Charges are expected to be filed soon against a man Mountlake Terrace Police Department investigators believe to be responsible for a rash of crow shootings earlier this year. Senior police staff provided the update as part of their quarterly report to the Mountlake Terrace City Council at its April 29 work/study session.
Chief Pete Caw said that while the investigation remains ongoing, “we do have a suspect. We have identified the person that was doing that – we’re deciding what way to progress with the prosecutor and wildlife folks at this point in time.” Because it is still an open case, police did not share all of the investigation’s details.
“A lot of our crows were being killed in the city” and surrounding areas. Commander Pat Lowe said, adding he felt that investigators “did a pretty remarkable job at handling this case.”
Police started receiving numerous reports citywide in February and March of dead crows that appeared to have been shot, possibly with a BB or pellet gun. Lowe said investigators compiled 12 active cases involving crows that were shot in Mountlake Terrace, adding that overall between 20-25 dead crows were reported in the greater Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and Brier area.
Several of the deceased birds were taken as evidence to be examined by investigators for evidence such as lead from a pellet or .22 caliber bullet, and some were even scanned by a veterinarian who volunteered to help. “None of the crows had any evidence in them,” Lowe said, which indicated that “whatever this person has been using is fairly high powered because it’s going through the crows.”
Police also contacted the State Department of Fish and Wildlife to help figure out exactly what crimes were committed. Crow hunting is only allowed in Washington state from September through December and is subject to regulations, including requiring permission from landowners.
As the number of reported killings continued to increase, several witnesses reported that a male subject — driving a red Ford Ranger pickup truck with a canopy — was either shooting the crows or was nearby when the killings happened. Some residents even had photos or surveillance videos they were able to share with investigators.
A witness to one of the shootings was able to take a photo of the suspected truck used, including its license plate, shortly after the incident, which then gave police a name to look into. Investigators later received an anonymous tip from a person who had seen video of the truck and reported knowing who its owner was. “Both names came back to the same person,” Lowe said. He also pointed to the various surveillance footage that had helped identify the truck, “Good quality video helps us solve crimes so well,” he said.
Lowe then narrated a nearly two-and-a-half minute compilation of surveillance videos showing crows appearing to be shot, and in which the red Ford Ranger was visible. “Right in the middle of the day, this person is so brazen that he’s going to take some sort of a firearm right out in plain view and do this,” Lowe said while reviewing the footage. Some people may not think shooting crows is a big deal “but that’s not how I look at it,” Lowe continued. “I believe that if this person can do something like this in broad daylight to an animal like this, what is he going to do next? So, I took this very, very seriously.”
The primary detective for the case was able, after several attempts, to make phone contact with the male subject, who stated he would be willing to meet and show the truck to investigators in an effort to rule him out as a suspect. However, Lowe said each time the detective suggested a meeting time and location, “the suspect would be vague, say he didn’t have time to meet and came up with all kinds of excuses.”
After roughly a week of such excuses, investigators decided to wait outside the man’s home one morning in an effort to meet with him when he was leaving for work. He was observed walking in and out of his house multiple times in order to scan the street and look around the neighborhood. “It was pretty clear that he was suspicious that maybe he was being looked at by law enforcement,” Lowe said.
When the man did eventually leave the residence and was stopped by police, he was not driving the red truck, nor was it in the garage or on the property. The suspect said he would not answer any questions without a lawyer, but investigators noticed the vehicle he was driving had a temporary license and appeared to be just recently purchased.
Further scrutiny revealed the suspect had purchased this new vehicle from a nearby dealership, and investigators learned he had traded in a red Ford pickup truck with a canopy and mud flaps that had just recently been removed. “We were able to examine it and clearly identify this was the truck we saw in the video,” Lowe said.
A subsequent search of the truck revealed several items of evidence, including .22 shell casings and pellets. Police later learned that the suspect was being deceptive when they had initially contacted him by phone, and he agreed to meet with detectives at a later date so they could look at his red truck, which at the time he claimed was parked in his garage. “But during that conversation he lied, he didn’t have the truck, he’d already sold it,” Lowe said.
“We’re working with Fish and Wildlife and we’re working on what charges that this particular person is going to face and there’s several,” he added.
— By Nathan Blackwell