing by his wife’s panicked screams that the children were in danger.
He stepped out onto the back deck from their bedroom and saw one of the bears climbing halfway up the side of the pig pen. He ran out and fired a shot at that bear, which was closest to him, and the other two bears, alarmed by the crack of the rifle, ran away from the pig pen toward the forest behind his house.
“He didn’t fire at the retreating bears because they no longer posed a threat,” Douglas said.
The shot hit the grizzly on the fence, and he tumbled off, got up and ran off, limping slightly. The family dog went after the injured bear, which was heading in the same direction the other two had fled, and the bear, only a few yards from the house, turned and charged straight toward where Jeremy was standing by a large basement window under the deck. Fearing there was nothing but he and a large pane of glass to keep the wounded bear out of his house, Jeremy took aim and fired again. The bullet hit the grizzly and the bear rolled to the ground, tried to get up, then fell back down.
Shaken badly but thinking the ordeal was over, Jeremy went back into the house and went to find his family. He picked the 10 month old baby off the bed, and found Rachel with the other children, trying to soothe them and stop their crying.
Jeremy asked Rachel to get the phone book so he could call Fish and Game, but before he could dial, he looked out and saw that the bear was trying to crawl to the woods. He stopped behind a tree, wounded but not dead, and Jeremy took up the rifle again, carefully walked over to the bear, unsure if it was dead or alive, but knowing that a wounded grizzly bear posed a significant threat. Using his last bullet, he fired a final shot, putting the bear out of his misery and ending the threat.
He then went in and placed the call to Johnson. When the three officers arrived, Greg Johnson asked Jeremy to “get a different rifle,” an indication, Douglas said, of the threat Johnson placed on a wounded predator, and knowing that both the .270 and the sidearms they carried were not sufficient to reliably bring down a bear.
“Grizzly bears are unpredictable, dangerous predators,” Douglas said. “In my mind, there’s no question that the Hill family was likely in danger or that Jeremy, by his actions, did what he did in defense of his family and his property. I believe that our local IDFG officers did a thorough investigation and came to the proper conclusion that Jeremy Hill acted reasonably in light of the circumstances.”