Did a turkey tag trip up an Ada County commissioner? Jury can’t decide.

Richard L. “Rick” Visser
Richard L. “Rick” Visser

A Boise County jury spent three hours Tuesday trying to decide if Richard L. Visser broke state hunting law in the way he handled the tagging of a wild turkey that he shot in April.

It could not.

At about 6:30 p.m., Boise County Magistrate Judge Roger Cockerille declared a mistrial. Boise County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Spencer Lay said the county would re-try the case.

Failure to immediately validate and attach a tag to a carcass is a misdemeanor crime in Idaho. The penalty for violating this law is a fine of $25 to $1,000, and jail time at the discretion of the judge, according a Fish and Game spokesman.

Why is it a crime?

“The reason for these rules is to ensure that everyone is only harvesting their fair share,” said Fish and Game conservation officer Barry Cummings in an October 2017 video about how to tag properly. “It’s the foundation for sustaining our herds and meeting hunter expectations.”

Visser, an Ada County commissioner who is also an attorney, represented himself in the daylong trial. On cross-examination, he grilled the conservation officer who cited him.

“Have you ever bragged about citing a commissioner?” Visser asked.

Officer Rob Brazie, an Idaho Fish & Game conservation officer for 27 years, responded that he had not. He also denied that he’d ever been called into a supervisor’s office for bullying sportsmen.

Prosecutors said Visser failed to immediately tag a wild turkey that he shot while out hunting with a friend, David Gates. Visser told the six-member jury that depends on how you define “immediately” and said he had every intention of tagging the turkey.

“Right now means as soon as possible,” Visser told the jury in his closing. He said it means “within a reasonable time, taking into consideration all the facts.”

Visser was cited on April 21, 2017, after he and Gates were confronted by Brazie.

Brazie testified that he saw the two men on a ridge after they shot the turkey, then met up with them later. He said Gates was using a knife to gut the turkey in a stream, and Visser was sitting on the ground nearby. He said Visser’s turkey tag had not been validated — it must be punched in two places — and had not been affixed to the turkey.

Lay, the prosecutor, emphasized that the men had taken photos, hiked down to their truck and gutted the turkey before Brazie walked up. He noted that they had not tried to validate the tag by using their teeth, a rock or belt buckle, or even affix the unpunched tag to the turkey.

Visser said he forgot to put a knife in his pack, or he would have validated the tag right after they shot the bird.

“It’s an innocent mistake that anyone can make,” he said.

He said he was headed to get a knife out of his truck when Gates discovered he had one and began gutting the turkey. Visser said he was about to validate the turkey tag when Brazie appeared.

Visser and Gates said Brazie never identified himself as a conservation officer and he wasn’t in uniform. They said they didn’t know who he was. But they did answer his questions, according to Brazie’s audio recording of their conversation played in court.

Visser said Brazie wouldn’t allow him to validate the turkey tag.

“Officer Brazie stopped me from meeting the legal requirement of the law,” he said.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller