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January 31, 2013

Pence conducting review of fawn rescue charges

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence has asked the officials from the state Department of Natural Resources to explain charges filed against a Connersville couple that rescued a dying fawn three years ago.

News of the rescue by Jeff and Jennifer Counceller and subsequent prosecution sought by the DNR has sparked outrage inside and outside of the Statehouse.

Pence said Wednesday he believed conservation officers properly followed state law barring residents from keeping wild animals. But he added that Indiana residents clearly care for animals and has asked DNR officials for a briefing.

"At this time, it appears our conservation officers acted appropriately and in a manner consistent with Indiana law. But we're looking into it," he said.

"We all admire compassion for an injured animal. Hoosiers cherish our animals, whether they're our pets, whether they're our livestock or whether they're wildlife," Pence said. "But this is a state of laws. And as governor of the state of Indiana my focus is going to be to ensure that our laws are fairly and impartially enforced."

The Councellers' have been charged with illegal possession of a white-tail deer and face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Calls to the couple Wednesday were not returned. They previously have said they didn't know their actions were illegal when they rescued the deer and that they will fight the charges.

State lawmakers including Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, say they have asked DNR for answers but have yet to receive a response. Steele sent a handwritten note to DNR officials Monday, but has yet to hear back from them.

"I said it was embarrassing, in my mind it was a waste of taxpayers' money and time and effort. And more than that, it's a loss of prestige of the department to press something like this to a logical extreme," he said.

The Councellers' predicament reminded him of similar troubles an airport operator from his district faced last year, including a $1,000 fine, for not submitting a routine renewal with DNR. The department, he said, appears to inflate situations beyond what is reasonable.

"I thought that was gagging at a gnat and swallowing at a camel, and I think this deer thing is gagging at a gnat and swallowing at a camel," he said.

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