Plea deal offered in bison slaying case
FAIRPLAY ” The software CEO accused in the killing of 32 of his neighbor’s bison is considering a plea agreement to settle the case.
Jeff Hawn appeared at the Park County court house to enter a plea on Monday with his attorney Pam Mackey. Minutes before the hearing was to begin, assistant district attorney Katherine O’Brien asked Mackey to step outside. When they returned for the hearing, Mackey said Hawn needed 30 days to consider a plea agreement that had been offered and Judge Stephen A. Groome agreed.
Neither Mackey nor O’Brien would discuss the details of what had been offered to Hawn, the president and CEO of Seattle-based Attachmate.
The owner of the slain bison, Monte Downare, said he didn’t know what the offer entails but he would like Hawn to pay restitution to help him replace the bison killed, which he estimated to be worth $77,000. He would also like to see him spend time in jail or be convicted of a felony to send a strong message about the importance of Colorado’s fence out law.
Like most states in the West, Colorado requires that property owners who want to keep livestock off their land are responsible for building and maintaining fence to keep the animals out. Livestock owners don’t have to keep their animals fenced in although many choose to do so to protect their animals in a state that has become more crowded.
“That’s where the message needs to be sent. It’s the law. It’s no different from robbing the bank,” Downare said after Hawn’s brief court appearance.
Downare was joined by his wife Tracy and about a dozen members of his extended family, who make their living from Downare’s bison ranch. Downare said it was the first time he had seen Hawn in person in his life.
The dispute between the neighbors started last winter, one of the snowiest in South Park in about 30 years. Hawn’s lawyer sent Downare a letter warning him to keep his bison from straying on to his property.
On March 10, Hawn filed a lawsuit seeking money for damage caused by Downare’s bison. Nine days later Tracy Downare called the sheriff to report that someone was shooting the family’s bison.
Investigators found 32 dead bison on Hawn’s ranch and surrounding properties and detained 14 hunters. According to Hawn’s arrest affidavit, Hawn had written a letter Feb. 18 giving permission to the hunters to shoot the bison.
Downare said Hawn, who lives in Austin, Texas, hasn’t kept his fences in good repair and they’ve been damaged by elk and antelope trying to get through. In addition, he said even good fences were often covered with snow drifts this winter. He said he and his family sometimes had to drive around in subzero weather on snowmobiles to round up missing bison that neighbors had called them about. But he said he never got any such calls from Hawn.
In his lawsuit, Hawn alleged Downare’s bison had turned his land into a “feed lot”. He claimed they had knocked his satellite television dishes off-line and left dung, tracks and hair on “pristine pasture on rolling hills.” He included a photograph of three bison walking past his deck as evidence. That suit is on hold until the criminal case is resolved.
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