State parks officials try to keep story about one of their own caught poaching out of the media

Poaching officer given 'professional courtesy'

DENVER - A Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer was caught poaching a trophy deer in October, but the state agency tried to keep the poaching incident from becoming public, a six-week CALL7 Investigation found.

Travis McKay, then a state park ranger and certified police officer in a Trinidad State Lake Park, was in the Bosque del Oso State Wildlife Area Oct. 13, 2012, with a friend when he shot a deer after dark, using a spotlight, records show. Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Bob Holder, along with a federal officer, came along and found the deer in McKay's truck, the citation report shows.

McKay was cited with hunting after hours with a light, illegal taking and possession of a trophy deer and failure to tag the game. He eventually paid more than $11,000 in fines.

Reports obtained exclusively by the CALL7 Investigators show Holder promised repeatedly to keep the incident out of the media and hidden from the public.

"I advised Travis McKay that because of his position as a Park Ranger I would give him the professional courtesy of contacting my supervisor prior to the citation issuance," Holder wrote in his report.

The federal agent said "there would be no one in the community advised of the situation so as not to embarrass any parties involved and that if it did come out it would be McKay or (his friend) that chose to reveal that information," the report said.

Holder "also advised Travis McKay and (his friend) that I had not called in a license clearance on the vehicles or the driver's license clearance on either party to the Colorado State Patrol dispatch to avoid disclosure through scanners, etc. Both McKay and (his friend) thanked me for the consideration," Holder wrote in his report.

Holder also met after hours with McKay and his friend to keep the case quiet. The report says Holder knew McKay as a park ranger and he had known McKay's friend since the friend was a child.

"I contacted both men by cell and had them meet me at separate times and after business hours at the Corps of Engineers office to avoid public inquiry," Holder wrote.

McKay had a choice whether to go to court or pay the fine directly. The officer advised him if he went to court, the information would be made public.

"I explained that if the court option were selected that it would become public record at that time and we could not control media involvement as it would be posted on the docket displayed in the courthouse," he wrote.

Rick Cables, director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said his officer was trying explain the process and not cover up the poaching.

"He's telling him pay, and you won't be in the media," CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia said. "If you don't pay it and go to court, it will be public record."

"I do not interpret that statement to be saying that," Cables said.

"I think anybody sitting in their living room would disagree with you," Ferrugia said.

"Well again, I think that when I read that statement the officer was providing information to this young man about what are the consequences between either going to court or paying the fine," Cables said.

McKay lost this ranger job, he can no longer be a certified police officer for the state agency, his hunting privileges were taken away for three years and he was transferred to another job in parks and wildlife as a technician. His pay is slightly lower. Cables says this is appropriate punishment.

During the investigation, McKay also lied to the federal agent and was advised that it was a felony to lie, the report shows. After that, McKay lied at least several times until his friend told officers the truth, records show. But he was never charged with the federal felony.

"Even after he was told that it was a federal offense," Ferrugia said, "Its fairly serious for a police officer to lie to a federal officer?"

"It certainly is," Cables said.

The federal agent never charged McKay with lying because, as a department spokesman explained, the federal agent did not have jurisdiction as the poaching was in a state park and in the end there was no federal crime.

McKay's boss would not allow Ferrugia to speak with him where he now works at a state park, so Ferrugia  approached McKay after work. 

McKay did not return calls for comment, but Ferrugia found McKay outside his home.

"Do you think you were given, basically, professional consideration to kind of protect your privacy on this?" Ferrugia asked.

"I don't, I don't have any comment on that," McKay said. "I mean what was done was done between me and the agency. And I don't have any further comment on anything."

McKay also refused to comment on how he retained a state job.

"I don't know much of anything that's going on. I mean, I know what happened between me and the agency," McKay said.

Cables maintained Holder and his department acted appropriately despite the "professional courtesy" extended to the park ranger.

"Are you going to do that for me?" Ferrugia asked.

"Well I don't, again, I don't think the point was avoiding public disclosure," Cables said.

The way McKay's poaching was handled is in contrast to the poaching incident in Boulder in earlier this year when two Boulder police officers resigned and were charged with felonies and misdemeanors. Those officers were charged with attempting to influence a public servant and tampering with evidence for allegedly trying to cover up the shooting of the elk, records show.

Cables said McKay's situation was different because it was not premeditated poaching and he was not charged with a felony.


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