State Rep. Mary Bentley of Perryville made a veiled threat about Game and Fish Commission funding to a wildlife officer who accompanied a Forest Service officer talking to Bentley’s husband, Ted, about violations of rules on baiting wildlife and ATV use in the Ouachita National Forest.
Game and Fish Officer Robert Stout accompanied forest service Officer Hugh Davis to the Bentleys home. According to his report, Rep. Bentley said to them, “…we (officer Davis and I) need to be real careful, that times were tough and money was tight and that they (House) are looking for places to get money for funding and the Game and Fish Commission would be a good place to look.”
The report said a summons was given to Ted Bentley related to ATV and baiting regulations.
Rep. Bentley was said by an employee at her business to be out of state today and unreachable when I called. Ted Bentley did not respond to a message I left for him. Rep. Bentley also did not respond to an e-mail.
The state officer’s report on the incident, provided with some redactions after an Arkansas Times Freedom of Information Act request, details a contentious encounter between the Bentleys and officers that included references to some past grievances about wildlife enforcement in their area. Game and Fish first said this was a Forest Service matter and referred me to that agency, but I pressed for any record the state agency had of its visit to the home.
To date, the Forest Service has deemed the matter an ongoing investigation and has not released information about the incident. A public affairs spokesman in Arkansas said the matter was under the jurisdiction of law enforcement officials in Atlanta. The U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock didn’t respond to multiple inquiries. The state says that reports I received that a camera was in use during the encounter with the Bentleys refers to equipment of the Forest Service. A letter from Game and Fish’s legal division said:
Regarding the video recording, that was made by the U.S. Forest Service officer, not an AGFC officer, and is a federal record. It is our understanding that the U.S. Attorney’s office considers it part of an ongoing investigation and has invoked a federal exemption from release.
The code of regulations for the Ouachita National Forest prohibits placement of salt or feed over any area in the forest in an attempt to lure wildlife for hunting. A violation is punishable by a fine up to $5,000 and six months in prison. The report doesn’t indicate what type of wildlife was allegedly being baited. ATV use is also restricted to limited places in the forest and a violation is punishable by similar penalties.
According to the report (which redacts some information said to be related to the open federal investigation): The incident was set in motion when Hugh Davis found a “bait site” off Highway 9 south of the Williams Junction store, within about a mile of the Bentley home. He installed a surveillance camera. On Oct. 11, Davis showed Stout a photo taken by the camera. Stout said it showed Ted Bentley, who lives nearby, on an ATV with a bucket on its front.
They went to the Bentleys home on Oct. 17. No one was home, but they saw an ATV and a bucket. They returned Oct. 18. Rep. Mary Bentley pulled up and she called her husband on a cell phone. She gave the phone to Stout, who told Bentley they wanted to talk to him. Bentley was “rude,” Stout said, and unwilling to come without being told what the meeting was about. Stout said Bentley also said he didn’t want to drive to the house because he’d been drinking beer. Stout said he and Davis were preparing to leave, but then Rep. Bentley said her husband was on his way.
The meeting was contentious. Bentley said he’d done nothing wrong. And he brought up past enforcement activities in the vicinity, one involving a turkey hunting accident more than 15 years ago. He also asked Stout if he hunted deer at night in a duck area. Stout said he didn’t. At one point, Bentley walked into his house. Stout said he made small talk with Rep. Bentley and as Davis was walking up, she made the remark about funding. When Ted Bentley got back, Stout said, Davis advised Ted Bentley of charges and handed him summonses for ATV and baiting regulations. He was told he had 30 days to pay a fine or a warrant would be issued. Stout continued:
He stated he wasn’t signing anything and Officer Davis stated that he didn’t have to that he just needed to understand the process. Officer Davis again started explaining the process and Mr. Bentley interrupted him saying “Didn’t you already say that?” Officer Davis advised him he wanted to make sure he understood. With that we got into our vehicles and left the area.
Bentley is a first-term representative. She unseated an incumbent, Democrat John Catlett, in 2014, running heavily on her opposition to abortion. Moral issues are important to her. She earned attention in 2015 by a speech in favor of a bill to prevent cities from passing civil rights ordinances to protect LGBT people. She carefully enunciated in the speech what the acronym LGBT stood for, as if each was a dirty word.
A Democrat, Lesa Wolfe Crowell of Dardanelle, will oppose Bentley this year.
NOTED: Game and Fish is a constitutionally independent agency, but the legislature appropriates the money it receives from license fees and a dedicated sales tax.