Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Another Reason Why People Hate Government

From the Rhinelander (WI) Northwoods RiverNews: A fellow writing the other week suggested that the stories The Times published about Paul and Alvin Sowinski focused more on the actions of law enforcement than on the conduct of the Sowinskis themselves.
To recap, the Sowinskis were on-again, off-again targets of law enforcement - mostly the state Department of Natural Resources - for nearly 20 years, during which time government special agents tried every trick in the book to catch the Sowinskis poisoning wildlife. They never really did.
That is to say, they set up surveillance cameras, they sent in an undercover agent, they planted dead animals and fake animal tracks to entice them to set out poison bait piles, they used mapping and aerial imaging programs, they searched the property multiple times without warrants, and finally they charged onto the Sowinski property with throngs of armed federal and state agents.
With all that, they managed to find one probably poisoned bald eagle, which might or might not have been poisoned at a bait pile, and a video of Paul Sowinski moving a dead eagle that - wait for it - was planted on the property by DNR agents.
To gain a conviction, and a misdemeanor conviction at that, they had to finagle a deal whereby Paul Sowinski confessed to disposing of another dead eagle he found on the property and Alvin Sowinski acknowledged poisoning an eagle - some eagle somewhere - with poison bait.
That was the sum total of what the government got after no doubt spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars and using firepower worthy of Waco or Ruby Ridge - all to confront a man and his father, the latter of whom, in his 70s, politely showed the amassed military force around the property.
Now, about that writer's suggestion that the focus of the story was the conduct of law enforcement, not the actions of the Sowinskis. We plead guilty as charged. That's because the government's behavior is the real story in this entire farce - its unwarranted, totalitarian conduct and what it means for America.
That's not to excuse any illegal activity. Far from it. But when law enforcement itself resorts to illegal activities - and we believe that's the case here - to try to substantiate other illegal conduct, that's far more dangerous to society than an elderly man allegedly trying to rid his farm of a few predators, even if he did it.
Some will argue that illegal conduct is illegal conduct, no matter the perpetrator, and that's true enough. But there's another point: If law enforcement can break the law to apprehend lawbreakers, then it's only a matter of time before they will break the law to apprehend law-abiding citizens. And it's not all that clear that the line wasn't crossed in the Sowinski case.
If law enforcement officers are not bound by the law, what is to stop them from framing innocent citizens whose political agendas they disagree with, or people they just don't happen to like? Nothing. What's to prevent them from planting drugs in a scorned lover's car? Nothing. What's to persuade them not to plant poisoned bait on an innocent farmer's land? Nothing.
Forcing law enforcement to obey the same laws everybody else must obey is the sum and substance of due process. Without the constitutional right to privacy and fairness, without the right of equal protection, without the right to live free from unreasonable search and seizure, there can be no confidence that the people the police are arresting are in fact guilty of anything illegal.
They could instead be political prisoners. And that's why the conduct of the DNR and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in the Sowinski case is so important.
For starters, the wardens searched the property multiple times without search warrants. As expected, DNR legal counsel defended those searches, saying "open fields" are not subject to Fourth Amendment protection - more about that in a moment - and that state law further gives wardens the right to enter private property without permission....

In 2007, for instance, after earlier surveillance cameras had recorded no violations in the wake of rumors and gossip, a DNR warden decided to go to the property to check out - wait for it again - more rumors and gossip.
That's right, according to the warden himself, no specific allegation or evidence sparked Pat Novesky's visit to the Sowinski property in 2007. Rather, he had a "hunch" about a sand pit after hearing "several nonspecific bits of information" over a period of several years. He targeted the sand pit because it was near "a large swamp that would make for easy disposal of animals and allow the bait to be covered by the canopy of trees preventing the dead animals and bait to be seen from above."
Pardon me, I just don't think hunches qualify as a "reasonable" justification to enter and search private land, especially when the intuition is based on idle coffee-shop chatter. The foundation of his legal reason for entry was about as solid as a house built on shifting sands.
So what did Novesky find at the sand pit? Nothing. His hunch was dead wrong, as hunches often are, which is why they shouldn't be considered as reasonable justifications to trespass. So surely Novesky turned around and left, correct? Nope. He kept walking, and walking, until he found a dead eagle and what he considered to be bait: a dead deer.
Was the eagle poisoned? Well, maybe. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife lab "concluded" after testing that the eagle had been poisoned, but that language is suspicious. A test would either confirm poisoning, or not, so why would there have to be conclusions drawn, unless the results were less than convincing and less than certain.


For the most part, I support regular police officers who patrol the streets of our cities.
However, it seems, that many game wardens from different Department of Natural Resources around the nation are more like brown shirted Hitler youth who have nothing better to do than harass and punish law abiding citizens.

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