Dubois man charged with his third wildlife poaching violation since 2007

The female grizzly bear poached by Grove and Brooks in 2015. Both were convicted of the killing. WGFD Image

Kelly J. Grove, 34, of Dubois pled “not guilty” on Tuesday, September 10, 2019 before Judge Robert Denhardt in the 9th District Circuit Court of Lander in another alleged poaching incident..  Grove pled not guilty to 5 counts including Accessory before or after the fact in taking game animals without a license, Accessory before or after the fact in taking game animals without a license, Accessory before or after the fact in using automobiles for hunting, Accessory before or after the fact of hunting from the highway, and Interference with a Peace Officer.

Grove was arrested on August 28, 2019 by Fremont County Sheriff’s Deputies on an arrest warrant issued out of Judge Denhardt’s court for the above wildlife violations.  He remained in jail after his bond hearing on August 30 before Circuit Court Magistrate Adam Phillips.  He spent 6 days in the Fremont County Jail and was released after posting a $10,000 cash bond on September 3.

Grove was previously sentenced on July 2, 2018 on an earlier wildlife case, along with a Casper man, Matthew Brooks, for the Unlawful Taking of Threatened Wildlife for his role in the death of a grizzly bear in September 2015.  Grizzly bears are a federally protected species.

In a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Grove pled guilty to the unlawful taking of a grizzly bear.  In the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming in Casper, Wyoming, Chief United States District Judge Scott Skavdahl ordered Grove to pay $7,000 restitution for the bear and revoked his hunting privileges worldwide for 5 years.  In addition, he was sentenced to 5 years unsupervised probation during which he was ordered not to commit another federal, state, tribal, or local crime.  Grove was also ordered to pay a $25 special assessment.  As part of this global settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s office, Fremont County Attorney’s Office, and Grove, 8 state wildlife charges were not filed on Grove.

The primary defendant in the grizzly case, Matthew J. Brooks, (now 32), formerly of Dubois, in a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, pled guilty and was sentenced on July 23, 2018 in U.S. District Court in Casper.  Judge Skavdahl ordered Brooks to pay $20,000 restitution for the bear and revoked his hunting privileges for 4 years.  Brooks also forfeited his firearm or firearm parts, complete 200 hours of community service, pay a special assessment of $25, and was put on 5 years of unsupervised probation during which time he is to have no violations of law. 

As part of this global settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s office, Fremont County Prosecutor, and Brooks, 5 state wildlife charges were not filed on Brooks.

The grizzly bear case began with a report from the public received by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) of a grizzly bear found dead just below U.S. Forest Service Road 515 near Barber’s Point located between Wind River Lake on Togwotee Pass and Brooks Lake in the Shoshone National Forest northeast of Dubois. A WGFD Game Warden and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Special Agent investigated the bear and found it was an adult female bear shot dead while feeding on an elk carcass.  The G&F had no previous dealings with this bear and it was not considered a problem bear.

USFWS and WGFD officers over the next two years interviewed suspects, witnesses and collected evidence including during a search warrant conducted on Grove’s residence in Dubois.  As a result of this investigation, a total of 8 people were found to have committed state and federal wildlife violations.  Some are still to be located and charged with their crimes.

The tale of how the bear was killed is as intriguing as any mystery novel.  The bear had been observed by some local Dubois residents feeding on a hunter killed elk carcass for several days before Brooks and Grove killed the bear.  The sow was somewhat of a novelty as the bear could be safely observed from a vehicle on the Forest Service Road located above the carcass.  Grove and another man had actually harassed the bear a few days before, throwing rocks and agitating the bear to do some short bluff charges.

According to Brooks, on the night of September 22, 2015, he and Grove were together as Brooks had been hunting elk earlier in the afternoon in the Togwotee Pass area.  The two had been drinking and Grove suggested to Brooks they locate the bear and kill it as it might pose a hazard to either themselves or other hunters that might hunt the Barber’s Point area nearby.  The men drove to the area and at about 11:00 p.m. Brooks turned his vehicle across the forest service road, illuminated the bear on the carcass with his truck’s headlights, and shot it.  They covered their tracks and quickly left the area.  Brooks said they made a “pact” to not talk about killing the grizzly but word soon started to get out in the community and officers started to hear rumors of what had happened.

Brooks said several weeks later, after officers had conducted interviews of suspects and witnesses and completed search warrants, he and Grove and a third man, went up a rural local Dubois road during the night and buried his rifle, ammunition, and other accessories in bags in the ground so the gun could not be found by officers.  Several months later, Brooks, fearing that Grove would recover the rifle or talk too much, retrieved the rifle and reburied it at another location that only he knew of.  Brooks later dug up the gun a second time and took it to a friend who was a gunsmith and had the friend break the gun down and attempt to turn it into a different caliber rifle.

As details and evidence of the crime became overwhelming, Brooks decided to come clean and admit to shooting the bear and relate all the details of what occurred the night the bear was killed.  As a result of his cooperation, the U.S. Attorney’s office and Fremont County Prosecutor’s office entered into a plea deal with Brooks and his attorney to resolve the case with a “global settlement” where the State of Wyoming would not pursue charges for state wildlife violations after Brooks answered to his federal charges.  A similar plea agreement was worked out with Grove and his attorney.

This grizzly bear was just doing what a bear does and had posed no danger to humans nor had any history of negative interactions with humans. In this case, the humans were more dangerous than the bear.  Brooks apologized to the Court and officers for shooting the bear and attributed his actions to a rough time in his life where he was making some poor decisions and also drinking too much.  At sentencing he said he was already a different person than he was three years before when he shot the bear.

The Bighorn sheep ram poached by Grove and McKean in 2006. WGFD Image

Grove also previously pled guilty 1 August 2007 to being an accessory to taking a bighorn ram without a license, waste / abandonment of a bighorn sheep, 2 counts each of waste of a big game animal, and 2 counts each of false oath to obtain resident big game licenses.  The ram was killed illegally in November 2006 by Grove and a Tennessee man, Roger McKean.  Ninth Circuit Court Judge Denhardt fined Grove $2,490, ordered him to pay $1,500 restitution for the ram and revoked his privileges for 3 years.  In addition he was sentenced to 1 year probation, a 30 day suspended jail sentence, and ordered to forfeit a .243 bolt action rifle used in the crimes.