Thanks To A Tip From Louisiana Operation Game Thief, LDWF Enforcement Agents Break Bald Eagle Case
story by Adam Einck, LDWF Public Information
Killing an iconic American wildlife symbol can cause outrage anywhere in the United States. It also can spur citizens to action.
A West Monroe man who pled guilty to fatally shooting a bald eagle found that out and rather quickly.
On April 4, 2011, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries enforcement agents were investigating the case of a bald eagle found shot to death in south Franklin Parish in northeast Louisiana. Two days later, the agents received a tip from Louisiana Operation Game Thief that helped expedite the case.
Jeffrey M. Miles eventually pled guilty in federal court on Jan. 3, 2012, to violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Act for killing the bird. He was fined $2,525, placed on supervised probation and had his hunting rights revoked for three years.
LDWF Sgt. Lee Tarver said the assist from Louisiana Operation Game Thief in the case helped agents quickly apprehend Miles. It also helped them secure a second conviction in the case when a Winnsboro man, Joel Dotson, pled guilty in federal court to violating a portion of the Bald and Golden Eagle Act by possessing the bird’s head. Dotson was fined $1,025 for his part in the crime.
“The state of this bald eagle enraged many people both locally and nationally,’’ Tarver said. “It seemed pretty obvious, too, that the head had been taken as a trophy.’’
Agents found the eagle on April 4 lying in a ditch with a bullet hole through its chest and decapitated. There was no sign of the eagle’s head in the area. On April 5, LDWF enforcement agents Lt. Scott Watson, Senior Agent Brandon Miller, Senior Agent Johnny Wilson and Tarver returned to the ditch on Club House Road where the eagle was found.
“We questioned residents who lived in the area at that time and it wasn’t long before we came into contact with a West Monroe man named Jeffrey M. Miles,” said Tarver, a nine-year veteran with LDWF. “Miles was staying at his father’s camp located at the end of Club House Road at that time and he just so happened to know a little bit about the dead bald eagle that was found not far from where he was staying.”
Miles informed agents he and some friends had a crawfish boil a few days prior and that he never saw the eagle. However, one of the party goers had seen the eagle in the ditch. Miles also told agents that his sister had taken a picture of the eagle with her phone and posted it on Facebook while he was out of town working.
On April 6, however, agents received a tip from the LOGT program telling them that Miles had killed the eagle and that Miles was, in fact, unemployed. The informant also told agents that Miles was seen with a bald eagle at his father’s camp near where the bald eagle was found.
“The informant also led us to another person of interest who would maybe know something about the bald eagle,” said Tarver. “We interviewed him and he told us about a night in which he and Miles went hunting and Miles killed an eagle in Ouachita Parish.”
The agents were able to use this person’s statement to obtain an arrest warrant for Miles for night hunting in Ouachita Parish. On April 22, Wilson and Tarver went to Miles’ sister’s house where he was staying and arrested Miles.
On the way to the Franklin Parish Detention Center agents again questioned Miles about the holes in his story. He originally told agents that he had never seen a bald eagle and that he was working when the eagle was found. Miles then admitted to killing two deer on two separate dates while night hunting.
“Finally Miles also admitted to shooting the bald eagle with a .22 rifle,” said Tarver. “He said that he thought the bald eagle was a hawk that was taking kittens from his father’s camp. After shooting the bald eagle, he threw it in the ditch as he was afraid of getting caught and did not know what else to do.’’
Miles then brought the agents to the location where he shot the bald eagle and produced the weapon.
“His detailed voluntary statement helped us get a conviction in this case a great deal,” said Tarver. “Since Miles decided to finally cooperate with our bald eagle investigation, we decided not to pursue the night hunting charges.”
The bald eagle is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits the take, transport, sale, barter, trade, import and export, and possession of eagles, making it illegal for anyone to collect eagles and eagle parts, nests or eggs without a permit.
“But the story doesn’t end there,” said Tarver. “We still had a missing bald eagle head.’’
Agents received information about who might be in possession of the missing bald eagle head. Agents learned a juvenile found the dead bald eagle in the ditch and cut off the head to give to his uncle, Joel Dotson, to mount. However, when agents searched Dotson’s home in Winnsboro they could not find the head.
“We then interviewed one of Dotson’s friends who was supposedly a witness to the exchange of the bald eagle’s head between the juvenile and Dotson,” Tarver said. “This witness told us that Dotson was afraid of getting caught and put the eagle’s head in a fast food cup and threw it away. Luckily, when questioned again with this new information Dotson finally admitted to possessing the eagle’s head.”
The original Louisiana Operation Game Thief informant received a $1,000 reward for detailed information that led to the two convictions.
“This informant was instrumental in this case,” Tarver said. “The information provided was accurate and really helped solidify our case against Miles, which eventually led us to Dotson.”
LDWF agents participating in the case included Tarver, Watson, Wilson, Miller and Senior Agent Johnny Wilson. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Senior Agent Kash Schriefer also assisted in the case.
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