The fight over Metro Parks, Serving Summit County shooting deer in four parks took a new twist Friday.
An Illinois animal rights group alleged that its six video recorders seized from the parks were erased by park district consultant Anthony DeNicola -- with access to the confiscated equipment allegedly provided by two park district rangers.
Showing Animals Respect and Kindness cited as evidence materials in 32 pages of reports by park rangers and park personnel that were released this week.
The reports say that DeNicola of White Buffalo Inc., the Connecticut firm that assisted in shooting the deer, talked the rangers into granting access to the recorders that were stored in an evidence locker at the ranger station.
If that happened, the two rangers should be terminated and all three should be charged with tampering with evidence, said SHARK spokesman Steve Hindi. The third-degree felony is punishable by one to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Hindi wants an independent investigation into the matter and said his group intends to proceed with legal action against the park district and DeNicola.
"It's almost beyond words, it's so outrageous," he said. "It was intentional, deliberate and a premeditated crime. The only question is how many people were involved?"
DeNicola, contacted by the Akron Beacon Journal, refused to confirm or deny the report. He declined to further comment until he has a chance to confer with park officials.
Park officials said they told DeNicola to contact the park's attorney.
The park district on March 23 disciplined two rangers -- Dave Rankin and Justin Simon -- although the park district refused to say what actions were taken against the pair, said spokeswoman Susan Fairweather.
The two rangers were not involved in erasing or destroying the recorders, but they did break district rules and procedures, she said.
The park district looks at the matter as a case of rangers not following internal procedures for lost-and-found items, not as tampering with evidence, she said.
The park district is not investigating DeNicola's alleged actions and considers the case closed, she said.
Rangers wrote that the case against DeNicola might be referred to the prosecutor's office but that was never done, Fairweather said. The park district saw no need to take it further, she said.
Park officials were unable to prove whether DeNicola erased what was on the recorders, she said. "We can't confirm it," she said. "We don't know if he did it."
She offered no explanation for how park officials reached that conclusion, when records indicate that DeNicola had talked to rangers about his actions.
The park district, in a written statement, said it understands that any erased material might be retrieved by a special program from the manufacturer and might mean that whatever was erased might not be lost.
Why the recorders were erased remains a puzzle.
DeNicola told the rangers that he had seen Rankin's truck in the video. Citing threats from animal rights activists at other operations and the possible danger to the rangers, "the decision was made (by the three men) to erase the cameras," an investigative report says.
The report also says that DeNicola intended to contact an attorney and take responsibility for his actions and to keep the rangers out of trouble.
Fairweather said the park district had not received any threatening calls.
The park district is puzzled as to why DeNicola allegedly took such actions because there is nothing to hide, she said.
TAGGED AS EVIDENCE
Hindi said his recorders were all tagged as evidence from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification. Some of the equipment was damaged, he said.
Park officials have repeatedly denied damaging the equipment that was returned to Hindi on March 30.
The park district confiscated the video equipment Feb. 29 after it was discovered mounted to trees in the parks during a 13-day operation to reduce the white-tailed deer herd.
Sharpshooters killed 119 deer in Sand Run and Cascade Valley parks in Akron, Silver Creek park in Norton and Munroe Falls park in Munroe Falls.
The deer were shot because of the damage they were inflicting on the park's flora and fauna.
Hindi's group had attacked the hunt, saying the animals were being mistreated.
It charged that the animals were shot and then dragged or suffocated with plastic bags over their heads while still moving.
Park officials have said no deer were mistreated, and that such twitching is common after a deer is shot. They said the plastic bags were placed over the animals' heads to keep blood from draining onto the ground.