Two state troopers being investigated for killing seagulls at a Seattle ferry dock with their police batons last week apparently were trying to rid a toll booth of a nest that was attracting aggressive birds, a state wildlife official said today.
Two state troopers being investigated for using their batons to kill seagulls last week at a Seattle ferry dock apparently were trying to rid a toll booth of a nest that was attracting aggressive birds, a state wildlife official said today.
“What has been alleged is that adult seagulls were divebombing and harassing ferry workers and individuals that were coming into the toll booth,” said Bruce Bjork, chief of enforcement for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“There happened to be nest on the toll booth that was attracting the adult birds,” Bjork said. “I believe that the (killings) took place in the nest. What the troopers killed were juvenile birds.”
State fish and wildlife officers are now investigating to determine if the troopers committed a crime. The incident occurred at the Colman Ferry Dock shortly after midnight Thursday.
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Shortly after the incident, the troopers informed their supervisors that they’d killed the birds, State Patrol Capt. Jeff DeVere said today.
“The supervisor decided it raised a red flag,” DeVere said. “These are a protected species and harming them is a misdemeanor. We had to look into why this occurred.”
The troopers are alleged to have used their department-issued ASPs — police batons worn on their gunbelts — to strike and kill the young gulls, DeVere and Bjork both said. The only known witnesses to the incident were state ferry employees who were working at the dock at the time, Bjork said.
“There were some DOT workers there at the scene as well,” Bjork said. “We don’t know how many or who at this point, but that’s part of what our investigators we’ll be looking at.”
State troopers began investigating the incident Thursday, informing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife late Friday, Bjork said. The investigation was officially turned over to the state game department Monday morning, he said.
State fish and wildlife officers, who are dually commissioned as state and federal law enforcement officers, plan to take statements from the troopers and any witnesses, then pass along their findings to the King County Prosecutor’s Office in about two to three weeks, Bjork said. The dead birds have not been taken into evidence, he said.
Seagulls are considered protected wildlife under Washington law.
According to the Revised Code of Washington, a person found guilty of an “unlawful taking,” killing or harming of such protected bird species — including someone who “maliciously destroys the eggs or nests” — has committed a misdemeanor that can fetch a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.
“There is a federal law that protects seagulls, as well,” Bjork said. “We’ll be contacting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and discussing this with their investigators, as well.”
State wildlife officers routinely investigate such cases, Bjork said.
“We have investigated these types of cases before, but not, obviously, with the same fact pattern as we have with this one,” Bjork said.
The troopers — a 13-year and 10-year veteran, both assigned to the state patrol’s Homeland Security Division, which handles terminal and ferry security — have since been put on paid administrative leave while the case is investigated, DeVere said.
Once the criminal case is completed, the State Patrol will also launch an internal investigation to determine if the troopers violated any administrative policies, DeVere said.
“If they had no legitimate reason to kill these seagulls, then obviously that’s not condoned by the Patrol and we will take the appropriate action,” DeVere said. “But we really need to find out what the facts are before we jump to conclusions.”
Lewis Kamb: 206-464-2341 or firstname.lastname@example.org