Governor Pence to review Connersville deer case as support for couple grows

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Indiana Governor Mike Pence says he will review the details of a case involving a Connersville couple who were charged with illegally possessing a white-tailed deer.

The Department of Natural Resources filed that misdemeanor charge against Jeff and Jennifer Counceller after the couple took in a wounded deer in the summer of 2010.

Jennifer Counceller said the deer, which they named Dani, had been badly injured by a coyote and would have died if she and her husband hadn’t taken her in.

“If they find us guilty, then we’re found guilty,” Jennifer said.  “But at least we stood strong on what our beliefs are and what we did for Dani.”

The Counsellers built an enclosure for Dani on their rural Connersville property.  They said they tried unsuccessfully to obtain a rescue permit after DNR Conservation Officers learned of Dani’s presence.

Dani lived on their property until last year, when she mysteriously disappeared on the same day DNR had planned to euthanize her. Jennifer says she doesn’t know exactly how Dani got away, but admits that Dani had many friends and supporters who could have come by and let her lose into the wild.

The Councellers said they didn’t know they were breaking the law at the time.  Looking back on it, they don’t deny that what they did was against state law.  But that doesn’t change their mind about what they did.

“I totally feel that I did what was right and in the end. God is my only judge, so I don’t have to answer to anybody down here,” Jennifer said.

The case has drawn international attention.  A Facebook page dedicated to dropping the charges had surpassed 31,000 “likes” as of Wednesday evening.  On Twitter, the case has a hashtag of #bambigate.

Multiple requests for comment from DNR and the prosecutor handling the case have been denied. Although the DNR often puts out comments and press releases about arrests and charges -including a man arrested for shooting a turkey out of season in December- they refuse to comment on this case.

Now, Indiana Governor Mike Pence said he will hold a meeting to review the details of the case.

“At this time, it appears our conservation officers acted appropriately and in a manner consistent with Indiana law,” Governor Pence said.  “But we’re looking into it.”

Pence’s comments came after Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma called for a meeting with the Governor to review the case. Pence’s initial comments seem to support the case against the Councellers.

“We all admire compassion for an injured animal,” Pence said.  “Hoosier cherish our animals.  But this is a state of laws, and as Governor of the state of Indiana, my focus is going to be to make sure that our laws are fairly and impartially enforced.”

Jennifer Counceller thinks the legislature needs to review the law which applied to her case.

“I’m not denying that we had the deer, and that they’re saying that was against the law,” she said.  “But it was what was the right thing to do.”

Counceller said she is prepared to fight the charges all the way, even if it means going to jail.

The class A misdemeanor charge carries a $500 fine and possible sentence of up to six months. The Councellers have a pretrial hearing scheduled for Feb. 20.  Their trial is set for March. Since Jeff Counceller is a Connersville Police Officer in Fayette County, the case is being handled by a special prosecutor in Decatur County.

Meantime, Dani the deer seems to be doing fine these days. Jennfer said Dani has joined a group of deer who occasionally come to drink from a pond on their property.  They said they see her from time to time.  She looks to be healthy, according to Jennifer.

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47 comments

  • No name

    All Gov. Pence had to do is call DNR Law Enforcement head Scotty Wilson and this could have been over before all this bull.. There is a lot of pressure on field officers to make arrest, almost a quota………
    ask some field officers

  • Martha

    They didn't do anything wrong, they took in an animal in need, cared for it and then released it into the woid. Dear Government, get the heck out of the way and let WE THE PEOPLE USE OUR BRAINS to be good CITIZENS! Thanks and God Bless!

    • Dan

      No…they took in an animal in need, cared for it, penned it in and kept it as a pet for two years, then released it into the wild….caring and rehabilitating it was not the problem here…it was the part about keeping a wild animal as a pet without a permit, which they were denied and then STILL kept the deer penned.

  • Tracy

    If you all knew how many average people a year have charges put against them for the same thing as this officer and his wife have done would you all fight for ALL of those people? Do you all realize that this Deer was 2 years old when released and it does not know it even IS a deer! It was rehabed wrong. They have to be raised with others of their kind. They have to be kept away from people and not pet on or played with. This Deer has more than likely died because it wasn't taken to a trained rehabilater. You are letting your emotions rule. Think about it, The DNR has rules in place to protect people from all the illness that wildlife carry. And to protect the wildlife from untrained people. The wife was a nurse not a VET. Support the DNR and your local trained, legally permited rescuers!

    • Robert

      Tracy, Based on the information the DNR wanted to euthanize the Deer, I don't think they were properly trained or knew what the heck they were doing. Clearly the wife did a good job nursing the deer back to health, which beats the heck out of the DNR's desire to kill the deer.

    • Cindy Bouchard

      And where were those "locally trained legally permitted rescuers" when that deer was suffering from a coyote attack? Why should, in ANY scenario, the rescuers be punished?

    • Paulo Franco

      "Meantime, Dani the deer seems to be doing fine these days. Jennfer said Dani has joined a group of deer who occasionally come to drink from a pond on their property. They said they see her from time to time. She looks to be healthy, according to Jennifer."

      A year later and the deer seems to be doing just fine in the wild…

    • Thodddy

      Obviously it would help if you read the article first. Then you would know that Dani obviously knows full well that she's a deer, otherwise she wouldn't be hanging out in a herd of other deer and showing up to have a drink at the local pond from time to time. You are letting your opinion override comprehension of factual information.

  • Mary

    What a political Hack! This is the most ridiculous waste of time and money. Why can't the deer be turned over to a petting zoo or a wildlife refuge? I am sorry but maybe there needs to be emotions involved in the cold hearted decisions the Wildlife department makes and we need to be heard that this callous behavior is not acceptable. This is a case where the deer was rehabilitated and it is after the fact. We just had an incidence here in Utah javascript:%20postComment(0);where 3 mountain lions were shot by DWR for killing a dog. The mountains lions came out of the mountains in heavy snow looking for food. Duh..these people moved into their habitat not vice versa. Sorry, but I am on the side of the animals. Man has become the terrorist here with their thirst for control of the WILD animals. One day if they have their way, there will be no wild animals. Is that cool? Each case needs to be looked at individually and not lumped into a generalized law. Again this case is a hack and is being used for political gain. There needs to be a better wildlife management program than what is in place. And yes, we need to fight for the animals because they cannot. We have already overran their territory. What next for them–extinction if man doesn't get his head on straight.

  • Tyler Durden

    i think i need a law that protects me from people like Tracy who want to rule the world with laws, soon you will have so many laws you can't sneeze without facing a fine, you won't be able to breath the air without paying for it. Get a clue because its people like you that are destroying this country, and if you are from another country go back there, and if by chance you are from the US and born and raised here. Lord help us because you all have done a fine job of running this place into the ground with all this law this law that BS.

  • Brian

    So we have good Samaritan laws in place for humans but not for animals. Right. So, we can kill them but not help them? That’s a great way to be a sportsman. I thought i lived in Indiana where people still knew how to take care of the land and the creatures that live on it. How bout we concentrate on the people illegally killing animals and less on the good, hard working people trying to help them.

  • Ron Kitlas

    This was not a wild animal. What a shameful place our world is turning into. If the deer are so dangerous, then why are the petting zoos full of deer and why couldn't this deer be taken to one of those petting zoos. Too much work for the feds, where a bullet to the head is easier.

  • Chris

    As a teacher I will respond to Tracy's reply as an equation. Tracy's views = Barney Fife
    There is a time for being dogmatic….this is not one of those times.

  • Brian

    This is Indiana and I’m proud to call this state home, but this is ridiculous. In a state that just lengthened its archery deer hunting season to make the state more attractive to bowhunters comes this? You have got to be kidding me. This is a sportsman’s paradise. We are sportsman, that doesn’t stop with the killing. We take care of the land and the creatures that live on it. That’s part of why living here is so attractive to me.

  • disgusted tax-payer

    Teen-age gang-bangers shooting up down-town Indy. A city police department with serious credibility & trust issues with the citizens. And now the state is wasting tax-payers time & money to fine & jail a couple for rescuing a baby deer?! Not to mention that the DNR Conservation Officer pressing the issue is a law-breaker himself. How proud the state legislators and law-enforcement must be of their work,…if they worked in the real world they'd all been fired by now.

  • Lu

    How many minutes should it take Mr. Pence to think about this situation?? It is deplorable.. people all over the country must think what a bunch of hicks we must be in Indiana. Those people used their hearts to help an injured animal.. they did not go out looking for it and chaining it to the back fence and letting it go hungry.. get a clue Indiana DNR and our Gov. What a total waste of OUR money you have expended.

  • Richard

    Does a baby deer who was injured by a coyote have a right to live? NO! It doesn't. The coyote has a right to continue to eat it. That is how nature works. It has been against the law for decades to harbor a deer or any other wild animal as far as that goes. This is not something new from BIG GOVERNMENT this law has been in effect since 1906 and in the past people have served prison time for flagrantly violating this law. The fact that this policeman of 11 years did not know he was breaking the law is absurd. If he had wanted to do the right thing by this deer he should have simply put it out of it's misery and let the coyote finish it's meal. Sound cruel? It happens everyday in the wild. Always has and always will. Governor Pence should allow the DNR to do their job and not intercede just because so many people have their panties in a bind.

  • Valerie

    OMG….seems to me that if DNR has nothing better to do, then they need to be used in getting druggies & dealers off the street. Go after the gangs that want to shoot people downtown. In my job, if I'm needed in a different area to help, then I have to help where needed, same should go for DNR.

    • Traci

      Does the DNR have nothing better to do??? Educate yourself on what their actual job is and you will realize THAT IS THEIR JOB!!!

  • Anne

    OMG Indiana!!! Unbelievable. Is everyone in this state sooooo bored? Just one more incident which proves how dumb people are here. They saved a DEER. Let's just let it go. Why can't we focus on things that really matter???? I'm sure there are quite a few, don't you think???? Not just THIS…..or what the weather will be like this week.

  • Holly

    Get over the fact that this is a "cute" animal and figure out what they did was not only WRONG, but also illegal. It doesn't take 2 years save the fawns life from the "ugly" coyote (whose pups probably starved that spring). They aren't in trouble for rescuing it. They are wrong because they kept it as a PET. They put up tall fencing so it couldn't escape. If you find an injured animal you can contact the dnr and they will direct you to a trained licensed rehab facility (I've done this on multiple occasions) OR you can find out how to obtain a legal license to keep the animal. WHAT THEY DID WAS WRONG!

  • Douglas Karr

    The DNR shouldn't be supported, the staff should be fired. In this economy, with the problems facing this state and country, and our jails adding to that debt – it's absolutely stupid to pursue this case. Absolutely stupid. Show some common sense, people.

  • Caleb Miller

    I Think they're Doing the right thing. Heck id do the same thing. Saving a deer is like saving a puppy or a kitten, would u send someone to jail for saving a puppy or a kitten. seriously. Indiana's Legal System Do the right thing like they did. they saved an innocient life.

  • American_Made68

    Everyone should sign the petition and boycott all Indiana State Parks! Let them know this means something for God sakes. In the words of John Mellencamp.."You gotta stand for something or you're gonna fall for anything"

  • American_Made68

    Where were the laws for the infant who was starved to death recently?
    What kind of laws let out criminals so they can murder police officers like Michael Moore?
    People think we are rednecks here in nap town, boy does it show.

  • Lois Vanover

    What has the world coming too.? This fine person saves the life of a innocent fawn, and what do the illustrous city fathers do? They want to incarcerate him and fine him also.
    Are they that cold?
    Are they that money hungry?

  • Don

    The charges can be dropped in a minute by the judge or governor. The DNR should have reviewed the case before they even filed the charge.

  • Sandra Bilek

    This is so outrageous and ridiculous! Drop the charges against these people. Don't you people have anything better to do with your time? Meaning whoever brought these ridiculous charges? And thank goodness the deer did disappear. Similar story happened in my area in Portage County a few years ago…. guess what the State Wildlife agency did? They SHOT THE DEER RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAD SAVED IT AND RAISED IT!!! That's right!!!
    So I'm really glad the deer disappeared…. and the charges should be dropped NOW against these people.

  • Traci

    Oh my goodness…do most of you people even realize what the DNR more specifically conservation officers do? "Stop wasting money and resources on this"???? THAT IS THEIR JOB!!!! An entire department of the DNR of 200+ officers do this sort of thing every day!!! The only reason this is gaining public attention is b/c it is a cute little deer–who the police officer that should have known better has now probably killed b/c it has wandered onto a road or to a back yard where someone has shot it. If this had been say a wild boar or skunk, I doubt too many people would have cared. Folks, these animals are wild for a reason, keep them that way. And shame on Gov. Pence for asking the conservation officers to drop charges regarding a law they are sworn to uphold.

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