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AZ Press: Gila poisons profs record

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Tue Aug 29 16:25:09 2006  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  

YUMA SUN (Arizona) 26 August 06 Gila monster poisons professor's criminal record (James Gilbert)
Gila monsters spend 98 percent of their lives underground ó which makes Tod Reeder a lucky man.
Reeder was able to capture one of the reptiles at the local Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in May 2005.
But once local wildlife officials accidentally stumbled upon the capture, Reeder's luck started running out.
Reeder, an assistant professor of biology at San Diego State University, has been involved in reptile research for the last 15 years. He has scientific collecting permits from the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to capture and transport wildlife during certain times of the year.
But, Gila monsters have been untouchable in Arizona since 1952.
And that's what landed Reeder in Yuma's court system.
"It was an interesting case, in that it involved aspects of both environmental and criminal law," said Robert Way, a prosecutor with the Yuma County Attorney's Office.
Way's work on the case not only resulted in Reeder's conviction but also a change of state law that does more than just slap Reeder on the wrists.
Reeder declined to discuss the matter in a phone interview.
"The whole (Gila monster) incident was a very heartbreaking and painful episode for me, largely because I did not realize that I had collected it illegally," Reeder wrote in an e-mail to The Sun.
But Way disagrees.
"If anybody should have known about taking it illegally, it would have been a professor in biology, with a specialty in herpetology," Way said.
Reeder captured the live Gila monster on a trip with some of his students to the Kofa Refuge on May 7, 2005. Reeder returned to San Diego ó with the reptile, according to the state Game and Fish department.
Reeder's scientific collecting permit did not allow for this type of capture and he did not have a permit from Fish and Wildlife to collect on the refuge, according to Game and Fish officials.
His permit specifies what he can collect and where, and also advises him that he needs to obtain additional permits from federal land managing agencies to collect on their lands, according to Way.
Reeder has been collecting reptiles at the Kofa refuge for three out of the past five years, according to Game and Fish.
Shortly after Reeder's return to San Diego, the state Game and Fish said, one of his students posted a photo of the Gila monster on the Internet at
And it just so happened that state wildlife officials stumbled upon the Web site.
Game and Fish officials began an investigation, with help from U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agents.
"You can't take Gila monsters," Way said. "They are never in season and can never be captured when they are alive."
As a result, the state Game and Fish department brought misdemeanor charges against Reeder for capturing during a closed season and for the transport of unlawfully taken wildlife.
He pleaded guilty to both counts in Yuma Justice Court in September 2005 and was sentenced a $311 suspended fine for capturing out of season. The judge dismissed the unlawful transport charge. The Gila monster has since been returned to the Kofa National Wildlife refuge.
Immediately after his sentence, Reeder filed an application with Yuma Justice Court to have his conviction set aside to clear his record of the incident, and a hearing was set.
When state wildlife officials learned of this application, they contacted Way saying they would not be able to revoke Reeder's permit if his conviction was set aside.
"In effect there was a de minimis punishment," Way said. "Because Reeder got a punishment that didn't amount to much, AZGFD wanted the option to be able to revoke the permit. That option would not have existed had the court set aside his conviction."
Way went after Reeder, again ó and won in court a second time.
Way filed a motion in Justice Court in September opposing Reeder's conviction being set aside, and the judge ruled in his favor.
"The Yuma County Attorney's Office, I'm told, is not only the first office to file that type of motion, but the only office," Way said.
Since Reeder's application was denied, state Game and Fish officials still had the ability to revoke Reeder's scientific collecting permit, which was still valid at that time.
State wildlife officials revoked Reeder's permit in February for five years and he cannot capture wildlife in 33 states ó including his home state of California ó due to the Wildlife Violator Compact.
Game and Fish officials then used Reeder's case, including's Way's motion, and another case to sway state lawmakers to add an amendment to state law that prevents courts from setting aside convictions for crimes involving the taking or wounding of wildlife.
Gila monster poisons professor's criminal record


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