By: GEORGE TRESNAK
The Park Falls Herald
Last Updated: Wednesday, January 07th, 2004 03:18:53 PM
PARK FALLS -- Mayor Eugene Schneider has declined comment
on five counts of hunting violations that he faces in Price County Circuit
Court involving his alleged illegal shooting of an eight-point buck on Oct.
The Park Falls Herald asked Schneider to comment after the
Wisconsin Outdoor News broke the story about the charges last week.
Schneider also declined comment on a statement attributed
by the Wisconsin Outdoor News to Rusk County District Attorney Kathleen
Pakes that she expects Schneider's attorney, Dave Deda of Phillips, to
defend Schneider from the point of view that the DNR was picking on
Schneider because he supported Voices of Wisconsin (VOW) during the deer
baiting/feeding ban discussion last year.
Price County District Attorney Mark Fuhr appointed Pakes
as special prosecutor in the case, claiming that he has a conflict, and
Pakes filed two misdemeanor and three "forfeiture" charges against
Schneider in Price County Circuit Court in late December.
Schneider did note in response to a question by The Herald
concerning Pakes' statement speculating on Deda's
defense plans that although he supported VOW's position at a meeting hosted
by the organization in Park Falls, he did not contribute to the organization
and was not a member.
Schneider said Deda, who was on an excursion with a
scouting group in the Bahamas and wasn't expected to return until this week,
had advised him not to make any public comment on the charges.
Schneider is scheduled to make an initial appearance in
Price County Circuit Court at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, and said he would
grant a full interview following disposition of the case.
Among questions he declined to comment on were an
accusation quoted in the complaint, as allegedly stated in an eight- page
letter to Fuhr and DNR Regional Warden Mike Bartz in Spooner, that DNR
wardens Dan Michels and Kendall Frederick had coerced him into signing a
He is quoted in the complaint as stating in the letter
that the statement he signed was untrue. The statement was put together
following what Park Falls Police Chief Scott Straetz described as "mediation" that
he provided between Schneider and the two wardens after Schneider called Straetz and asked him to go to the
cabin where he was being questioned by the wardens.
Straetz emphasized that his role was entirely unofficial,
and that he went to the cabin strictly as Schneider's friend in response to
Schneider's phone call on the night of Oct. 26 when the wardens alleged that
the violations had occurred.
The complaint states that Straetz arrived in civilian
clothing and his private vehicle. Straetz told The Herald that when
Schneider called him, the mayor told him that the two wardens were on his
property but that they would not provide him any information about what was
going on. He said Schneider asked him to come to the cabin to help him get
Emphasizing again that he did not go to the cabin in any
official capacity, and that "the police department was not involved," Straetz
said that he basically advised Schneider to tell the wardens the truth during
what he called his mediation of the conversation between the
wardens and Schneider.
"After my mediation, Gene and Michels went into Michels'
pickup truck," Straetz said.
He said he assumed the reason was to continue the
discussion that led to the statement that Schneider signed.
"I was not privy to the conversation," Straetz said.
In the eight-page letter to Fuhr and Bartz as quoted in
the complaint, Schneider claimed that he shot the buck at 5:10 p.m., not
6:15 p.m. as alleged by Michels. Schneider charged that Michels refused to
let him read the statement, and wouldn't let him go home until he signed the
He is quoted in the complaint as saying in the letter that
he was "coerced to sign each page, without reading it, so that I could
go home, get my pain medications, and go to bed."
Michels didn't know when asked by The Herald whether the
DNR would address, separately from the court case, Schneider's charge that
he and Frederick had coerced the mayor into signing the statement. He said
he understood Schneider had sent the original to Fuhr, and also sent a copy
to Bartz. He said he understood that Bartz met with
Schneider after receiving the copy of the letter.
Bartz confirmed, when asked by The Herald whether he had
met with Schneider about the letter, that he had met with the mayor. He said
the meeting followed a conference call between him, the mayor and the
regional DNR superintendent, who also received a copy
of the letter from Schneider.
He said Schneider sent copies of the letter to a number of
people, both inside and outside of the DNR.
Bartz said he addressed Schneider's charge that the
wardens coerced him into signing the statement on Oct. 26 "one on one" in
the conference call and the direct meeting with the mayor after that call.
He said if the DNR addresses the mayor's allegation
separately from the court case, it won't be until after disposition of the
Bartz said it will be up to the court to determine if
Schneider was coerced into signing the statement. He said if the court
determines the mayor's signature was coerced on Oct. 26, the statement
bearing Schneider's signature will be thrown out.
He said the special prosecutor and court system provide an
objective third party to make that determination, and he didn't feel that he
or anyone else should try to influence their decision.
The Herald asked Straetz about a reference by Michels in
the complaint that he had observed Schneider talking with two uniformed
police officers in the parking lot when the warden drove to a DNR building
to place the buck in cold storage after leaving the cabin. Straetz said he
had no idea what that was about or why it is in the complaint.
A copy of the the statement which Schneider allegedly
claimed in the letter to Fuhr and Bartz had been coerced is included in the
complaint. It reads:
"I, Gene A. Schneider, have been informed that I am not
under arrest. I am free to leave, and am making this statement voluntarily.
"My wife and I bought archery tags prior to the archery
season and I hunted alone at my deer stand on Town Hall Road. My wife has
hunted with me on her brother's, Ken Slack, property west of Park Falls
"I bait the stand every day. Usually myself or my friend,
Willis Blevins, baits it for me when I am out of town. I have hunted the
stand on Town Hall Rd. since about the second week of the season.
"I usually turn the motion/heat sensing light on which is
positioned on the back of my stand and pointed at the bait to illuminate
deer and other animals while I am hunting. I have seen several does and
bucks as well as raccoon, grey fox, partridge and red squirrels near the
bait while hunting with the light.
"Without using bait I don't see as many deer or other
animals. I also see many animals at the cabin when I am not hunting. I shot
at a large buck from the stand on Town Hall Road about a week and a half
ago. I shot the buck a couple of hours before dark. I got help tracking
buck, but we never found it. We looked until 9-10 p.m. the night I shot it
with Ken Slack and his friend.
"The next day I looked again with Jerry Ernst and others,
and we didn't find the deer. After losing the first buck, I kept hunting
the stand on Town Hall Road. I keep the crossbow cocked and a bolt locked
sitting on the table on the left. I sit on a chair facing out the opened
window on the back of the stand.
"If no deer come in, I shut the light off, take the arrow
off the bow and case the crossbow. I usually take the bow with me when I
leave. I usually don't hunt from the stand later than 7:45 p.m. Sometimes
"On October 26, 2003, I arrived at the stand on Town Hall
Rd. at about 3:30-3:45 p.m. I put the crossbow on the table and put an arrow
on it. I also put bait out which consisted of apples, corn, soybeans and
sunflower seeds. After putting bait out I went back in the stand and sat
the chair and on the bed for awhile.
"At about 6:10 p.m. I went to my truck to get some more
.22 caliber shells and loaded my .22 rifle because two raccoons came into
my lighted bait pile and I wanted to shoot them.
"About five minutes after getting back in the stand an
8-point buck came into the bait from the left and walked up to the bait.
I picked up the crossbow and aimed at the buck's lung area, which I could
easily see through my scope and light over the bait pile.
"I shot at the buck and it took off. I couldn't tell if I
hit it or not. I waited about 5-10 minutes and then went out to look for
the arrow. I had called Willis before looking for the arrow to tell him
I shot a
"I did not find the arrow but found blood. I decided to go
back to the stand and wait for help and to give the deer time to die. I met
Michels by the front door of the cabin. I went with
Michels and we followed the blood and found the buck. As far as the deer
my wife registered earlier in the season, she shot it herself with her
had my wife's back tag with me only because I hang on to it for her when
we hunt together."
A "probable cause" narrative in the complaint reads:
"On October 6, 2003, Price County Conservation Warden Dan
Michels received an anonymous complaint that Eugene Schneider was hunting
after hours with the aid of a floodlight and bait pile at a cabin located
Town Hall Road in the town of Eisenstein, Price County. Warden Michels knows
that it is illegal to hunt wild animals after hours and it is illegal to
shine wild animals while hunting or possessing weapons.
"Michels conducted surveillance on the cabin on Oct. 19,
20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 26, 2003. The cabin is a small, one-room structure,
approximately 10x12 feet situated on a wooded lot just east of Park Falls
"On October 19, 2003, warden Michels observed the cabin
from 4-8 p.m. Shortly after dusk, Michels observed the floodlight come on,
and remain on until 7:45 p.m. A few minutes after the light went off, the
defendant, who was alone, and wearing an archery tag on his back, came
of the cabin with a cased crossbow, got into his truck, and drove away.
Warden Michels knows that hunting hours ended at 6:30 p.m. on October 19.
"On October 20, 2003, Warden Michels observed the
floodlight come on at 6:30 p.m. and stay on until 7:44 p.m. The defendant
then exited the cabin with a cased crossbow and was wearing a back tag.
left the property in his truck at 7:47 p.m. Hunting hours ended at 6:28 p.m.
"On October 23, 2003, Warden Michels observed the cabin
from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Michels saw the floodlight come on at 6:28 p.m. At
6:32 a gray fox wandered into the illuminated area near a bait pile. At
about 7:18 the floodlights turned off, and then on about 30 seconds later.
Warden Michels heard a deer snort to the south of the cabin. A few minutes
later the light turned off and then on again. As the light turned on, Warden
Michels again heard a deer snort. At 7:48 p.m. the light turned off and
defendant walked out of the cabin, wearing his back tag, with a cased
"On October 26, 2003, Warden Michels began observing the
cabin at 5:20 p.m. At that time, the floodlight was on, and remained on,
the entire time Michels conducted surveillance. At
approximately ten minutes after six, Michels observed
the defendant step out of the cabin, walk to his truck, and return to the
cabin. A few minutes later, Michels observed an 8-point buck walk into the
illuminated area by the cabin.
"Warden Michels, looking through binoculars, noted that
the deer had a set of antlers 12-14 inches wide with four points on each
side. Michels noted that the two end points on the left antler were
partially broken off and shorter than the end points on the right side.
"As he was observing the buck, Michels heard what he knows
from his training and experience to be a crossbow discharge, heard the arrow
hit the deer, and heard the deer crash into the woods. Michels
simultaneously saw the buck flinch, spin around, and run to the south,
southwest. Michels looked at his wristwatch, which read 6:15 p.m. and wrote
that time on the palm of his right hand with his pen. Michels knows that
hunting hours ended at 5:18 p.m. on October 26, 2003.
"Michels then called Warden Kendall Frederick to let
Frederick know Michels had witnessed a deer shot after
hours with an artificial light.
Records from warden Michels' cell phone show that this
call was placed to warden Frederick's home at 6:13 p.m.
"Michels continued to watch the cabin. About five minutes
after the buck ran off, the yard light on the east of the cabin turned on.
The defendant exited the cabin with a flashlight and went to the area where
the buck had been standing. Michels observed the defendant look around
the ground with a flashlight.
"Michels then walked out of the woods towards the cabin.
Michels identified himself to the defendant. The defendant invited Michels
into the cabin, a small one room structure. The defendant was alone. Michels
observed a loaded .22 caliber rifle and two boxes of ammo sitting on a
and a cased crossbow on a table on the opposite side of the cabin.
"The defendant stated he had just loaded the rifle and was
going to shoot raccoons. Michels noted two chairs in the center of the cabin
facing a window with an unobstructed view of an illuminated bait pile.
bait pile was about 13 yards from the cabin. The defendant claimed he shot
a buck at 5 p.m. and was just now going out to look for it.
"Michels and the defendant went out to the bait pile which
consisted of corn, apples and other material. Michels observed drops of
blood which he and the defendant followed into the woods. About 60 yards
south-southwest of the bait pile Michels observed a dead 8-point buck
the same rack he had witnessed through the binoculars. Michels photographed
the deer. He and the defendant returned to the cabin.
"Warden Michels called Warden Frederick at Frederick's
Phone records show Michels placed this call to Warden
Frederick's cell phone at 6:28 p.m. Warden Frederick arrived shortly
thereafter at the cabin.
"The defendant commented that he had prior connections
with attorney Scott Hassett, who was currently the DNR secretary and that
he also had connections with the current Price County district attorney.
defendant stated that the DNR was picking on him because he disagreed with
the ban on baiting.
"The defendant used his cell phone to call a personal
friend, Scott Straetz, who came out to the cabin (in
civilian clothing and his personal vehicle) to speak with the defendant.
After Mr. Straetz arrived and spoke with the defendant, the defendant agreed
to give a truthful statement to warden Michels.
"The defendant told Michels he arrived at the cabin
shortly after 3:30 p.m. Upon arrival, he put out a bait pile, consisting
of apples, corn, soybeans and sunflower seeds. The defendant stated he
turns the motion/heat sensing light on and pointed at the bait to illuminate
deer and other animals while he hunts. The defendant stated that at about
6:10 p.m. he went out to his truck to get .22 shells to load into his rifle
because two raccoons came into the lighted bait pile and he wanted to shoot
"He returned to the cabin and about five minutes later an
eight-point buck came into the bait pile. The defendant stated he picked
up the crossbow. The buck was easily seen through the scope and under the
"The defendant stated that he shot the crossbow, and the
deer took off. A few minutes later the defendant went outside to look.
Michels reduced the defendant's statements to writing and went over it with
The defendant made corrections and additions. The
defendant signed the statement (a copy of which is attached and incorporated
"Michels also found that the defendant was carrying his
wife's archery tag in his back tag holder. The defendant stated that he
always carries his wife's tag for her.
"Wardens Frederick and Michels left the cabin at 10:30
p.m. The defendant remained at the cabin with Mr. Straetz. The wardens
transported the buck to the evidence locker at the DNR service center in
After Michels put the deer in storage, he observed the
defendant driving from the north on 3rd Avenue and pull into the parking lot
next to two uniformed Park Falls police officers. Michels observed the
defendant speak with the officers for about 10 minutes and then leave the
parking lot at about 11:30 p.m., driving south on 3rd Avenue.
"A few days later the defendant sent an 8-page letter to
the Regional Supervisor for the DNR, Warden Bartz. (The statement was also
sent to the Price County district attorney).
"Warden Bartz forwarded that statement to Warden (Dave)
Oginski, Park Falls Area Supervisor. In that statement, the defendant
recanted much of what he had told Michels the evening of October 26.
"In his new statement, the defendant claimed that he had
shot the deer at 5:10 p.m., before hunting hours closed. The defendant
claimed DNR Wardens Frederick and Michels coerced him into making a false
statement. The defendant claimed that warden Michels refused to let him
(defendant) read the statement and that Michels told him he could not go
home until he signed the statement. The defendant stated he was 'coerced
sign each page without reading it,' so that 'I could go home, get my pain
medications, and go to bed.'"
Schneider faces maximum fines totaling $9,000, and varying
jail terms for each count, with a maximum jail term of six months each for
the two misdemeanor counts.
The complaint identifies count one as the illegal shining
of deer, an unclassified misdemeanor. Schneider is accused under that count
of using "a light for shining deer while hunting deer with a crossbow,
contrary to sec. 29.314(3)(a)Wis. stats., a misdemeanor." It states that
upon conviction, he "shall be fined not less than $1,000 nor more than
$2,000 or imprisoned not more than 6 months or both and, in addition, the
court shall order the revocation of all approvals issued to the person under
this chapter and shall prohibit the issuance of any new approval under this
chapter for three years and confiscation of equipment used during incident."
The complaint also identifies count 2 as the "illegal
shining of deer, also an unclassified misdemeanor. Schneider is accused
under that count of shining deer while in possession of a firearm, a
misdemeanor under the same code section as count one, with the same maximum
fine and/or prison sentence, and the same provision for a judge's order
revocation of chapter 29 privileges for up to three years and for
confiscation of equipment used during the incident..
The complaint identifies count three as the illegal
shining of wild animals, a forfeiture offense contrary to sec.
Schneider is accused of using a light for shining wild
animals while hunting or in possession of a firearm, bow and arrow or
crossbow. Upon conviction he could be fined not more than $1,000 under the
code section, and under code section 29.971(12), the court could order the
revocation of all chapter 29 privileges for a period of up to three years.
The complaint identifies count four as possession of
another's license, a forfeiture offense contrary to sec. 29.024(2)(e), Wis.
Stats. He is accused of possessing a license issued to another person while
Upon conviction, he could be fined not more than $2,000,
and in addition, as with the count 3 forfeiture, the court could order the
revocation of all chapter 29 privileges for a period of up to three years.
The complaint identifies count five as hunting deer after
hours, a forfeiture offense contrary to Administrative Code NR 10.06(2)(b).
Schneider is accused of hunting after established hunting hours, "namely
after 5:18 p.m." Upon conviction, he could be fined not more than $2,000,
and in addition, as with the counts 3 and 4 forfeitures, the court could
order revocation of chapter 29 privileges for up to three years.
If Schneider pursues the defense that the DNR was picking
on him because he supported VOW's position during a public hearing on a
proposed permanent baiting and feeding ban at the Park Falls High School
Auditorium on March 19, 2003, he apparently can't count on any public
support for his position from VOW.
The charges against Schneider were the lead story in the
Saturday, Jan. 3, issue of The Daily Press of Ashland, and the story
recalled comments by Schneider at the hearing that Park Falls police
officers would not enforce the baiting/ feeding ban if it were enacted. It
was one of a series of hearings on the controversial DNR proposal, which
ultimately was defeated.
Responding to questions from The Daily Press about
Schneider's comments at the hearing, VOW Vice President Casey Edwards said
that Schneider "did some pretty courageous things as mayor."
But, he told the newspaper that for Schneider's attorney
to use the mayor's comments as a defense would be "kind of weak."
"The DNR has more class than that. I don't think the DNR
would target any one person. They're not being vindictive," Edwards
was quoted as saying.
The hearing, attended by about 200 people, followed a VOW
meeting at the Park Falls High School auditorium weeks earlier, attended by
about 400 people, most of them opposed to the proposed baiting/feeding ban.
Most of those attending the March 19 hearing also were
opposed to the proposal, and the majority in the crowd were pleased at
Schneider's comments. According to The Herald's report of that meeting,
Schneider at one point in his comments appeared to be inviting defiance
within the city limits of any future permanent ban on feeding.
According to that report, Schneider, his voice rising as
he warmed up to the subject, said city officers would not enforce the ban
unless he is personally told by Gov. Jim Doyle or the attorney general that
they must do so.
Calling it an economic issue, Schneider said what is
supposed to be over a $1 billion deer-hunting industry in the state was
likely to drop to a $1 million industry soon under a baiting and feeding
As he did at the Jan. 22 VOW meeting, Schneider again
noted that he chaired a state committee (Wisconsin Hunting & Fishing
Alliance) working on a favorable vote on a constitutional amendment to
guarantee the right to hunt and fish, and urged "yes" votes on
the constitutional amendment.
Schneider expanded on that position a few days later when
he addressed members of the Park Falls Area Chamber of Commerce at the
organization's spring banquet at Moose Jaw resort on March 27.
Schneider, substituting as featured speaker for Dan
Gunderson, executive director of the Wisconsin Hunting & Fishing Alliance,
said his first task, both as Gunderson's substitute and as president of the
alliance, was to urge everyone to vote the following Tuesday in favor of
proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to fish, hunt, trap
and take game.
Schneider said that hunting and fishing then was a
privilege under the law, but with adoption of the amendment, it would become
When Schneider completed what he said was his wish and
obligation to spread the alliance's message about the April 1 vote, he said
he was both putting on his mayor's hat and joining in solidarity with others
concerned about what he said would be a devastating effect on the local
economy of the DNR's proposed permanent baiting and
Claiming the temporary ban had already done a considerable
amount of damage by reducing the numbers of deer hunters the previous
season, he said three-quarters of the DNR conservation wardens and DNR
personnel in northern Wisconsin were opposed to a permanent ban.
Referring to the baiting of deer as a right, Schneider
told the chamber members the DNR was trying to take that right away. He said
hunter surveys determined that hunting was down the previous year, not
because of chronic wasting disease, but because of the baiting ban.
Schneider told the chamber audience that the Park Falls
Common Council voted unanimously to go on record in opposition to the
baiting and feeding ban, reflecting the sentiments of the majority of the
He urged that members of the audience contact the DNR with
their comments opposed to a permanent ban before the deadline at the end of
March, and also urged that they contact State Sen. Russell Decker, State
Rep. Mary Williams, and Steve Willett of the Natural Resources Board to urge
that they vote against a permanent ban.
Since the story appeared in the Wisconsin Outdoor News
last week, some people have contacted The Herald to complain that they had
to read about the charges Schneider faces in a newspaper from outside the
community, rather than in The Herald.
Some contended that if they, their relatives or friends
faced such charges, that information would be published in The Herald
Information about charges might appear immediately under
The Herald's policy if they were felonies and were already filed with the
Price County Clerk of Court, or if they were misdemeanor charges against a
high-profile person and were already filed with the clerk of court.
When The Herald received tips that the mayor allegedly was
being charged with hunting violations, the newspaper immediately checked
with the clerk of court's office to see if charges had been filed.
Upon finding that no such charges had been filed, The
Herald contacted District Attorney Fuhr, who declined to reveal outright
that Schneider faced such charges. Fuhr said such charges had been filed
against an individual, and he had appointed Pakes as special prosecutor for
those charges because he had a conflict.
Pakes confirmed that Fuhr had appointed her special
prosecutor for charges against Schneider, but because of case load, she
probably wouldn't get around to making a decision on whether to prosecute
based on the DNR warden's information until sometime in February.
The Herald's efforts to get information from Michels,
Warden Supervisor Dave Oginski, Fuhr and Pakes were unsuccessful, but Pakes
finally said that since it was a high- profile case, she would get to it
sooner than she would have otherwise.
She assured The Herald that she would fax a copy of the
complaint to The Herald if and when she filed a complaint with the Price
County Clerk of Court. That was just days before the Wisconsin Outdoor News
story appeared, quoting a complaint filed by Pakes in Price County Circuit
Court on Dec. 19.
The Herald called Pakes for an explanation. She was not
in, but a staff member said she doesn't ordinarily fax copies to newspapers
and that it was up to the newspaper to find out from the clerk of court's
office whether charges had been filed in any case.
The Herald then called Dean Bortz of Wisconsin Outdoor
News to see if he had received a faxed copy of the complaint from Pakes. He
said Pakes told him she had faxed The Herald a copy of the complaint. The
Herald never received the fax.
The Herald does not have access to DNR incident reports
providing details of investigations as it does with the Park Falls Police
Department and Price County Sheriff's Department. The newspaper's stories
based on the police department's and sheriff's department's incident reports
do not include the names of those accused.
Names of those charged with felonies after being
identified in incident reports may be published in stories in the newspaper,
including information about details of the charges, after the felony charges
are filed with the clerk of court and again after disposition of the case or
Names of those identified in incident reports but only
charged with misdemeanors or forfeiture offenses are not usually included
in news stories prior to their court dates. Their names only appear after
disposition of their cases, and only in the "court news" fine