By Jacob H. Zoghlin, Esq.
Last week, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (the “DEC”) announced that a Niagara County man had been sentenced for an attack on an Environmental Conservation Police Officer.1 The attack allegedly occurred in 2018 when the defendant was driving an off-road Utility Vehicle (a “UTV”). DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos explained, “the defendant in this case purposely injured our officer in an attempt to evade charges, and I thank the Niagara County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney … for their help in bringing this case to justice.”
According to a DEC Press release, the Environmental Conservation Police Officer (the “ECPO”) responded to a report of trespassing on private property, and found the defendant and another man at the scene operating a UTV and an All-Terrain Vehicle (an “ATV”). Both men refused the ECPO’s order to stop. When the officer attempted to place the defendant under arrest, the defendant again refused to stop the UTV, and ended up dragging the ECPO while fleeing the scene. After being dragged for an estimated 400 yards, the officer reportedly sustained injuries to his forehead, as well as cuts and bruises to his arms and legs.
The DEC Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation led the search for the two men, with assistance from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office and the New York State Police. The case was prosecuted by the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office. The defendant (the UTV driver) eventually pled guilty to assault in the third degree (a Class A misdemeanor), was sentenced by a Town Justice to one year in jail, and was ordered to pay $2,237 in restitution to the State for equipment that was destroyed during the assault.
The driver of the ATV, who had previously plead guilty to attempted reckless endangerment (a Class B misdemeanor) and ATV trespassing (a violation), paid $1,030 in fines and surcharges.
If these two men had just stopped when they were ordered to, they likely would’ve only been charged with ATV trespassing or a minor violation. Instead, their poor reaction in this situation led to more severe charges and sentences. This case highlights something that is obvious to most — you shouldn’t interfere with an investigation, refuse lawful orders, or assault an officer.
When faced with a government investigation, it’s important to respond calmly, deliberately, and peacefully. Being evasive, violent, or antagonistic will just land you in more trouble. If you find yourself the subject of an environmental investigation, you need to make sure you understand the reasons for the investigation, and get advice from a knowledgeable person who can help.
For inquiries related to environmental investigations, or questions about environmental law issues in New York State, please contact Jacob H. Zoghlin, Esq. or Mindy L. Zoghlin, Esq at The Zoghlin Group, PLLC.
1 See “DEC Announces Sentencing of Man for 2018 Assault on an Environmental Conservation Police Officer,” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Public Involvement and News, Press Release, June 6, 2019, available at http://www.dec.ny.gov/press/117194.html.
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