Man kills bald eagle for taking his fish

Published 10:07 pm Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Smithfield man pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing a bald eagle because it was taking fish from his pond.

Allen H. Thacker, 62, faces a maximum penalty of one year in a prison and a $100,000 fine when sentenced on Oct. 23. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum.

Although no longer listed as an endangered species, bald eagles are protected under a variety of federal laws, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Lacey Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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According to court documents, a witness driving near Mill Swamp Road in Smithfield saw an individual driving a red ATV appear to run over a bald eagle on March 13. The witness described the eagle as a large bird with a white head and white tail. She saw the individual driving the ATV in a circle and running over the bird at least three to four times and then saw him drag the eagle from the field into the woods. The witness reported the incident to authorities.

Conservation police officers from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries were dispatched to investigate. They searched for the eagle and failed to locate it but did learn Thacker owned and had been seen driving a red ATV that day.

The officers interviewed Thacker, and he admitted to shooting the eagle and led them to the dead bird in the woods.

“Thacker stated the eagle had been on his property killing small game and taking fish from his pond and felt the need to protect his property from the eagle,” the court documents stated.

A few days later, Thacker was interviewed by agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Thacker further stated the eagle’s actions upset him because of all the time and effort he has put into taking care of his property so his family (and) friends could enjoy it,” the court document states. “Thacker also expressed his feelings that too much emphasis is placed on bald eagle protection because the birds are a menace and further stated that people with whom he associates feel the same way.”

Thacker told the officers he tried to scare the eagle off with a warning shot, but the eagle did not leave, according to the documents. He then shot the eagle with a .22 caliber rifle and used a pistol to finish it off, he told investigators. He denied running it over with the ATV.

However, a necropsy of the bald eagle found that the eagle died of blunt force trauma to the head. The gunshot wound from the rifle would have immobilized the eagle but not immediately killed it, the medical examiner opined.

“In court records filed with today’s guilty plea, Thacker fully admitted to shooting the bird and running it over with the all-terrain vehicle,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated in a press release.

In addition to the potential prison sentence and fine, Thacker has agreed to forfeit his rifle. He also agreed to forfeit $960, constituting half of the market value of the ATV, rather than the vehicle itself, since it is jointly owned with his sister.

He’ll also pay $1,500 to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund Account.