Court throws out hunter's lawsuit asking Bennington, town police for return of deer skull

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BENNINGTON — The court has dismissed due to procedural errors a local hunting advocate's property dispute case against the Town of Bennington and the Bennington Police Department.

Kevin Hoyt, of Bennington, had sued the town and the police department in August to return a deer skull he owned or to compensate him for its loss.

Hoyt alleged that Bennington police officer David Faden took the deer skull from him after a game warden attempted to seize the item in February, believing it had been taken without a deer hunting tag. Hoyt estimated the eight-point-antlered deer skull to cost $13,000.

The deer skull featured in a criminal case against Hoyt, which charged him with impeding a public officer, as well as possessing a big game animal taken by illegal means. Hoyt pleaded not guilty. The state dismissed the case in May.

Judge William Cohen, of the Vermont Superior Court, granted Monday the town and police department's request to dismiss the civil case.

In a written decision, Cohen said the summons informing the defendants about the lawsuit had been delivered by Hoyt himself — contrary to state law.

The law dictates that the service "shall be made by a sheriff or deputy sheriff, by a constable or other person authorized by law, or by some indifferent person specially appointed for that purpose," Cohen said.

In addition, the judge said Hoyt "did not obtain the signature of a judge or court clerk on the summons" as required for plaintiffs who don't have an attorney. Hoyt was serving as his own attorney.

Cohen didn't get into the merits of the case. It was dismissed without prejudice, meaning Hoyt could refile the lawsuit.

And this is what Hoyt intends to do, he told the Banner when reached by phone Wednesday.

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An attorney representing the town and the police department earlier also argued the case should be dismissed because the defendants never possessed the deer skull.

The item was taken by a state Fish and Wildlife Department warden, then destroyed as contraband in May, attorney Mick Leddy told the court at a Nov. 15 hearing. The Bennington Police Department, the lawyer added, cannot be sued since it's not an entity separate from the town.

But Hoyt believes the town and the police department are the proper respondents. He cited a document, addressed to BPD officer Faden, in which the Bennington County State's Attorney's Office ordered that all property seized in Hoyt's criminal case be released to the owner and any contraband destroyed.

Leddy said the town and the police department will continue to defend their positions should Hoyt decide to sue them again.

State prosecutors filed a criminal case against Hoyt after a state Fish and Wildlife Department warden, Travis Buttle, got into an altercation with Hoyt at his home Feb. 12. Buttle tried to confiscate the deer skull, which he had seen on a Facebook screen shot, believing it had been taken without a deer hunting tag.

Hoyt defended his actions, saying the deer was the same one he had earlier wounded but got away. Wheh he found it, the deer had largely been eaten by animals and decomposed. He described it as "winter kill" and not one that would require him to have a tag to retrieve.

Hoyt told the Banner he believed the charges were possibly politically motivated because of his pro-firearms views.

He has been an outspoken gun rights advocate who promoted two anti-gun control rallies in downtown Bennington last year. He also unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for the Vermont House from the Bennington 2-1 District in the November election.

He has talked about running for a state position again in the next election.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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