A Jefferson County man accused of first-degree unlawful trafficking in wildlife for trying to sell a wild raven last year pleaded guilty Friday to a reduced charge of second-degree unlawful taking of …
A Jefferson County man accused of first-degree unlawful trafficking in wildlife for trying to sell a wild raven last year pleaded guilty Friday to a reduced charge of second-degree unlawful taking of endangered fish or wildlife.
Andrew Robert Johnston, 57, accepted a plea deal with prosecutors that resulted in a sentence with no time in jail. Johnston had been facing a felony charge, but the plea agreement led to a revised charge of a gross misdemeanor.
During his change of plea hearing late last week in Jefferson County Superior Court, Johnston was sentenced to 364 days in jail, with all 364 days suspended for two years.
Johnston was also fined $2,500 to the Wildlife Reimbursement Fund and a $500 victim assessment fee.
Deputy Prosector Chris Ashcraft said the plea agreement was supported by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Johnston fully cooperated with authorities, Ashcraft said, and expressed his remorse. Johnston also had no criminal history.
“He immediately kind of confessed and cooperated and didn’t make it a long, drawn-out process,” Ashcraft said.
cruelty charge impactful
Lillian Powers, the attorney representing Johnston, noted the severity of the earlier charge and the impact it would pose to Johnston’s livelihood as a dog breeder.
“Mr. Johnston did not go searching out for a raven,” Powers told Superior Court Judge Brandon Mack. “He came across this animal and did his best to nurture that animal.”
“A charge like this is very serious for him because it relates to his work, because it relates to his passion,” Powers added. “And so, knowing that he had originally been charged with animal cruelty, that hurt, because that’s not who he considers himself to be.”
Johnston was charged in August with first-degree unlawful trafficking in wildlife, as well as second-degree animal cruelty and first-degree taking of protected wildlife.
He came to the attention of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife after officers received multiple reports of a juvenile “wild born” raven that was being listed for sale for $600 on Craigslist, and set up an undercover buy south of Discovery Bay.
A detective called Johnston
May 21 about buying the raven, the pair came up with a pre-arranged sale price, and Johnston allegedly told the officer “he knew the sale of the raven was illegal and that ‘we both had to be careful,’” according to a probable cause statement.
The detective and another Fish and Wildlife officer met with Johnston the next day and bought the bird, with Johnston saying he wanted to make sure they had not been Fish and Wildlife officers during the sale.
Two other officers arrested Johnston soon after the sale when they saw him walking up the driveway of a nearby property. According to court papers, Johnston had the $600 in cash that officers had used to buy the raven.
bird was ‘emaciated’
The raven was later examined by a veterinarian, and lab results indicated the bird was “definitely an emaciated animal that has been kept inappropriately confined.”
During his court appearance Friday, Johnston read from a prepared, nine-page statement and said he doubted a jury would have found him guilty of the charges.
“I would have liked to have our day in court, to tell our side of this story properly,” Johnston told the judge.
“I do find it difficult to imagine a jury of 12, hearing the whole story, would agree that it warranted turning a 57-year-old man with no prior criminal convictions into a felon,” he said.
not happy with plea
In his statement, he also expressed concern about the blood sample that was used to judge the bird’s health.
The consequences of becoming a felon, however, was too great a risk, he said.
“An animal cruelty conviction would not only destroy a way of life some 20 years in the making, it would also effectively end my livelihood, which revolves around animals. All of which, for the crime of saving of bird’s life and finding it a home, while the rescues were closed by COVID,” Johnston told the judge.
“The plea does not sit well with me,” he added.
Johnston said he found the raven in May 2021 on his property and picked the bird off the ground to save it from the dog he was walking.
He said his family named the bird “Lucky” and he initially kept it in a chain-link dog run to keep it safe from his dogs.
He said he later moved the raven to a tarped section of dog run “to keep Lucky lucky a bit longer.”
He also said he tried to contact local animal rescue shelters with no luck, and decided to put the bird up for “adoption” on Craigslist.
Johnston said some of those who responded to the listing told him he was breaking the law for simply possessing the bird, but noted in his statement “those facts were already water under the proverbial bridge.”
Johnston did not read his entire statement, but concluded with, “I just want people to understand: I tried to save a bird. That was really it.”
Mack said it was obvious that Johnston had learned from the experience, and he accepted the terms of the plea agreement.
“Mr. Johnston, best of luck to you,” the judge said.