Troy Man Sentenced to Two Months in Prison for Evidence Tampering in Grizzly Bear Killing

Othel Lee Pearson, 80, pleaded guilty to a felony count of tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor count of failure to report a grizzly bear killing in U.S. District Court

By Maggie Dresser
A grizzly bear in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem seen on Sept. 12, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

An 80-year-old Troy area man who shot and killed a collared grizzly bear on his property in 2020 without reporting the incident, and who then discarded the bear’s GPS collar in the Yaak River and concealed other evidence to avoid detection, was sentenced today to two months in prison and was fined $10,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office

Othel Lee Pearson pleaded guilty in February to a felony count of tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor count of failing to report the taking of a grizzly bear before U.S. District Court Judge Donald W. Molloy.

The court also ordered Pearson to serve four months of home confinement after his incarceration, followed by three years of supervised release. Additionally, he is ordered to forfeit a .270 Winchester bolt-action rifle with a scope that he used to kill the grizzly bear and was seized from his residence. The court allowed Pearson to self-report to prison.

“Those of us who grew up in Montana know not just the dangers associated with grizzly bears, but also their protected status as a threatened species too,” U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said. “When, as here, one illegally kills a grizzly bear, and in an attempt to cover it up, cuts off the bear’s GPS collar, tosses it into the Yaak River, and butchers the carcass for disposal, a federal felony will be pursued. The Cabinet-Yaak area is a designated grizzly bear recovery zone that includes Pearson’s property, which makes Pearson’s conduct even more troubling.”

According to amended court documents, Pearson on Nov. 19, 2020 shot and killed a sow grizzly bear on his residential property using a .270 rifle, removing a GPS collar fitted to the bear and disposing of it in the nearby Yaak River.

Pearson also removed the paws, ear tags and an identifying lip tattoo from the bear’s carcass. He then concealed the bear claws and an ear tag in a hollowed-out tree on National Forest System land near his residence. Meat from the bear was also discovered in Pearson’s freezer inside his home, records state.

Pearson tampered with these identifying objects to impair the criminal prosecution for the unlawful killing of the grizzly bear and he did not report the grizzly bear killing to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within five days of the incident, according to documents.

“The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is committed to protecting our nation’s natural resources for the continued benefit of the American people,” said Edward Grace, assistant director for the FWS’ Office of Law Enforcement. “Grizzly bears are a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and the state animal of Montana, which shows the importance of grizzly bears to the people and our ecosystems. Our agents will work tirelessly to investigate the illegal take of grizzly bears even when faced with the attempts to destroy and cover up the crime.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case while FWS conducted the investigation.