Aim set on hunter harassment law
BY BOB KASARDA, Northwest Times Staff Writer
BEVERLY SHORES -- The memories are nearly too much for Frederick Shuger.
The 58-year-old is overcome with tears and, at times, is unable to speak as he recounts how he and his wife, Rosanne, came to be charged with multiple criminal counts of harassing hunters during the town-sanctioned deer kills the past two years.
"It has ruined our lives," he said. "It has literally ruined our lives."
Despite the pain and the growing legal costs, Shuger said neither he nor his wife could find it in themselves to plead guilty when offered a way out by prosecutors.
"We didn't do anything wrong," he said. "If we do this, this is an injustice to ourselves."
Instead, the couple's Merrillville attorney, Garry Weiss, intends to seek permission Monday from Porter Superior Court Judge Julia Jent to challenge the constitutionality of the hunter harassment law before the Indiana Court of Appeals.
The 14-year-old law, which prohibits individuals from intentionally interfering with the legal taking of a game animal, is unconstitutionally vague and a threat to free speech, he said.
The case also raises the question of how well the harassment law applies to the unique conditions posed by municipal deer culls, as opposed to the more traditional hunting spots in rural areas.
Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Bennett, who has fended off one constitutional attack on the hunter harassment law, said there are plenty of legal opportunities for opponents to speak out.
He and other supporters of the law said it is designed to protect not only the rights of hunters, but also the safety of individuals on both sides of the debate.
"Let's not have confrontations with armed individuals in the woods," Bennett said.
Couple accused of repeated harassment
The case against the Shugers dates back to the last few months of 2001, according to charging information compiled by Indiana Conservation Officer David Bateman.
Among the claims is the Shugers yelled obscenities and threats at hunter Jeff Valovich twice on Oct. 4, 2001, as he was attempting to load a dead deer into his truck while hunting on private property in town.
Two other hunters, James Myers and Daniel Uzelac, further accused Frederick Shuger of confronting them in a hostile manner as they were unloading hunting gear Nov. 5, 2001.
Rosanne Shuger is accused of slamming her car door, blowing the vehicle's horn and allowing a dog to bark while the same two individuals were hunting two days later.
A fourth hunter, Dale Jalovecky, reported the same type of harassment from the Shugers on three different occasions in November 2001.
The Shugers were charged with two counts of hunter harassment each, and Frederick was charged with an additional count of intimidation. All counts are misdemeanors.
Frederick, who is past president of the Michigan City Humane Society and a former state level animal rights activist, was slapped with a third charge of hunter harassment a few months ago stemming from similar accusations dating back to Dec. 9, 2002.
The Shugers admit to running into the hunters on numerous occasions, taking photos and exchanging words, but they deny making any threats or ever wandering off the public roadway on to the private property where the hunting was taking place.
They said they were concerned about the apparent lack of oversight of the hunt by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
"It was a total debacle," Frederick said.
Both sides concerned about safety
The concerns about safety are key to the defense of this case, Weiss said.
The Shugers felt the hunters posed a danger in the densely populated residential area and they were exercising their constitutional right to free speech. They said they did not commit harassment as defined by the state law.
"It's not like they went up and grabbed a hunter's gun," Weiss said.
The intimidation charge also is unfounded, Weiss said, and once again goes to the issue of free speech.
Weiss attempted to have the charges thrown out on constitutional grounds, but that was denied last month by Judge Jent. He hopes to appeal her ruling to the Indiana Court of Appeals, which if successful, would dismiss the criminal case against his clients.
If the appeal is approved by Jent, Bennett said his office would help the state defend the constitutionality of the harassment law, as it had done at the local level.
Bennett said he challenged the claim the law was constitutionally vague by naming four or five other states that have successfully defended similar legislation. Weiss said there also are cases where harassment laws have been thrown out.
As far as the claim the law goes overboard in trouncing on free speech, Bennett said he argued there have been plenty of alternative means for the Shugers and others to voice their opposition to the hunt.
"You don't have to go into the woods to interfere with hunters to give your message," he said.
There is a significant government interest in discouraging these types of confrontations, where individuals could be hurt or worse, he said. These debates are better suited for public meetings.
While unwilling to discuss the details of the Shuger case, Stephen Sellers, communications director with the DNR, said the hunter harassment law has not been applied very often across the state.
It has, however, resulted in convictions, he said.
Sellers was not aware of any other hunter harassment case stemming from a deer cull in a densely residential area like Beverly Shores. But he said most of the rural cases have involved disputes between neighbors and so, have not been that much different.
Bennett downplayed concern about innocent people finding themselves charged with harassment by simply walking a dog or driving a loud vehicle through an area like Beverly Shores when hunters are present.
Intention is paramount in these cases, he said.
While unwilling to go into detail, Bennett said he is confident he can show the Shugers had set out to harass the hunters.
Bob Kasarda can be reached at email@example.com or (219) 462-5151, Ext. 345.
Jeff "Jesse" James - Owner of Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors
You can always tell who's in 2nd place by who's whining and crying the most. - Old hockey coach.
Dum spiramus tuebimur
Advertise on JHO / Blogs / Fishing Guide/Outfitter reviews / Facebook - JHO / Gear Reviews / Home, Main Page / Hunting Guide/Outfitter Reviews / Links / Online Store / Photo/Video Gallery / Sponsors / Turkey Scratchins blog / Twitter - Follow JHO / YouTube Channel
"In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a brave and scarce man, hated and scorned. When the cause succeeds, however, the timid join him... for then it costs nothing to be a patriot." -Mark Twain