Lawmaker would rein in Pa. game deputies

July 4, 2008 5:28:28 AM PDT
A Lancaster County lawmaker proposes to strip deputy game wardens of much of their power following a December encounter his son had with a deputy in York County, a newspaper reported Friday. State Sen. Gibson Armstrong, of Refton, said the Pennsylvania Game Commission's deputy wildlife conservation officers have arrest powers, but lack sufficient law enforcement training.

"These deputies have too much power," the Republican, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, told the Intelligencer Journal. "They can arrest anyone, anywhere, at any time, and they're not professionals. They're cowboys with guns."

Armstrong proposed an amendment that would take away deputies' powers to go on private property, stop and inspect vehicles, search people, cabins or camps, or even operate state law enforcement vehicles with lights and sirens.

Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser said it would "basically eviscerate our deputy program" and hurt game law enforcement, particularly during hunting seasons.

Each of Pennsylvania's 135 wildlife conservation districts has only one full-time wildlife conservation officer, and they depend heavily on the nearly 400 deputies, who are not full-time employees, Feaser said.

The amendment was attached to a bill dealing with elk-hunting licenses that Armstrong's committee sent to the full Senate on Wednesday. He said he waited until his son's case was resolved to avoid the appearance he was trying to get charges against his son dropped.

The son, Kristian B. Armstrong, 37, of Airville, pleaded guilty Tuesday to summary offenses of disorderly conduct, resisting or interfering with an officer, failure to produce identification to an officer, and driving away to avoid an inspection. District Judge Douglas Meisenhelter of Red Lion fined him nearly $1,300.

Llewellyn Kauffman, a deputy wildlife conservation officer, said Kristian Armstrong was in one of two cars he found stopped along a road in Lower Chanceford Township on Dec. 1, during firearms deer season, according to a police affidavit.

Kauffman said when he told the men he wanted to check their hunting licenses, Armstrong told him they were not hunting, and when he asked if they had any firearms, Armstrong said they didn't, according to the affidavit. Kauffman said he saw a rifle in Armstrong's vehicle, but as he walked around the vehicle, Armstrong drove off across a field.

Kristian Armstrong told the newspaper the "whole story is a 100-percent fabrication." He said he was patrolling his own property looking for trespassing hunters, and maintained the deputy had no right to inspect his vehicle or demand identification. "Basically what happened is, I didn't give this guy the time of day, and he flipped out," Armstrong said.

He said he pleaded guilty only because the pending charges interfered with getting licenses for his business.


Information from: Intelligencer Journal,