After initially denying neighbor reports that Boulder police shot a large bull elk at Ninth Street and Mapleton Avenue late Tuesday night, police officials today revealed that an on-duty officer did kill the animal, but failed to file a report with his supervisors or notify dispatchers.
A second, off-duty officer took the elk home "to be processed for meat," according to city officials.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is now investigating the shooting to determine whether a crime has occurred, while the Boulder Police Department has launched an internal personnel investigation of the officers involved.
Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman for Parks and Wildlife, said she cannot comment on the case because it is an "active investigation." She said the investigation focuses on the "wildlife perspective."
Churchill noted Wednesday that the elk is a "large game animal and a trophy animal." The hunting of such animals is closely regulated and poaching can carry significant fines.
Samson's Law, passed in 1998 after a well-known bull elk in Estes Park was killed by a poacher who was fined just a few hundred dollars, adds substantial fines for the killing of trophy animals. The killing of a bull elk with six-point antlers or larger can carry a fine of up to $10,000, on top of the other criminal penalties.
In addition, hunting is never allowed within city limits.
Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner also apologized today for Boulder police initially denying any involvement in the shooting.
"To our knowledge at that time we didn't know we were involved, and I want to apologize," he said at an afternoon press conference.
Boulder police have not identified the officers involved in the shooting, but a neighbor today provided the Daily Camera with a photograph of an officer posing with the slain elk. His jacket bears the name "S. Carter."
Beckner said the officer who shot the elk was not on duty today, but has not been placed on leave. He also said parts of the elk have been recovered and were turned over to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Cmdr. Rick Brough with the Boulder County Sheriff's Office confirmed that at least one on-duty deputy was also at the scene. Brough said once the sheriff's office became aware of the incident, supervisors requested the deputy write a report about the incident.
Brough said it appears the deputy may have helped load the elk into the truck, but that the sheriff's office will wait to review the deputy's report once it is filed to determine whether a personnel investigation will be necessary.
A uniformed deputy can be seen in the background of one of the photos of the elk provided to the Daily Camera.
Neighbors held a memorial this morning for the animal and placed pine boughs along the street.
"If the shooter was not an officer of the law, whose life was endangered, the killing is a felony and the individual responsible shall be apprehended, prosecuted and held accountable," James Riemersma wrote in an email about the memorial. "This majestic animal has wandered the streets, yards and alleys of Mapleton Hill for the past three winters. His only disturbance or damage being nipped-off various plants and fauna, pawing up some sod here and there and bending a few fences."
According to a Boulder police news release, the officer was on routine patrol around 11 p.m. Tuesday when he said he saw the elk and believed it was injured. He said the elk was limping and that some of the elk's antlers had been broken off and judged the animal had to be put down, according to police.
The elk was in a yard when the officer shot and killed it with one shot from a shotgun.
The officer did not inform dispatchers he intended to shoot the animal and did not file a report about the incident.
JoOnna Silberman, who lives in the 300 block of Spruce Street, said she saw the animal a few hours before it was killed, and it was not limping.
"I can't imagine that in the few short hours between when I saw him and the time this officer said he was injured, that he became that injured," said Silberman, who noted that if a car hit the elk, the car would almost certainly have been damaged. "Why wouldn't you call Division of Wildlife? The whole thing is suspicious."
Boulder police spokeswoman Kim Kobel said there is not a written policy about how animal shootings should be handled, but officers typically work with Parks and Wildlife.
Kobel said the officers were identified by talking to other officers on that shift, and they are cooperating with the investigation.
Kobel said it would be unusual for an officer to take home meat from an animal that was put down in the line of duty.
Neighbors told the Daily Camera on Wednesday that they saw Boulder police shoot the animal, but Boulder police initially denied the report. Boulder police are now saying the lack of a report caused the confusion and have launched an internal investigation into the matter.
According to Boulder police, officers who discharge their weapons have to document the reason for firing, regardless of the circumstances.
While Beckner said he would refrain from commenting on the officers' actions until the investigation was complete, he did say that not filing a report of the incident and calling someone in to pick up the elk would "not be standard protocol at all."
"We're very concerned," he said.
Churchill said local law enforcement typically informs Parks and Wildlife when they kill a larger animal, like a bear, mountain lion or elk. No report was filed with Parks and Wildlife about the shooting.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said he is monitoring the case and awaiting the results of the investigation by Parks and Wildlife to determine if any criminal violations occurred.
The elk appears to be the same one that reportedly trapped a mail carrier on a porch in the area last week and was photographed by a Daily Camera photographer later that evening. Neighbors said the elk continued to frequent the area along Mapleton between Ninth and 11th streets and behaved aggressively toward passersby.
Neighbors told the Camera that officers informed them Tuesday night they might have to put the elk down because it was endangering the public, not because it was injured.
Tom Mikesell, president of the Colorado Outfitters Association, which represents outfitters, many of whom work with and supply hunters, said he couldn't speculate about the specific incident in Boulder, but the circumstances raise a lot of questions.
The state closely regulates the disposal of meat and body parts from animals that are killed outside of the regular hunting season, even in car accidents, in part to avoid a gray market in meat and trophies of questionable origin.
For example, people need permits to take home meat from roadkill, and people cannot harvest antlers as trophies from roadkill.
"The division needs to be looking into whether there were any laws violated," Mikesell said.