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U.S. Forest Service officer shot, killed by coyote hunter

A USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement officer was fatally shot Friday, March 5 at the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Recreation Area on the Oconee Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Jasper County, Ga.

The officer, Christopher Arby Upton, 37, of Monroe, Ga., was on routine patrol in the area about 11 p.m.

Two individuals were hunting coyotes with a high-powered rifle equipped with night vision and apparently mistook the officer for game. After the shooting, the hunters dialed 911 and reported a hunting incident.

“This is a tragic incident where the loss of a federal officer’s life could have been avoided,” said Steven Ruppert, Special Agent-in-Charge for the Southern Region of the Forest Service. “This is a devastating loss for Chris’ family, our agency, other law enforcement officers and his friends and neighbors in Monroe. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

“The standard procedure for a hunter is to identify your target and then shoot,” said Homer Bryson, Law Enforcement Colonel for Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Resources Division (WRD). “The hunter failed to do this, and mistook the officer for game. He then shot and instantly killed the officer.”

The shooter, Norman Clinton Hale, 40, McDonough, Ga., and an observer, Clifford Allen McGouirk, 41, of Jackson, Ga., were hunting coyotes. The incident investigation is being conducted jointly by the Forest Service and Georgia DNR WRD.

Upton, a four-year veteran of the Forest Service, had previously worked as a game warden for the Department of Defense, U.S. Marine Corps, at Beaufort, South Carolina, and as a conservation officer, game warden and pilot with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. He is survived by his wife, Jessica, and a 4-year-old daughter, Annabelle.