Motion reveals decades-long systemic and on-going abuse of Falconers’ rights

January 28, 2019 | By TIMOTHY SNOWBALL

Today, Peter Stavrianoudakis, Katherine Stavrianoudakis, Scott Timmons, Eric Ariyoshi, and American Falconry Conservancy filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction in their federal lawsuit to protect licensed falconers’ constitutional rights under the Fourth and First Amendments.

If granted by the Court, this injunction will prevent California and U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers from conducting unreasonable warrantless searches of falconers’ private homes and property and prohibit enforcement of regulations infringing their right to free speech, while the lawsuit is pending.

The factual allegations supporting the motion are disturbing.

“For decades, falconers have lived in fear of losing their birds if they do not submit to the whims of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, including submitting to warrantless searches,” writes Peter Stavrianoudakis. “The abuse of falconers’ Fourth Amendment rights by Fish and Wildlife officers is widespread, ongoing, and systemic.”

According to Ron Kearney, the current president of American Falconry Conservancy, “Warrantless searches of falconers’ homes and property by armed Fish and Wildlife officers are a pervasive long-time problem that has been around since licenses were first required in the 1970s, and continuing to this day.” He continues by stating that “It is also just as commonly known by falconers that this common practice exposes them to forfeiting their Fourth Amendment rights. This causes extreme stress, fear, and anxiety in many falconers.”

In one particularly disturbing incident, a female falconer was detained by Fish and Wildlife officers for such an extended period in her own kitchen that she was forced to urinate in her own pants.

According to Bridget Rocheford-Kearney, a long time proponent for falconers’ rights, “Everyone knows someone who has gotten a visit from Fish and Wildlife demanding entry into their home…The founding and development of American Falconry Conservancy is a direct result of the unconstitutional heavy-handed enforcement actions of federal and state Fish and Wildlife departments.”

But repeated attempts by individuals and American Falconry Conservancy to end these unconstitutional actions have instead resulted in repeated insult and injury. “I attended and participated in every single public hearing held by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife relating to their warrantless search program for the past three years—approximately four separate hearings,” writes Peter. “When I asked Director Bonham why they didn’t just secure warrants before trying to search falconers’ homes and property, he told me that judges would not provide warrants for such searches and that ‘surprise is what makes these inspections so effective.'”

In a final attempt to avoid a lawsuit, Peter asked Director Bonham if he had exhausted all other remedies available to make the regulations conform with the Constitution, short of filing a lawsuit. Bonham replied, “We are not changing anything, so you’ll just have to sue us. And if you want to fight us, we can just take falconry away completely.

Within three days of this statement word spread throughout the falconry community that armed California Fish and Wildlife officers had shown up unannounced at the homes of over 20 licensed falconers demanding warrantless entry in a shocking display of power. “The timing and scale of these sudden and widespread searches leads me to believe that they were a direct consequence of Director Bonham’s threats,” Peter writes. “I fear continued intimidation and abuse of myself, American Falconry Conservancy members, and other falconers as a result of this lawsuit and our refusal to allow our rights to be violated.”

And it is not only the Fourth Amendment rights of licensed falconers that are routinely violated; the rights of non-falconers are also affected. “I [am shocked] that at any moment armed California Fish and Wildlife officers could barge right into my house and have full rein over my home without having permission to come in,” writes Peter’s wife Katherine Stavrianoudakis. “Will they knock down my door, pin me down, and put me in handcuffs because I do not want to cooperate in my rights being violated? All because I love and am married to a falconer?”

The First Amendment rights of licensed falconers are also held hostage to the whims of Fish and Wildlife officials. “Discrimination and bigotry against our community from Fish and Wildlife officers also includes the whole idea of us not being able to use our falconry birds…for paid presentations, photography, or film,” writes long time falconer and small business owner Scott Timmons. “There are so many grey areas in these regulations. What am I allowed to say or do with my birds?” In one particularly disturbing incident, Timmons was told on the telephone by California Fish and Wildlife officers that he was “not allowed to stop and talk to people about my birds at all. That I had to be rude and ignore their questions, or else.”

According to Ron Kearney, “The general impression is that we are simply not allowed to talk at will about falconry or else Fish and Wildlife will take our birds away.”

Represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, the Plaintiffs’ hearing on their motion for a preliminary injunction is tentatively set for the week of April 8, 2019.

For more information and updates on the case, please see the case page, other related blog posts (here and here), and the moving mini-documentary featuring Peter and his falcon “Ares.”