CAMDEN, Tenn. (WKRN) — Hunter Hollingsworth was driving on his hunting property one morning in January 2018 when he noticed what turned out to be a camera on his property.
Camden, Tennessee, is a pretty small community of fewer than 4,000 people. Through word of mouth, Hollingsworth found that his neighbor, Terry Rainwaters, also found two unwanted cameras on his property.
“One was pointed at my shop here in my house,” Rainwaters said.
Note: The TWRA said it couldn’t comment specifically on this case, only on the procedures and rules it has in place. To read the first part of our three-part series, click this link.
His attorney at the Institute for Justice, Andrew Wimer, said, at the time, Rainwaters had a tenant renting out a home on his property.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife charged Rainwaters’s son and some friends with illegal baiting after an incident in a TWRA-owned area back in October 2017. The charge was called Operation Bird Dog.
In December 2017, two months later, Rainwaters said officers entered his land by river to install the cameras.
“There’s one guy in particular, Mr. Kevin Hoofman, he puts in off the highway in Sandy River Bottom on a boat,” Rainwaters said. “Floats down, gets out on foot, and walks all over this private property that’s gate-locked.”
News 2 asked the TWRA if officers were allowed to do that. The agency says it does have a boating law enforcement team that can go from boats to land.
“That officer would be able to step out onto that easement, that public property,” TWRA Director of Communications Emily Buck said. “But, it typically does stop at some point, they would not be able to go past that into the private property.”
News 2 followed up with a question on if Officer Hoofman was on that team. “I’m not going to speak to him specifically,” Buck said.
Rainwaters said he’s never been charged with a wildlife violation in his life.
But as it turns out, at the time, the TWRA and U.S. Fish & Wildlife were technically allowed to install these cameras because of something called the Open Fields Doctrine.
The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
The doctrine clarifies in a 1924 Supreme Court case, those protections are, “not extended to the open fields.”
“Our law enforcement officers, they follow the letter of the law, so they were doing what they were allowed to do,” Buck said.
However, the Open Fields Doctrine dictates federal law. Tennessee has a state constitution that changes one word.
“They list persons, houses, papers, and possessions, instead of effects,” Wimer said. “You can possess your land, and people do that all across Tennessee every day.”
That was the basis of a successful lawsuit Rainwaters and Hollingsworth pressed against the TWRA, asking for a grand total of $1.
But for the pair, it wasn’t about the money.
Reporter’s Note: Friday, we’ll explore the outcome of the case and where it currently stands, the ramifications and fallout from it, where the debate stands on cameras, its importance statewide, and what could be next. To read the first part of our three-part series, click this link.