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Elk case hits OSP close to home

PENDLETON — When teams of Oregon State Police troopers descended upon two houses and two pickups last fall, search warrants in hand, they were on the cusp of breaking open a Rocky Mountain elk-poaching case that was anything but routine.

Troopers seized global-positioning system units, arrows, a camera and myriad other items they hoped would link a Pendleton father and his son to the poaching of a branch-antlered bull shot and left to waste in the Umatilla National Forest.

A good case for the cops, if only it didn't involve one of their own.

The Oct. 1 searches were of the Pendleton house and cabin owned by Timothy Ernie Gallaher, who at the time was a senior trooper with the OSP's Fish and Wildlife Division — the very same group investigating him.

A police affidavit accuses the 51-year-old Gallaher of helping his son, a 22-year-old state prison guard named Timothy Charles Gallaher, in the poaching of a 6-by-7-point elk Sept. 21 near their family's cabin.

A fellow guard at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute says the younger Gallaher bragged about shooting the elk with his father's approval, according to the affidavit.

The guard also claims the younger Gallaher said his father offered to retrieve the downed elk and remove it using his OSP pickup truck, the affidavit states.

Police also suspect both Gallahers trespassed on private property to find the dead elk, but by then the antlered head was severed and gone, the affidavit states.

Neither man has been charged in the case, which is now in the hands of the district attorney in nearby Union County. The elder Gallaher retired in December, OSP records show.

Still, the investigation hangs like dirty laundry in the office of OSP Capt. Walt Markee, who considers the case against the Gallahers to be as strong as it is disappointing.

"Police officers take an oath to protect and serve, protect our resources and that's our expectation," says Markee, who heads the fish and wildlife division.

"We did our job, but it's not satisfying."

The elder Gallaher, a 28-year OSP veteran, isn't getting any special treatment because he was a trooper, Markee says.

And he's not getting a heavier hand because of it, either, Markee says.

"We're investigating it equally," Markee says. "We investigate crimes where we find them and let the facts fall where they fall.

"We certainly won't look the other way."

Union County District Attorney Tim Thompson said he is reviewing the case, and has discussed it with the elder Gallaher's attorney, Dave Gallaher — a former Umatilla County district attorney who is also the former trooper's brother.

Possible charges against the elder Gallaher include illegal aiding/counseling in a wildlife violation and official misconduct, both misdemeanors.

The Gallahers did not return telephone calls this week seeking comment.

The affidavit centers around four alleged conversations in late September between the younger Gallaher and fellow guard Josh Mitchell while on shift together at the Pendleton prison.

On Sept. 20, the younger Gallaher allegedly told Mitchell that he passed on shooting a 7-point bull while hunting in a spike-only hunt, then telephoned his father, the affidavit states. The elder Gallaher allegedly told his son that it was all right to shoot the branch-antlered bull, and that he would help retrieve the dead elk with his state pickup, according to the affidavit.

On Sept. 21 at the prison, a "visibly excited" younger Gallaher allegedly said he shot a 6-by-7-point bull in the neck that morning with an arrow he later found broken and bloodied, the affidavit states.

The younger Gallaher reportedly said he saw the elk wander into what he believed to be private property, then logged his location on a GPS system so he could give those coordinates to his father, according to the affidavit.

On Sept. 22, the younger Gallaher allegedly told Mitchell that the elder Gallaher asked for, but was denied, permission to search the private property for the dead elk, the affidavit states. The plan was for the elder Gallaher to return in his state police truck the next day to retrieve the animal, according to the affidavit.

Mitchell reported the conversations to his supervisors because he thought poaching was morally wrong and that he feared not reporting the conversations could lead to his dismissal, the affidavit states.

The Gallahers allegedly met later at their family cabin near Tollgate and were seen in the area repeatedly by OSP troopers who kept the pair under surveillance, the affidavit states.

The younger Gallaher later told Mitchell that the pair found the dead elk, without its antlers, on the private property, the affidavit states. Nearby were two dead calf elk with their backstraps missing, and the elder Gallaher believed a local poacher was involved.

"Junior told Mitchell that Senior was going to make a case against (the local poacher) regarding the calf and Senior would retrieve the 6X7 bull elk antlers in order to give them to Junior," the affidavit states.

The search warrant was signed two days later, records show.

Markee says the case was forwarded to Thompson without any recommended charges, just like his troopers do all the time.

"And he's innocent until proven guilty," Markee says, "just like everyone else."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.