Was it Romeo?

Posted: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Two men arrested Friday for unlawfully killing two black bears and a wolf in Juneau have pled not guilty to the charges. One of the men also denied that the wolf was Romeo, an unusually sociable black wolf who for years frequented the area around the Mendenhall Glacier until his disappearance last September.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File

Juneau resident Park Myers and Pennsylvania resident Jeffrey Peacock were arraigned Tuesday. After his arraignment, Myers said the wolf was not Romeo.

"You'd be a complete moron if you thought that wolf was Romeo," Myers said after his arraignment. "A complete moron. I know a gray wolf from a black one. I know a 70-pound wolf from a 140-pound wolf."

An affidavit of counsel from District Attorney Doug Gardner reports on Gardner’s and United States Forest and Wildlife Service special agent Stan Pruszenski’s interview of Myers at his place of work on May 20.

According to that affidavit, Myers said he shot the wolf on Sept. 22 on Eagle River trail, but "panicked" when he was afraid it might be Romeo. The affidavit says the two men agreed that Peacock would "take the credit" for the wolf when they sealed it at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Sept. 23. The department marked the wolf as gray.

Authorities, however, say the hide they recovered from the two men was black.

"We did recover a black wolf hide," said Alaska State Trooper Aaron Frenzel.

Frenzel said how the hide was marked as gray is still under investigation.

"We're not sure how that happened right now," he said. "If they even saw the wolf, or if it was someone (who) was new that was working."

Frenzel said one person's interpretation of "gray" might vary from another's.

Romeo had gray markings on the back of his neck and on his face. Also, his species was Gray Wolf.

According to the affidavit, Myers said the shot was "instinctive."

"It just stopped in front of them," it says. Then things get a little more unclear:

"Park Myers could not take credit for it; he couldn't be the one that shot 'Romeo.' He did not know it was 'Romeo' because 'Romeo' traveled by himself and there were three. Park Myers thought it was easier if Peacock took the credit," the document says.

"The wolf was broad side and he shot it through the lungs and it ran off. They followed it and found it approximately 20 yards away curled up. Park Myers and Peacock took turns carrying the wolf down. They drove the wolf to the Myers residence where Claassen (Roy Claassen, who operates RAK Taxidermy in Juneau) met them. Peacock sealed the wolf to prevent retaliation from the Juneau community on Park Myers," the document says.

The wolf was skinned at Claassen's house, where they put Peacock's locking tag on it and took photographs, according to the affidavit.

Authorities found the hide at RAK Taxidermy. Claassen declined to comment.

The investigation is ongoing.

Frenzel said unless the plaintiffs choose to extend the timeline, the investigation will have to be complete and the case before a jury within 120 days.

He said most of Alaska's hunting and fishing violations are Class A Misdemeanors, which can involve up to a $10,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

If the men are found guilty, the person responsible for the kill is responsible for restitution of $600 for a black bear and $500 for a wolf.

Peacock was arrested on a warrant for unsworn falsification, taking big game in a closed area, baiting bears without a permit and three counts of unlawful possession of game.

Myers was arrested under a warrant for taking big game by unlawful methods, baiting bears without a permit and three counts of unlawful possession of game.

Both Myers and Peacock are scheduled for jury trial, with pre-trial for July 19.

Identifying the wolf

The group "Friends of Romeo" has been very involved in looking for the wolf; they initiated an involved investigation shortly after Romeo disappeared.

Founding member Harry Robinson said there had been evidence of illegal trapping in the area prior to Romeo's disappearance. Two snares and two leg-hole traps were found illegally set in the Montana Creek and West Glacier area, he said.

Robinson said Romeo had been seen several times on the morning of Sept. 18. He was near full weight - close to 140 pounds - and his fur was in "excellent" condition, Robinson said.

"He never had to go after a large ungulate, like moose ... so for his age, approaching nine or so, he was in exceptionally good shape," Robinson said. "He had an extremely glossy coat."

When Romeo disappeared after that morning, and rumors started to surface about him having been shot, the group got concerned.

Robinson worked to correlate Internet data and information from people around town and as far away as the East Coast. They went through reports, did Internet sweeps and cross referenced information from different websites.

"It started getting fairly definitive," he said. "We were able to stick names in the blank spots."

When the group had finished correlating all their information, around February or March, they presented an official affidavit to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Robinson said they found Romeo had been shot by a .22 caliber rifle around the evening of Sept. 18, then transported to a private location, where he was skinned.

Authorities, however, say they can't yet confirm whether or not the wolf Myers and Peacock are charged with killing unlawfully is Romeo.

"We're not investigating it as Romeo," Frenzel said. "We're investigating it as an unlawful wolf take. Really, confirming that it's Romeo or not ... we haven't really discussed too much how we're going to go about that ... For the (legal) process, it doesn't really matter. For closure for the community, they would like to know. But for the investigation, we're not really looking at that aspect of it."

Frenzel added, however, that it was "very possible" authorities might look into specifically identifying the wolf in the future.

Several people have samples of Romeo's fur, which could possibly lead to DNA confirmation. The tanning process could damage fur that would be used for confirmation, however.

"There's still a chance that we can do it," Frenzel said. "I'm not going to say we're going to do it for sure or not, but it's a possibility."

Robinson said he's "100 percent sure" the wolf hide recovered is Romeo's. He has uncontaminated samples of Romeo's fur, but even if DNA proves not to be a viable option, many people would be able to physically ID the hide, he said.

"He had distinctive gray marks on the back of his neck, for example - and scarring down at the base of his neck (and on his upper back)," he said. "He had distinct patterns of gray on his facial structure - and in many photographs, from year to year, the same patches of gray were there. There's more than just DNA that would allow positive identification."

• Juneau Empire reporter Klas Stolpe contributed to this report. Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.



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