Two officials accused of shooting two bears in the Book Cliff mountains entered not guilty pleas Wednesday during arraignment on charges of illegal possession of protected wildlife and taking the animals without a valid permit.
Moab Police Sgt. Douglas R. Morck and Arthur J. Hobbs, a probation and parole officer for the state, appeared in 7th Circuit Court for arraignment before Judge Bruce Haliday. Defense attorney Loni F. DeLand entered the pleas for both men on each of the two charges, which are Class A misdemeanors.Haliday scheduled a hearing on pretrial motions for Aug. 13 and trial for Aug. 14 for both men. The judge took under advisement a motion filed jointly Wednesday morning by the defense and prosecution seeking change of venue for the trial.
"Such an order may be appropriate," the judge remarked.
DeLand said after court that both sides agreed it would be difficult for a local police detective and probation officer to get a fair trial where they work. "There might be prejudices running either way on that, so we filed a joint motion," he said.
Prosecutor Creighton Horton, an assistant with the Utah attorney general's office, told the judge a full day might be needed to hear pretrial motions because the state intends to call a number of witnesses.
DeLand said he was unsure at this point whether to request trial by jury. He said he will also be filing a motion to suppress on a search and seizure conducted by wildlife officers the night the men were arrested.
"From what we know now, we think it's appropriate to suppress the search on the basis it was warrantless. We'll probably claim it was an unlawful search," DeLand said.
The defense will also ask the court to ascertain whether the state has jurisdiction in the case. The alleged incidents may have occurred on Indian lands, in which case the federal government would have jurisdiction, DeLand said after court.
Morck and Hobbs were arrested May 30 by officers of the Utah Division of Wildife Resources and issued citations in connection with the slaughter of two black bears in a remote area in the mountains that officials place near Flatnose George Canyon on the Ute Indian Reservation.
The suspects were transported to Moab and jailed, then released on their own recognizance later the same day. Officials said skins and heads of two black bears, a cooler containing meat, two rifles and Morck's pickup truck were confiscated as evidence.
Arraignment on the Class A misdemeanor charges was originally set for June 6, then postponed.
After the arrests, DWR area conservation officer Rudy Musclow said officials were considering filing various federal charges in the case because of possible violations on the reservation.
DeLand said after the proceeding that he understood the attorney general's office had reviewed the case and had declined to act on those allegations. Horton affirmed no federal charges had been filed against either suspect.