Impersonating a Game Warden?

I am a Registered Maine Guide, and I've discovered that in many unsophisticated people's eyes that seems like the same thing as being a game warden. I am always quick to set these confused folks straight by pointing out that wardens are sworn law enforcement officers charged with upholding all sorts of laws. Guides take you fishing and hunting.

Until today, I've never even heard the suggestion that someone might actually pretend to be a warden for nefarious purposes (or not, as you'll soon see). I just received this press release from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (sorry no link). It demonstrates just how weird things can get in the Maine woods:

A Limerick man on Sunday was charged with filing a false report of a crime after Maine Game Wardens in the York County area spent most of last week investigating a report that the man was checked by two men impersonating game wardens while out hunting.

District Game Warden Eric Blanchard last week received a complaint that Justin Nichols, 26, of Limerick had been checked by two game wardens in a manner that was not consistent with current Maine Warden Service policies and procedures. Warden Blanchard reported the complaint to his supervisor, Sgt. Tim Spahr, who was unaware of any game wardens working in the area at the time of the alleged incident.

An intense “impersonating an officer” investigation was initiated after it was confirmed that no game wardens were in fact working at that time near the location of the incident. As part of the investigation, Nichols was interviewed several times. During those interviews, Nichols maintained that two men between 40 and 50 years old who were wearing green wool jackets with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife patches on the shoulders had aggressively approached him, asked for his hunting license, and took his firearm. He further maintained that his license and firearm were returned and no “enforcement” action was taken.

Although Nichols was exact on some details of the alleged encounter, other specifics led investigators to ask Nichols to submit to a polygraph examination, according to Maine Warden Service Major Gregory Sanborn, Deputy Chief Game Warden. It was only after the appointment was set for Nichols to take the test that he admitted to Warden Blanchard that the whole story had been fabricated, Sanborn said.

“The Maine Warden Service took this complaint very seriously,” Sanborn said. “Maine Game Wardens work hard to enforce the laws and catch game law violators but are directed to do so in a manner that is respectful and courteous. The initial report was that this did not occur, and the investigation reveled statements made by Nichols to local hunters that would cause the average person to doubt the credibility of their local Game Wardens. Subsequent information was that there may have two men in the area pretending they are Game Wardens. Neither situation tends to build public trust in an enforcement agency.”

Nichols was charged Sunday for False Report of a Crime, which is a class “D” misdemeanor.

“As long as there have been hunters and Game Wardens, some hunters have been telling tales about their encounters Game Wardens,” Sanborn said. “Unfortunately, it appears that this tall tale got out of hand, crossed the legal line and cost the state resources that already are stretched thin in order to get to the bottom of it.”

I think this bizarre episode might have a place in a future Mike Bowditch novel.