BY GLENN PUIT
TRAVERSE CITY — A black bear and at least seven deer were shot, then mutilated, in what's described as a significant poaching ring in Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanau counties, officials said.
Three young men are accused of using a spotlight and rifle to shoot the animals from a pickup this fall. Police reports indicate the bear was killed in October off Clous Road in Grand Traverse County. It was then beheaded and its paws were cut off with an axe, according to police.
At least seven deer were "shined" with a spotlight and shot in Grand Traverse and Benzie counties for their antlers.
"It's a pretty brazen case," said Lt. David Shaw of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "They weren't shooting them for meat."
Grand Traverse County prosecutors charged two 17-year-olds, David Garrick Walston and Zachary Mark Johnson, both of Traverse City, and Daniel Lynn Kelsey, 21, of Lake Ann, with various poaching-related misdemeanors.
Johnson pleaded guilty to eight misdemeanors Tuesday. He told 86th District Court Judge Michael Haley he did not shoot the animals, but acknowledged riding in the pickup as the animals were shined and killed.
"David kept them (the antlers) in a closet outside my apartment," Johnson said. "I think he just wanted them to say he had them."
Haley termed the killings a "slaughter" and sentenced Johnson to one year probation, regular drug testing and $2,400 in fines.
"For what it's worth, your hunting and fishing privileges are suspended," Haley said.
The case started with a report of deer carcasses found dumped in the Copper Ridge area of Traverse City. Deer carcasses were also left along South Reynolds Road in Benzie County and in Solon Township in Leelanau County. The bear carcass was found on the west side of Hoosier Valley Road in Grand Traverse County.
The DNR cracked the case via an extensive investigation that turned up video surveillance showing two vehicles near Copper Ridge. One suspect also posted a photo of a dead deer on Facebook.
Police allege Walston shot the bear. Johnson told investigators, "Walston does the shooting and Kelsey does the shining and driving." Kelsey told investigators he was with Walston when Walston shot one deer, but Kelsey said he did not kill any animals.
Johnson told investigators he was asleep in a pickup or texting when the animals were shot and that he doesn't even hunt.
His attorney, William Conklin, said Johnson is "a young man who caved in to peer pressure rather than doing the right thing."