Wagner pleads guilty to hunting accident
Friday, January 31, 2014
Michael Wagner, the 48-year-old Libby man who critically wounded a Littleton, Colo., man while hunting Nov. 16 near Libby Creek Road, pleaded guilty last Thursday in Libby Justice Court.
Shortly after the shooting, Wagner entered a not-guilty plea, but that changed last week as Justice of the Peace Jay Sheffield sentenced Wagner for negligent endangerment in the shooting of John Cleveland, 60, and for unlawful hunting from a public roadway. Both are misdemeanors.
For the negligent endangerment charge, Wagner must pay a fine of $500 and a surcharge of $35. On the unlawful hunting from a public roadway charge, Wagner must pay $200 and a $35 surcharge.
Sheffield also imposed a 365-day jail term on the negligent endangerment charge, all but 20 days of which has been suspended. On the unlawful hunting from a roadway charge, Wagner was sentenced to 180 days, all but 20 days of that sentence also was suspended. According to the court, Wagner will serve the concurrent 20-day sentences on 10 weekends. Also, Wagner will have his hunting, trapping and fishing privileges suspended for five years and upon completion of that suspension, he must complete a remedial hunters-education safety class.
Sheffield also ordered Wagner to pay restitution to Cleveland, who still is recovering from the bullet wound to a thigh. A hearing to determine that restitution is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday, April 1, in Justice Court.
Cleveland is a vocal opponent of the Montanore mine project. He and his family own nearly 1,000 acres in the area of Libby Creek where the shooting occurred during deer season. The proposed Montanore Mine is located near the Cleveland family land holdings.
Online comments have attempted to link Wagner’s shooting of Cleveland as retaliation for his opposition to the Montanore Project, but during a recent interview, Cleveland said he thought the shooting was nothing more than an accident.
The day was Saturday, Nov. 16, and the bucks were in peak rut. For hunters, it figured to be the best weekend of the season to be in the woodlands, but for Cleveland and Wagner, it was arguably the worst day of their lives.
Wagner was hunting that day with his son about 10 miles up Libby Creek Road. He shot at a mule deer from a roadway and pursued the deer onto Cleveland’s property when he fired again at what he thought was the deer but turned out to be Cleveland.
Wagner and his son aided Cleveland and even transported him to a waiting ambulance that took him to St. John’s Lutheran Hospital.
At the time of the shooting, Cleveland was not wearing hunter blaze orange. However, he was not prosecuted for the lack of proper attire.