Jeffrey Scott Hawn shot neighbors 32 bison

Hartsell, CO

Park County

February 25, 2008

  (Photo courtesy of the Denver Post - Hawn's mug shot)  Hawn, DOB 11/11/63), a software executive who owns a luxury home outside Fairplay, CO an old mining town, warned his neighbor, rancher Monte Downare, to keep his bison from roaming onto his property or risk having them hunted. Hawn later sued Downare alleging the bison had turned his land in South Park into a “feed lot.”

Nine days later, shots rang out on the snow-covered plains ringed by mountains. The remains of 32 bison – 20 of them close to delivering calves – were strewn across Hawn's property and nearby land. Deputies learned that 14 hunters from southern Colorado had a letter from Hawn giving them permission to hunt bison on his property.

Now Hawn – the president and CEO of Seattle-based Attachmate who lives in Austin, Texas – finds himself in criminal court, charged with theft and 32 counts of aggravated animal cruelty. The case has outraged many in Fairplay, a town of about 700 founded by gold prospectors in 1859. It's also drawn attention to Colorado's “open range” laws and the local politics of fencing.

Prosecutors will try to convince a judge there's enough evidence to go to trial. Hawn is represented by Pamela Mackey, the lawyer who defended Kobe Bryant against sexual assault charges at a Vail-area resort in 2003 that were later dropped.

Since posting a $15,000 bond in May, Hawn has needed court permission for business travel as well as a Cayman Islands vacation with his wife and four children.

In his Feb. 18 letter inviting the hunters, Hawn said they could hunt animals on his property or remove them live.

Investigators believe the hunters intended to use meat and hides from 10 of the bison slain March 19 – but that as many as 16 had been killed and left to rot weeks before. They also believe Hawn may have shot some himself. According to court documents, 10 of the carcasses were in plain view of his house and some of the bullets they recovered were similar to test rounds fired from a rifle found inside the home.

    

(Photo's courtesy of RJSangosti/the Denver Post - investigators and animal control officers inspect the scene where 32 bison were shot and killed) 

It's hard to find anyone here sympathetic to Hawn. Downare's family is well-established, and people in Fairplay, the county seat, and tiny Hartsel, the closest town to his ranch, are quick to defend him. They bemoan the waste of so much bison meat and talk about one of the feud's central issues – fences.

Miles of barbed-wire fences line area roads and property lines. Unlike rural areas elsewhere in the country, Colorado and most other Western states are “open range,” where livestock can roam wherever they wish. If you don't want animals on your property, build a fence to keep them out. Ranchers don't have to fence their animals in.

Given the state's population growth and traffic, Colorado brand commissioner Rich Wahlert, who works to prevent livestock theft and regulates stray livestock, said most ranchers still try to fence their livestock. Since buffalo are stouter than cattle, he said, they can break through the minimal three-barbed-wire fencing required by Colorado law. Many buffalo producers build taller and stronger fences to keep animals in even though they aren't required to.

Wahlert said livestock are bound to escape from any kind of fence and that Downare has a good track record of responding quickly to calls of stray buffalo, which can weigh a ton and jump six feet.

In the civil suit Hawn filed on March 10, he said his barbed-wire fences were sturdy and similar to others in the county. The suit seeks payment for damage caused by Downare's buffalo.

Hawn said the bison knocked his satellite television dishes off-line and left dung, tracks and hair on “pristine pasture on rolling hills.” He included a photograph of three bison walking past his deck as evidence.

Park County investigators allege that Hawn initially paid one of the hunters $2,000 to build corrals to capture and remove the buffalo live. When he asked for more money, Hawn allegedly said that if the hunters didn't remove the animals in one week he would invite paying hunters to kill the animals. Ranches that raise bison for meat sometimes allow people to hunt them for about $2,000 a head.

In Downare's victim impact statement, he said Hawn's invitation to the hunters was “crazy.” When asked on the form if he would like any special conditions imposed on Hawn, besides paying for the lost bison, valued at $77,000, Downare wrote: “I would like him to fence his property good and leave my livestock alone.”

Downare's bison were killed during a harsh winter in South Park, an area that lent its name to the animated television series. Resident Cindi Raymer noted that roaming animals are a given and were especially so last winter, when snow covered many fences.

Update 11/4/08:

Hawn, a Texas businessman who owns a ranch in central Colorado pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and animal cruelty in the slaughter of 32 bison that belonged to a neighbor.

Hawn, CEO of Seattle-based software company Attachmate, agreed to pay $83,000 to the bison's owner, $70,000 to charities and $4,000 to the Park County Sheriff's Department.

Hawn could also face up to 10 days in jail when he's sentenced on Jan. 28. He faces two years of probation, and the case could be wiped from his record if he stays out of trouble during that time.

Hawn lives in Austin, Texas, but has a luxury home on his Colorado property. Prosecutors say he gave 14 hunters permission to shoot and kill the bison on his land because they kept wandering there from owner Monte Downare's ranch.

But Colorado is an open-range state, where livestock like Downare's bison can roam wherever they please. If other landowners don't want animals on their property, the law says they have to fence them out; ranchers don't have to fence them in.

Investigators discovered 10 bison had been shot and killed March 19 on Hawn's property and nearby land. They said others had been shot earlier.

Hawn was originally charged with 32 counts of aggravated animal cruelty but pleaded guilty to the lesser charges in a deal with prosecutors.

Reference:

The Associated Press

Forbes

MSNBC

The Denver Post

Fremont County Court Records