MISSOULA — A Troy man was charged this week with evidence tampering related to the shooting and killing of a grizzly bear on his property in 2020 and the discarding of the bear’s GPS collar in the Yaak River, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said today.
An information filed in U.S. District Court on Jan. 22 charges Othel Lee Pearson, 80, of Troy, with tampering with evidence, a felony, and failure to report taking of grizzly bear, a misdemeanor. Pearson faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release on the evidence tampering charge and a maximum of six months in prison and a $25,000 fine on the failure to report charge.
A court date for Pearson’s appearance has not yet been set. The charging documents are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
“As alleged, Pearson discarded a GPS collar on a grizzly bear and hid the bear’s claws and an ear tag in an attempt to avoid criminal prosecution for unlawfully killing a grizzly bear. Such conduct is illegal and, as shown here, will result in the prosecution of a federal felony,” U.S. Attorney Laslovich said.
The parties informed the court that there is a plea agreement in the matter, and it is anticipated that Pearson has agreed to plead guilty to both charges in the information. The plea agreement calls for the government and defendant to jointly recommend a sentence of three years of probation and an $8,000 fine. In exchange for guilty pleas, the United States agrees not to prosecute another individual in connection with the taking of the grizzly bear, and Pearson agrees to cooperate with the United States regarding the skull of a second grizzly bear discovered on National Forest System lands near his property.
As alleged in court documents, on Nov. 19, 2020, Pearson shot and killed a sow grizzly bear on his residential property, using a .270 rifle. Pearson cut a GPS collar that had been fitted to the bear and discarded the collar nearby in the Yaak River. Pearson also cut paws, ear tags and an identifying lip tattoo from the bear carcass. Pearson then concealed the bear’s claws and an ear tag in a hollowed-out tree on National Forest System land near his residence. As further alleged, Pearson tampered with these identifying objects to impair the criminal prosecution for the unlawful killing of the grizzly bear. Pearson did not report the killing of the grizzly bear to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within five days of occurrence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Tanner is prosecuting the case. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the investigation.