In a routine license and catch check, a veteran Ontario conservation officer found himself “fearing for his life,” after an altercation broke out on a frozen Ontario lake last winter.
The conservation officer and the accused anglers; Alex Friel, 20, Steven Friel, 43 and Garry St. Jean, 46, were in court this week as part of their arrest.
On April 3 of last year, conservation officer Peter Koskela was traversing George Alaska Lake north of Sudbury on his snowmobile when he came upon a group of anglers apparently fishing splake through the ice.
Working alone, Koskela was doing his rounds, routinely checking for valid fishing licenses and compliance with fish taken. Approaching a group fishing near the shoreline, he politely asked the party if they had any luck on the lake that fine day. The response was automatic as the men in the group told the officer they had caught three small splake while providing Koskela with their fishing licenses for verification.
After confirming the validity of their licenses, Koskela turned to the group’s sleigh to check on their catch. Hidden behind a case of empty beer cans were the three splake the group admitted to catching along with a brown trout, which was out of season at the time.
“They are not native to the Sudbury area, “Koskela told the Sudbury Star. “They are stocked. They have a brown color with distinct halos – brown and orange. They are unmistakable compared to splake.”
The blame for the fish was passed among the group, one man claiming they found the fish on the lake that day. Without causing too much of a stir, Koskela returned to his snowmobile and began to write up a ticket for the infraction.
As he looked up from his machine, he noticed three of the men approaching him on foot, which he admits, is not terribly unusual. In a matter of moments, the conservation officer found himself in a headlock.
“In this case, I was writing the ticket, three individuals came directly to me and the next thing you know, I was grabbed and put in a headlock. Steven Friel grabbed my arms, one was to my side and one around my head.
“Garry St. Jean was trying to wrestle to get the driver’s license from my hand … At that point, I feared for my life. I did not know what was going to happen. My duty belt (containing a handgun and collapsible baton) was inside my snowmobile suit. I could not get at them because I was immobilized.”
Attempting to de-escalate the situation, Koskela stated that he simply stopped resisting during the attack and testified that the three men immediately fled back to their truck with the license, Koskela’s ticket book, and snowmobile key. According to Koskela, the three men along with another man and a woman fled in the truck as he radioed for assistance from the Ontario Provincial Police.
It wasn’t long before the suspects were apprehended at a Tim Horton’s coffee shop in Dowling. Arriving shortly thereafter, Koskela was able to identify the three men that had attacked him.
The three men are each facing five charges: assaulting a peace officer, two counts of theft under $5,000, mischief and willfully obstructing a peace officer. The trial is set to resume today in Sudbury with another court session scheduled for next week.