State belatedly identifies suspect in bear killing
The man who was ticketed last month for fatally shooting a black bear in this Shandaken hamlet has been identified as Christian Neal.
After the incident at 11 p.m. Oct. 11, Neal was charged with shooting a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling, illegally taking wildlife and taking wildlife during closed hours, all violations of the state’s Environmental Conservation Law.
Officers with the Shandaken police and the state Department of Environmental Conservation who responded to the scene found a black bear in a backyard that had been fatally shot. Neal told officers he shot the animal out of fear, but an investigation found no evidence to support that claim, the state agency said at the time.
The agency declined to provide Neal’s name until last Thursday, when it did so in responding to a second Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request filed by the Freeman.
The agency would not divulge Neal’s name immediately after the incident and rejected the first FOIL request by the Freeman, stating: “Records compiled for law-enforcement purposes, which, if disclosed, would interfere with law-enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings,” are not subject to release and are “exempt from FOIL disclosure.”
In a Nov. 3 email to the newspaper, Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, wrote: “First, I’ve suggested a thousand times that we don’t have secret arrests in this country.” He then cited an advisory opinion that stated: “Historically, public are police blotters and booking records, both of which were included among records available pursuant to FOIL as originally enacted in 1974.”
Freeman also said that, following an arrest, “the accused[‘s] name, age, residence, employment, marital status and similar background information” are a matter of public record.
The newspaper appealed the state’s denial immediately after receiving Freeman’s email.