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SCDNR recognizes officers of the year for protecting waterways, enforcing state wildlife laws

September 19, 2022

Lane Cpl. Matthew Owen, Pfc. Brain Hoover, Pfc. JP Cooler, Staff Sgt. Philip Robertson in SCDNR officer uniforms holding wooden Officer of the Year awards.
SCDNR recognized its officers of the year during an event Sept. 16. From left to right: Lane Cpl. Matthew Owen, Pfc. Brain Hoover, Pfc. JP Cooler, Staff Sgt. Philip Robertson. Not pictured: Lance Cpl. Zach Tatum.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources recognized its top law enforcement officers during a ceremony Sept. 16.

Pfc. JP Cooler was honored as the State Officer of the Year. Cooler, also named the top officer for Region 4 covering the state’s coastal counties, worked 136 cases during the previous year, including investigations of illegal taking of alligators, illegal dump sites, commercial shellfish violations, trespassing to hunt and more.

Law enforcement leaders noted Cooler’s work on a complex, three-month investigation into a commercial fisherman who built a network of other suspects to illegally exploit the state’s flounder fishery. The main suspect in the case was taking undersize flounder by gigging – sometimes up to hundreds of fish in one night – as well as other saltwater fish and selling them to local seafood dealers and restaurants.

The case resulted in seven people pleading guilty to multiple charges, a total of $42,000 in fines and the first three-year suspension of saltwater fishing privileges in the state’s history.

“Through his hard work and diligent efforts, Officer Cooler was able to stop one of the most egregious abuses of South Carolina’s flounder fishery in recent years,” said Col. Chisolm Frampton, head of the SCDNR Law Enforcement Division.

In addition to Cooler, officers were also recognized for boating enforcement and education efforts and a top officer was chosen from each of the four regions in the state.

Among the other awards were:

National Association of State Boating Law Administrators Boating Officer of the Year – Pfc. Brian Hoover

During the 2021 budget year, Hoover conducted 313 hours of boating patrol, inspected 203 boats and logged 59 investigation hours. Hoover led Region 3 in boating enforcement by working 31 cases, including eight boating under the influence cases and assisting in 12 other BUI cases.

Hoover was recognized by supervisors for being willing to help any of his fellow officers in keeping people safe on Lake Murray. He was also named the Officer of the Year for Region 3.

Law Enforcement Education – Staff Sgt. Philip Robertson

Robertson took over as coordinator of South Carolina Archery in the Schools in March 2021 and helped revive a program that had been hit hard with declining participation due to COVID-19. He helped recruit 20 new schools to the program during his first year.

Some 2,100 archers participated during the most recent school year. The state tournament included more than 1,500 archers and Pelion Elementary School represented the state by winning the National Archery in the Schools tournament.

Region 1 Officer of the Year, Lance Cpl. Zach Tatum: Tatum, assigned to Greenville County, recorded 202 night patrol hours and 210 hours patrolling Heritage Trust properties in his jurisdiction. His cases included investigating hunting and trapping out of season, dove, waterfowl and turkey hunting violations and game fish infractions. Tatum was noted for his skilled use of game cameras to document bait sites, trapping offenses and trespassing.

Region 2 Officer of the Year, Lance Cpl. Matthew Owen: Owen, assigned to Chester County, worked 72 cases, including 19 major cases, and logged 154 night patrol hours. His major casework included taking deer out of season, illegal import of a deer head from a state with known chronic wasting disease, hunting dove, waterfowl and turkey over bait and rabbit trapping violations.

Region 3 Officer of the Year, Pfc. Brian Hoover: See above.

Region 4 Officer of the Year, Pfc. JP Cooler: See above.