A Bigfork man’s shifting accounts of what happened the night he shot three grizzly bears last spring has led to a federal judge finding him guilty on three counts of unlawfully taking a threatened species.
Dan Calvert Wallen will be sentenced on May 12 in Missoula.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch said Wallen, who claimed self-defense, seriously undermined his own credibility through omissions and changing stories.
“Wallen gave materially conflicting versions of events,” Lynch wrote in his decision this week, and initially only told an investigating game warden about one of the grizzlies he shot.
All three grizzlies died. One was put down by a neighbor of Wallen’s, who found the seriously wounded bear lying in his driveway.
“Wallen has given three accounts of the events,” the judge said in his decision.
The first was to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Charles Bartos, who responded to the report of the grizzly in the driveway.
“Wallen explained that grizzly bears had been in his chicken coop more than once that day,” Lynch wrote. The defendant told Bartos this particular grizzly returned while Wallen was picking up chicken carcasses, got into the chicken coop and started eating chickens again.
“Wallen stated that in an attempt to scare the bear away, he shot at it one time while it was in the chicken coop and again while it was walking away,” Lynch went on. “Wallen said he did not think he hit the bear, and so was surprised when a short time later his neighbor immediately to the south … called him to say there was what appeared to be an injured bear lying down in the driveway between their two houses.”
After the neighbor shot and killed the injured grizzly, a necropsy showed what appeared to be two other bullet holes in the bear’s left hind quarter, entering toward the stomach.
The next day, Bartos responded to a report that a second grizzly had been found dead from a gunshot wound on the same property.
When the warden advised Wallen that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be taking over the investigation, Wallen “then volunteered some additional information about what had happened the night before.”
“He told Bartos that shortly before the single grizzly appeared, two other grizzlies came into the yard while he was picking up chicken carcasses, broke into the chicken coop, and killed a number of chickens,” Lynch said. “Wallen stated that he fired two shots at the two bears and they ran off.”
On May 29, two days after the shootings, Wallen told FWS special agent Brian Lakes the grizzlies were not in the chicken coop when he fired the shots. He also signed an affidavit “stating that he was fearful for himself and his family.”
Wallen’s third version of the events of the day came when he testified in his own defense during the March 10 bench trial, Lynch said.
After telling Bartos the first grizzly was eating chickens in the coop when he shot at it, and telling Lakes it was between a tree and a post west of the coop when he shot at it, he testified that the bear was running erratically around the yard outside the coop when he fired at it.
He also gave conflicting accounts of his final encounter with the other two grizzlies, telling Lakes he was 40 yards away when they appeared, but testifying he was 15 feet away.
“The court also finds it significant that when Wallen spoke to Bartos at the scene that night, he only mentioned shooting at the third grizzly,” Lynch wrote. “It was not until the next day, when Bartos told him that another dead bear had been found, that he mentioned also shooting at the two bears. This was a material omission, which the court finds bears directly on Wallen’s credibility.
“These discrepancies compel the court to conclude that Wallen’s trial testimony as it pertains to his claim that he acted in defense of himself or others is simply not credible,” Lynch concluded.