FWC Officers Discuss Arrests in Protected Bird Killings
FWC Officers talk about their arrest and ...
COLLIER COUNTY — Four Navy pilots-in-training who were accused in February of shooting and killing 21 wading birds near Goodland won’t be flying anytime soon, even though the State Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against them.
Despite the setback on the state level, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro said her agency plans to pursue civil charges against the four Navy men and three others under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The Navy announced in February that it was conducting its own internal investigation into the case.
“As far as we’re concerned, they’re still on administrative hold pending the results of the pending federal action, if there is any going to be taken,” said Lt. Doug Johnson, the public affairs officer for the Naval Aviation Schools Command in Pensacola, where the four officers are enrolled.
The Navy officers were identified in February as Joseph William Gursky, 22, of New York; Mark Lewis McClure, 23, of Osprey, near Sarasota; Cullen Mark Shaughnessy, 22, of Marco Island; and Alexander Bruce Wilhelm, 24, of Maryland.
Navy records show that all four graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., last year, and were commissioned on May 23, 2008.
“They’re here. They show up to work every day. They’re given duties as assigned, but right now they’re not actively involved in training,” Johnson said of the four Navy men. “They’re not moving or going anywhere right now until we figure out all the pieces of the puzzle.”
On Feb. 17, two Fish and Wildlife officers and an officer from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection heard gunshots coming from a rookery between U.S. 41 East and Goodland off County Road 92. They watched as birds dropped from the sky.
About two hours later, four people walked out of the rookery while three others returned in a boat loaded with rifles, shotguns and pistols.
The officers arrested the seven members of the group, including the Navy men. The other three were identified as Stephanie Marie Meads, 23, of East Naples; Keith G. Lisa, 31, of New Jersey; and Zachary Mato, 22, of Marco Island.
The State Attorney’s Office declined to file trespassing charges against the seven group members in late April because the Rookery Bay property where the shootings are said to have occurred wasn’t properly marked “No Trespassing,” and because none of the officers witnessed the shootings.
Also, no fingerprints could be found on any of the guns, and the one person, Mato, who admitted to firing at the birds, made that statement before being read his Miranda Rights.