Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Thomas Larson Medicine Horse

U.S. F.W.S. agents seize buffalo parts from former BHC sheriff’s residence

A Dec. 11 search warrant executed on the premises of  former Big Horn County Sheriff  Thomas Larson Medicine Horse has revealed evidence of a buffalo believed to have been killed illegally. Buffalo parts seized by agents for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service include one hide, both front and rear legs, two back straps and one heart.

Medicine Horse’s cell phone was also seized during the search. In the search warrant application, Special Agent Shawn Conrad of Fish & Wildlife stated, if located, a phone might provide more information on the buffalo, along with a bald eagle also killed under questionable circumstances.

Larson was first elected sheriff in 1990 and held the post until 2006.

“There is reason to believe that Thomas Larson Medicine Horse’s cell phone may contain evidence of the crime in question, as well as destruction of the evidence,” a search warrant application sworn in by Conrad the day of the search stated. “Should the cell phone be seized, [I] will seek a subsequent search warrant as soon as practicable to actually search the contents of the phone for evidence.”

The application states that officials are looking for violations of the Lacey Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, among others. The Lacey Act prohibits the trade of fish, wildlife or plants that have been illegally acquired. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits anyone from “taking” or disturbing bald or golden eagles, including their nests or eggs.

Origins of an investigation

The investigation into the animal shootings started when Veronica Medicine Horse of Ballantine, Mont. called Blaine Weston, deputy sheriff of Yellowstone County on Dec. 1 to report a theft. Her estranged husband, Tyler Medicine Horse Sr., had allegedly stolen her cell phone and iPad.

Tyler is Larson’s brother.

Upon entering her home, Weston discovered what appeared to be an eagle carcass and reported it to Warden Kevin Holland of Fish & Wildlife.

Veronica told Holland that Tyler went hunting with his nephew, Joe Gutierrez, over Thanksgiving break and brought plastic bags in her house. Tyler placed one of the bags, she said, inside a blue, two axle trailer. With Veronica’s permission, Holland looked inside the trailer and found an eagle carcass.

She told Holland that, three days previous, Tyler had sent her a text message stating, “Gutierrez shot an eagle with a .243 caliber rifle,” though she said they later told her they found the bird on the side of the road.

At the time, she didn’t have her phone to verify the text messages.

“In the messages, the only thing that I got was that he said that they got a bird,” Veronica told Holland in a Dec. 3 follow-up. “I said, ‘Who got the bird?’ and he said, ‘Joe.’ But if Joe got the bird, why was it in Tyler’s possession? So I don’t know.”

A day or so before the text message on the eagle, she said Tyler sent her text messages stating, “They shot [a] buffalo that [had] run away from a buffalo ranch.”

Interview with Tyler

Following one hour and 17 minutes into an interview with Holland – during which Tyler initially said he shot the buffalo on Nov. 27 west of Wyola while hunting elk – he said, “Okay, I’ll fess up to the buffalo.”

He changed his story shortly after telling Holland he had taken a picture of the buffalo with his cell phone.

“T. Medicine Horse Sr. was told that if he took pictures of the buffalo, or the eagle, with his cell phone, there will be meta-data associated with it that will show where and when the picture was taken,” the warrant application stated. “T. Medicine Horse Sr. was also told that he would be expected to return to the kill site with Affiant and Warden Holland.”

According to Tyler’s new story, he shot the buffalo off of Grapevine Road, north of Fort Smith. He said Gutierrez was with him, but emphasized that he was the one who took the shot. After finding the buffalo, Tyler said he left the head and ribs.

The location of the shooting Tyler indicated to Holland was within the exterior boundaries of the Crow Reservation and appeared to be on tribal trust land.

Tyler said that he took the meat to Larson’s house. He said he was unsure if it had been processed at the time of the interview.

Location difficulties

Luke Knaff, deputy sheriff for Big Horn County,  and Brandon Siemion, owner of buffalo in the area, located the buffalo’s head, a piece of rib possibly hit by a bullet and “possible eagle feathers.”

“According to B. Siemion, ear tags were removed from the buffalo’s head,” the application stated.

When Siemion talked to Special Agent Conrad, the application states he was “pretty adamant” that if a buffalo was shot in the area described by Tyler, it belonged to him. According to Siemion, this is not the first time one of his buffalo had been shot and he has been unable to locate some of his buffalo.

Tyler told Holland during the Wyola version of his story that the buffalo “probably belonged to the tribe, because it did not have any tags.” Siemion, however, said “there is no way” the tribal buffalo could have moved across the canyon from the Big Horn National Recreation area to his pasture.

‘Freaked out’

On Dec. 9, Holland received an email from Veronica stating Tyler is “freaked out” and is calling everyone he knows in an attempt to, according to the application, “dump evidence, move meat and hide stuff.”

With that in mind, the warrant was sworn in and the search approved.