A recent immigrant to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula has been sentenced to nine months in jail and ordered to pay more than $100,000 in fines in connection with a September moose shooting spree, but if some of his Anchor Point neighbors and former neighbors in California are to be believed this is just the tip of the story.
Poacher Rusty Counts was not an end-of-the-roader by choice, it seems, but a man exiled from the Lower 48 by authorities there after committing numerous crimes in the country’s most populous state.
The Alaska Division of Corrections on Monday revealed he was on probation in Alaska after having been transfered here from California.
That, however, is getting ahead of a story that starts with three moose shot dead and left to rot, a story that then wanders into the strange new world of “news” that twists and turns through the tubes of the internet where anyone can these days become a reporter.
It is in the tubes that Counts’ new neighbors met his old neighbors and began to put together the rest of his story.
In a Facebook exchange with someone posting on Counts’ Facebook page, anti-crime activist Kari Klopp Davidson from Sterling even managed to solicit an admission to involvement with the moose slayings weeks before the case went to court, but with a claimed excuse.
“I took the rap for all of it (because) my nephews don’t need any of it in their life,” the poster wrote. “He was going, and I chose to go. My dad can’t get around like he used to.”
What is now officially known about the 39-year-old Counts’ fall shooting activities is this, according to the Alaska Department of Law:
He shot three moose dead. He left all of the carcasses to rot. He was identified from a photograph taken by a witness to one of the shootings in September. He was apprehended by Alaska Wildlife Troopers in October. He was tried in the Homer court in December and found guilty of 21 charges related to illegal hunting.
State attorney Aaron Peterson said today that California probation officials have been notified of Counts’ latest crimes in Alaska and after he serves his time here “certainly they can extradite him.”
Whether the state could simply ship Counts south to let California house him and pick up the costs of his incarceration is “a policy level question above my pay grade,” he added.
As troopers describe Counts’ Alaska hunting expeditions, he would shoot a bull moose and measure its antlers to see if they met the legal standard of 50 inches. If they didn’t measure up, he’d leave the dead animal and find another moose to shoot.
The regulations are complicated because they are designed to focus harvest on old bulls and young bulls and leave a lot of big, healthy, breeding bulls to breed. Every year some hunters end up in trouble for shooting moose that don’t quite measure up to the 50-inch standard.
Most of them salvage the meat and turn themselves in. Usually the antlers are close to 50 inches, but not 50 inches, and they are fined. The meat is then donated to charity.
One of Counts’ moose might have passed as accidental. According to a trooper statement, it had antlers measuring 45 inches. Two others would have been visibly illegal even to the visually impaired. They had antlers of 26 inches and 25 inches, according to troopers.
“Only one backstrap off one moose had been salvaged,” troopers said. “The rest of the meat was left on the three animal’s in the field to spoil.”
“….This was one of the most egregious poaching cases seen by wildlife troopers in decades,” a Department of Law press release added.
What neither official statement mentioned was Counts’ back trail to California picked up by his Alaska neighbors. They eventually managed to connect with former neighbors of Counts in that state who tell an interesting story.
“He made a deal with the district attorney and a Trinity County California judge to drop 11 felony charges, most of which were for poaching and grand theft,” former neighbor Michael Tobing in Hayfork, Calif., told craigmedred.news Sunday night. “He was sent to Alaska to be in his dad’s care and not to return to the lower 48 or he’d receive an automatic 15 years.”
The specifics of that account could not be independently verified, but Counts’ probationary status does indicate he was supposed to be under the supervision of family.
Counts’ parents do live in the Anchor Point area, a court clerk for Trinity County said Counts does have a long rap sheet, and the Facebook comments on the Counts affair include photographs of what appear to be authentic California court documents posted by Hayfork-area resident Chris Berry.
“Chris Berry is the man who bought (Counts’) auctioned property and found all the abandoned…albums and legal docs,” Tobing said during a late night text exchange.
“I know (Counts) by having unfortunately been his front neighbor. I had to take him to court to get a restraining order….He threatened my wife and I with a rifle, said he was going to kill us.”
How news travels today
That Counts once lived in the Hayfork area is confirmed by a variety of websites that link a “Rusty Counts” with Count’s birth date to addresses in the area and by his connections to Facebook friends in Northern California who wonder when he is coming back to visit.
Hayfork is a rural “census designated place” – think Moose Pass if you are an Alaskan – between Redding and Sacramento in Northern California.
In Hayfork is where Klopp Davidson picked up Counts’ trail. She appears to have been the first to connect with Junction City, Calif. resident Berry.
Junction City is about 10 miles north of Hayfork on the Trinity River. Berry claimed on the Anchor Point Facebook page that “I bought this guys property in Trinity County in the county property tax lien sale. There’s a 40- foot shipping container on the property with a two-drawer file cabinet (with) 20 years worth of cases against” Counts.
To back that statement, Berry posted photos of what look to be authentic Trinity County Court filings charging Counts with felony eluding for fleeing a law enforcement officer in 2015 and misdemeanor battery in 2014.
California lacks a unified, statewide court reporting system like the court-view system in Alaska. As a result, it is impossible to easily verify all the court records in California.
But a clerk for the Superior Court of California in Trinity County said Monday by phone that Counts has many times been charged in the county.
Among the cases she noted was one for evading a police officer, the charge shown in the photo of one document posted by Berry. The clerk also said Counts faced felony charges related to property crimes, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of controlled substances and more.
“He’s got no respect for law or other people, not even for his own family,” Tobing said. “He’s bad news.
“His parents bought a home up there (in Alaska) to get away from him. They were hard-working, fairly decent folks.”
Counts’ father is now 67 and reported to have health problems. He did not respond to a request for comment. Efforts to reach out to Counts Facebook friends in California to obtain their views also went unanswered.
Though the specifics of Tobing’s account that Rusty cut a deal with the Trinity Count DA to move to Alaska to avoid prison time could not be verified, it is not unusual for the courts to release people to third-party custodians be they family, friends or business associates.
And Alaska is notorious for attracting so-called “end of the roaders,” who come north fleeing family, friends, the law, personal demons or who knows what.
Over the years, they’ve ranged from the murderous Michael Silka, an Illinois resident who in 1984 shot and killed one of a group of Alaska State Troopers searching for him in connection with eight homicides in the Fairbanks area, to the foolishly innocent Chris McCandless from Virgina found starved to death in a bus near Denali National Park in 1992.
And there have long been stories of troublemakers shipped to Alaska by other states or communities wanting to be rid of them. Most of those stories turned out to be urban legends. This one would appear to have a little more substance.
Rusty did appear to be settling into a new life in the 49th state. On the second of two separate Rusty Counts Facebook pages, he reported getting a job salmon fishing on a commercial driftnet boat in Cook Inlet in the summer of 2017. And he met a woman and got engaged.
They had a baby boy in August of this year – Rusty Counts, Jr, according to the Homer News. Only a month later, Rusty Sr. went on the moose shooting spree destined to introduce him to the Alaska prison system.