By Dave Rogers
---- — ROWLEY — A former Rowley Water Department employee charged clients $40 for butchering deer and then disposing of their carcasses, using a small fenced-in area between two buildings near a town well pumping station off Boxford Road as his work area, according to court documents released yesterday.
Jason R. Kneeland, 35, of Rowley was charged in February with three counts of illegal possession/untagged deer by the Massachusetts Environmental Police. A second former Rowley Water Department employee, Jason Masse, 31, of Rowley was also charged with three counts of the same offense.
Both were arraigned in Newburyport District Court yesterday and are out on personal recognizance until a May 20 pre-trial conference.
According to court documents, in late November and early December, Kneeland and Masse used ropes and pullies to string freshly killed deer from a board attached to one of the buildings. They then drained and removed fresh meat from the carcasses and disposed of its entrails. Once finished, the suspects tossed the carcasses over a fence. Entrails and other innards were placed on what the environmental police called a “gut pile.”
Upon hearing of the alleged butchering station so close to a public water drinking supply, the state shut down the well and fined the town $26,000 for not immediately reporting the possible contamination. Both Kneeland and Masse, primary and secondary operators respectively, resigned shortly after their alleged actions came to light.
According to Department of Environmental Protection officials, the actions of Kneeland and Masse endangered the water quality coming from Well 3, forcing its closure. It also stated the town did not inform MassDEP of possible contamination in a timely fashion.
It has been alleged that Water Department Superintendent John Rezza knew of the incident on Dec. 7, but did not report it to state health officials. It was only after charges were filed that MassDEP became aware of the situation and ordered the well shut down.
Town Administrator Deborah Eagan yesterday said MassDEP officials informed the town that recent tests of the water in Well 3 showed no contamination, and the town was tentatively scheduled to reactivate the pump today.
The charges against Kneeland and Masse stem from the belief that the deer they allegedly gutted were not fitted with metal bands that signify they can be hunted and harvested.
Kneeland argued that he obtained the deer from a nearby hunter and that they all had bands at the time of the transfer. But MassDEP officials concluded that the burden of proof was on the last people in contact with the deer, Kneeland and Masse, and not the hunter who allegedly hired them to butcher and dispose of them, according to court documents.
According to the report of Massachusetts Environmental Police Sgt. Michael P. Grady, a Rowley resident informed an environmental police officer on Dec. 2, 2012, of the discovery of deer carcasses behind the pumping station. As environmental police officers searched the area, they found dangling ropes and pullies attached to a board at the roof level and spanning the gap between the two buildings.
Blood was found splattered against at least one wall and on the ground and an orange ladder was discovered at the scene as well. At the back of the pump house, officers found a box covered in blood with Masse’s name on it. Deer carcasses were also found on the other side of the fence behind the pump house.
Officials took photos of the scene and installed two cameras hoping to catch those responsible in the act.
Six days later however, one of the cameras had been tampered with and the rope and pulley system had been removed. The deer carcasses remained behind the station. Entering the station, police found a box containing ropes and pullies and the orange ladder believed to be the same ones spotted a week earlier. Blood and deer hair were also found inside the building, according to police.
After speaking to Rezza about the alleged incident, police interviewed Kneeland and Masse at the Rowley police station on Dec. 8. During the interview, Kneeland said he was hired on Nov. 27 by a Georgetown resident named Robert to butcher a deer he had killed.
The transaction took place in the parking lot of Skip’s Convenience Store off Route 133 and Kneeland then drove the deer to the pumping station, where he and Masse butchered them at the pump house lot. Kneeland added that he was teaching Masse how to butcher deer. The same hunter called Kneeland days later and said he had two more carcasses he’d like have butchered. This time the deer were butchered inside the pump house because the weather had turned warmer that week, according to court documents.