A North San Juan man found guilty of trying to give away two bear cubs after shooting their mother was sentenced to 30 days in county jail, but that sentence was suspended.
The sentencing decision by Nevada County Superior Court Judge Linda Sloven disappointed animal activists who attended the hearing Thursday morning.
“I’m always disappointed when our courts don’t give some jail time for harming animals,” said Scooter’s Pals founder Susan Wallace. “Even short periods of time send a message that harming animals is not acceptable to a caring and compassionate community.”
Nevada County Fish and Wildlife Commission member Craig Ferrari called the end result “pretty sad.”
“We got slapped in the face,” he said.
Christopher Puett was found guilty last week on three counts of unlawful possession of a restricted animal, harassing an animal and the taking of a female bear with cubs.
He had testified that he shot the sow in June 2012 because he was in fear for his life and took its two cubs to a gas station to give away because he wanted to find them a good home.
Jurors did not convict on a charge of unlawful taking of a bear, which was related to the mother bear, possibly because no body was found. According to California Fish & Wildlife warden John Lawson, “taking” in the Fish & Wildlife code can mean to hunt, pursue, capture, kill or attempt to kill an animal.
Puett said that on June 4, 2012, he had yelled at the bear, which charged him; he said after he shot the bear, it ran off. Puett said he had no idea she had cubs until he heard them crying and that he eventually snared the male cub; the female cub, he said, went into the cage on her own.
Puett faced a maximum of six months for each count, but Deputy District Attorney Tiffany Dix, who prosecuted the case, asked Sloven to sentence him to 15 days on each count for a total of 45 days. Dix also asked that Puett be placed on probation and that his gun be seized.
Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso, however, noted that Puett had never been arrested or convicted in California and that he believed he was defending himself.
“It’s a unique set of circumstances,” Borruso said. “Jail time doesn’t make sense.”
“I want the punishment to fit the crime,” Sloven said, adding that she had given a lot of thought to Puett’s sentencing. “The theme (during the trial) seemed to be that Mr. Puett brought this on himself,” by leaving large amounts of dog food around that essentially acted as bait for the bears.
Sloven sentenced Puett to 30 days in jail, which she suspended, and two years of informal probation. She ordered him to enclose all the dog food or get rid of it within eight weeks and said he would be subject to unannounced visits from state Fish and Wildlife officials of Nevada County Sheriff’s deputies. She also suspended the majority of his fines, ordering him to pay $210.
Puett is to return to court in eight weeks with evidence that he has complied with the order to deal with the dog food issue.
“The people feel that what we asked for was appropriate, but the court gave a valid reason for the sentence that was imposed,” Dix said after the hearing.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.