FWC: Social media posts detail abuse of Florida black bears

9 hunters arrested for allegedly killing or injuring bears

OCALA, Fla. – During a nearly yearlong undercover operation, investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission used hidden cameras, cellular tower records, social media posts and a GPS vehicle tracker to stop the illegal hunting of black bears, court records obtained by News 6 reveal.

On Wednesday, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced the arrest of nine people for allegedly using hunting dogs to chase and attack the bears, in violation of state law.

In a newly released probable cause affidavit, FWC Investigator Gregory Hoyle explained how wildlife officials collected evidence of the alleged animal abuse.

FWC received information in January 2018 that black bears were being killed or chased by dogs in North Florida after being baited with processed foods, according to the affidavit.

Over the following 11 months, FWC investigators obtained warrants for social media accounts and cellular tower data to piece together what they describe as an organized dog-training and hunting operation.

Although some states allow bear hunting, Florida law prohibits anyone from taking, pursuing, molesting, capturing, hunting, injuring or killing black bears.

Investigators believe dogs were illegally being trained to hunt bears in Florida before being sold to hunters in states where the practice is allowed.

In November 2017, Haley Reddish posted numerous videos on Instagram showing dogs fighting with bears and chasing them up trees in a hunting technique called "treeing," according to investigators.

One video, which wildlife officials believe was recorded in the Ocala National Forest based on the unique foliage seen in the footage, shows a hunting dog named Big Boss attacking a bear.

"Boss actually had the bear caught by the face, the bear didn't have him caught! LOL," Reddish allegedly wrote on the Instagram post.

In another video reportedly posted on Reddish's Instagram page on Feb. 11, a bear is seen clinging to the top of a tree as a pack of dogs bark below.

Someone can be heard beating the tree with a stick, according to FWC, which causes the bear to jump off and land on the ground where it is attacked by a pack of dogs.

"This bear thought he could fly," Reddish allegedly wrote on her Instagram page under the video.

Investigators believe that video was also recorded in the Ocala National Forest, in part because of GPS data suggesting her husband was in the area.

According to officials from the FWC, investigators obtained a warrant to place a GPS vehicle tracker on Dustin Reddish's truck.

On the morning of Feb. 11, the vehicle tracker showed Reddish traveling to the Ocala National Forest and staying until mid-afternoon. When investigators later checked the locations Dustin Reddish visited, the said they found donuts, corn, dog food and peanut butter used to bait the bears.

Bear hunt videos reportedly posted by Reddish on Snapchat that day contained embedded GPS location data, court records show, indicating they were recorded in the Ocala National Forest.

Those videos show his wife Haley was present along with two other hunters, Charles Scarbrough and William Wood, according to investigators.

In addition, cellular tower data obtained by FWC indicated Wood, Reddish and his wife had used their mobile devices in that same area on that day, the agency said. The tracking device on Reddish's truck also helped investigators identify where he was obtaining sweets to bait the bears, according to the arrest affidavit.

In May 2018, the vehicle tracker showed Reddish's truck traveling to a Krispy Kreme donut shop in Jacksonville, investigators said. Surveillance videos captured Reddish, Charles Scarbrough and Mark Lindsey removing bags of discarded donuts and pastries from the restaurant's dumpster, court records show.

Once FWC investigators learned where the bears were being baited with food in the Ocala National Forest and at another location in Union County, the agency secretly set up surveillance cameras in the woods.

According to investigators, those hidden cameras captured video of nine people taking part in illegal bear baiting or hunting with dogs: Haley Reddish, Dustin Reddish, Dustin Reddish's stepfather Troy Starling, William Wood, Charles Scarbrough and his wife Hannah, Christopher Haun and Mark Lindsey.

All nine have been arrested.

(Top, left to right: Haley Reddish, Mark Lindsey, William Wood, Dustin Reddish. Bottom, left to right: Charles Scarbrough, Hannah Scarbrough, Christopher Haun.)

According to investigators, Lindsey was captured in another bear hunting video that was shared in a Facebook message by William Landrum. That videos shows Lindsey climbing up a tree to a bear perched on the branches, according to the arrest affidavit.

"Lindsey gets on top of the bear who struggles to escape and then falls from a very high distance to the ground," the FWC investigator wrote.

That same video captured images of Wood releasing a dog that attacks the bear, subjecting the animal to "excessive infliction of unnecessary pain," according to FWC. Several of the dogs were outfitted with special collars that allow the hunters to track their location on handheld devices using GPS, authorities learned.

In June, an FWC investigator was monitoring an FM radio frequency when he overheard Dustin Reddish and Wood discussing the code numbers used to identify their dogs' GPS collars, records show.

That FWC investigator, an experienced K-9 officer who uses the same GPS tracking system, was able to use those code numbers to track the suspects' dogs throughout the remainder of the investigation, the arrest affidavit states.

Authorities discovered at least two dead bears near sites where surveillance video and other evidence suggested the hunters had baited bears.

In June, FWC investigators visited an area in Volusia County where Haun's vehicle was captured on surveillance video near a bait site.  Nearby, a dead bear with a hole in its neck consistent with a rifle bullet was seen floating in the water, authorities said.

When FWC investigators checked out a Union County bait site in September, they found the bones of a bear and a spent .44 caliber firearm cartridge, records show.

In an Instagram chat that occurred in early September, Wood discussed how difficult it is for FWC officers to catch bear hunters since dogs are also used to legally hunt other animals, according to investigators.

"I try to stay under the radar as much as possible," Wood allegedly wrote.  "I do too much illegal activity."

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades. Mike joined News 6 just as Florida officials began counting hanging chads in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. Since then, he has covered some of the biggest news events in Central Florida.