One of the guides the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) charged with illegally killing a 13-foot alligator in Leon County on June 11 says he was out of the state when the alleged offense occurred.
Sam Lovell, who along with Steve Barclay operates a guide service under the business name “The Gar Guys,” was charged with illegally taking two alligators, the 13-footer and smaller one. Lovell told Texas Fish & Game he was more than 1000 miles away when TPWD claims he was helping kill the alligators.
“I’ve been in Michigan since April 1 and I have not left,” Lovell said. “I’ve got the pay checks to prove it, too.”
“They’re slandering my name,” Lovell told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in a cell phone interview from the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, where he captains an airboat ferrying workers and equipment for an energy company. “I haven’t been on a gator hunt in more than a year.”
Game warden Captain Gary Dugan of Athens said TPWD’s investigation tells a different story.
“You don’t know the whole story,” Dugan said. “I know what Lovell is saying, but it’s not the same. We investigated the case. We’ve got photos. We’ve got the alligators and we’ve got enough evidence to prove he [Sam Lovell] was there. His own people said he was there. Some of the witnesses said he was there.”
“They are telling all kinds of stories,” Dugan added. “They are also saying they had permission to hunt on the property, which they did not. This is not the first run in we have had with the Gar Guys. There has been a lot of issues down there, but this is a case where we have enough evidence to go forward and prosecute.”
TPWD communications staff issued a press release on July 20 naming Levi McCathern of Dallas, the hunter-client, as the trigger man. The release also named Barclay, Lovell, and Ryan Burton as the outfitters who guided the hunter to the huge ‘gator along a remote stretch of the Trinity River.
The charges stem from an allegation by a Leon County landowner that the big alligator was killed on his property without permission on June 11. He also claimed a smaller alligator was taken on the property on June 10. Both ‘gators have been tagged as evidence by wardens as part of the investigation.
Barclay said he did have permission to hunt on the property. The guide said he and Lovell have been taking clients there for about three years.
“We had verbal permission to hunt there,” he said. “We have taken clients in there about 10 times and killed hogs before. We’ve also hunted ‘gators there, but these were the first two that have been taken off this particular place.”
Barclay said he is adamant about fighting the charges.
“We haven’t done anything wrong,” Barclay said. “I honestly believe that TPWD knows we had permission to hunt on that property. I believe they knew it before they filed the charges. This whole deal is an injustice and I’ll fight it to the end.”
This case is highly similar to another TPWD attempt to prosecute Barclay and Lovell in another alligator hunting incident on the Trinity in 2007. Those charges were dismissed by Leon County Attorney Jim Witt, who determined TPWD’s evidence was too weak to prosecute the case.
Burton was unavailable for comment and McCathern was out-of-state and could not be reached by phone.
Taking wildlife on private property without landowner consent is a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, the men could face fines up to $4000, up to one year in jail, or both; and more than $5000 restitution fees for the two alligators.