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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