Hunter suing town and police for return of deer skull

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BENNINGTON — A local hunting advocate is suing the town and the police department for the return of a deer skull he owned or to be compensated for its loss. The defendants are asking the court to dismiss the case.

Kevin Hoyt, of Bennington, filed a civil case asking the Town of Bennington and the Bennington Police Department to return the item, which allegedly was seized by a Bennington police officer after a game warden attempted to take it in February.

The eight-point-antlered 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/closed season. Hoyt pleaded not guilty.

The state dismissed the case in May, a month after it was filed.

According to a document Hoyt submitted to the Vermont Superior Court Civil Division in August, the county state's attorney's office ordered on June 3 that all property seized in Hoyt's criminal case be released to the owner and any contraband destroyed.

Hoyt said he has repeatedly asked the confiscating police officer, David Faden, as well as the Bennington Police Department to return his deer head and antlers.

"The town has missed the 30-day deadline to return the property which expired on July 3, 2019 and the Plaintiff's understanding is that he is now entitled to interest in addition to the property they refuse to return," Hoyt wrote in his request for civil litigation.

The deer skull is worth $13,000, Hoyt said, citing data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He put the interest at $269.26.

The town and the police department have asked the court to dismiss Hoyt's suit, citing reasons that include the defendants' never having possessed the deer skull.

"While Plaintiff vaguely asserts that Officer David Faden of the BPD 'originally took the property from the Plaintiff' ... he does not allege that either the Town or the BPD have or ever had the deer skull," Michael Leddy, a Burlington attorney representing the defendants, wrote in his motion to dismiss the case.

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The defendants understand that the deer skull was destroyed as "contraband," he said.

Leddy said also that the police department cannot be sued since it's not an entity separate from the town. The lawyer asked that the police department be dismissed as a defendant in the case.

In his response to the motion to dismiss, Hoyt said in part the claim that the deer skull has been destroyed was "alarming and disturbing at best." He underscored that it was not illegal property and that its loss required "full compensation."

In an October video post on his Facebook page, Hoyt talked about suing town authorities, saying he was fighting on "principle" rather than for material gain.

A hearing on the defendants' motion to dismiss has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at the county courthouse on South Street.

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. When 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 earlier 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.

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


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