State wildlife agency sued for secret surveillance on private land – Tennessee Lookout

CAMDEN, Tenn. “Hunter Hollingsworth, at first, didn’t understand that it was a surveillance camera beaming sunlight from a high branch of a tree about a mile beyond the no trespassing sign marking his family’s remote property in the western Tennessee. .

But something in the glow made him stop his truck. By the time he climbed up to investigate, grabbed the device from the tree, drove home, and examined a SIM card, Hollingsworth realized there was a surveillance device capable of capturing his movements for months in a 24/7 live feed. of the week. to officials from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, or TWRA.

Hollingsworth’s discovery in 2018 and the series of events that followed led to a years-long legal battle with state wildlife officials over his right to privacy free from government trespassing and video surveillance on his property.

It’s a fight, Hollingsworth said, that has proven exhausting over the past four years, straining his relationship with his girlfriend at times as he keeps burning the spark of anger he first felt upon seeing footage of him and his friends on the undercover surveillance. of the government. footage on the SIM card. Hollingsworth’s long legal battle could soon come to a head.

A three-judge panel, convened in Benton County last December, is weighing Hollingsworth’s challenge to the constitutionality of TWRA’s practice of conducting warrantless patrols, searches and surveillance on private property.

It is a practice rooted in a tennessee law granting TWRA the right to search and police private property to enforce hunting, fish, and wildlife laws, an authority not explicitly extended to any other state or local law enforcement, including state sheriffs county or local police.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials say a US Supreme Court ruling on the “open range” doctrine gives Tennesseans no expectation of privacy, but attorneys for Hunter Hollingsworth and Terry Rainwaters say that the policy conflicts with the Tennessee Constitution.

TWRA officers can “go to any property, off buildings, posted or otherwise,” the law says.

Hollingsworth, along with his neighbor, Terry Rainwaters, who says TWRA also engaged in warrantless searches of his property, have asked the panel of state judges, convened under a new law that requires panels for state constitutional complaints, to declare unconstitutional law.

Represented by attorneys from the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning nonprofit law firm, the couple have argued that TWRA’s warrantless raids on private property violate Article 1, Section 7 of the Tennessee Constitutionwhich says in part:

“The people will be safe in their persons, houses, papers and possessions, from unreasonable searches and seizures.”

“If they can come when they want, when they want and where they want, what is the value of private property?” Holllingsworth said in an interview earlier this month.

“If they go onto private land, they should have to get a court order. They abuse their authority and no one controls it. If baiting (illegally luring prey through bait) is much worse than child trafficking or other serious crimes that require a warrant, then they need a warrant.”

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