Alabama man found guilty of VNMP dig

Published 11:45 am Wednesday, December 7, 2011

An Alabama man caught using a metal detector and digging for Civil War relics in the Vicksburg National Military Park in 2010 has been found guilty of violating federal archaeological protections.

Ernest Taylor, 46, of Foley, Ala., pleaded guilty Nov. 15 in U.S. District Court to altering or defacing an archaeological resource, a felony violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, according to court documents.

Presiding Judge David C. Bramlette sentenced Taylor Nov. 28 to three years of probation — the terms of which prohibit him from entering any national military park in the country and from possessing a firearm — a $100 fine and forfeiture of metal detectors and other equipment seized when he was discovered digging in the VNMP Sept. 3, 2010.

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“We are extremely pleased with the court’s decision and fully support it,” Patty Montague, supervising park ranger at the VNMP, said Tuesday. “We would like the community to know that we do take this seriously, and each and every case is handled to the maximum.”

It is a violation of federal law to dig in or otherwise disturb national parks or wildlife refuges, and those convicted of doing so can face hefty penalties and even jail time.

Montague said she was driving on Confederate Avenue about 2 p.m. on Sept. 3 and became suspicious when she saw Taylor, who was with his wife and son, putting something large into the back of his vehicle.

After some questioning, he admitted it was a metal detector.

About 30 holes were found nearby, she said, and iron artillery shell fragments were found in Taylor’s possession.

Taylor had an expensive, sophisticated GPS system in the car, preset with points he had targeted for digging, said Montague.

He also admitted using the metal detector and digging on privately owned sites in Vicksburg and Warren County, including an area off Sherman Avenue and along the railroad tracks, she said. Owners of those sites declined to press charges, she said.

Park resource program manager Virginia DuBowy and ranger Bill Fields assisted in collecting evidence and investigating the case, along with representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Southeast Archaeological Center.

Bramlette also required Taylor to write a paper on the importance of the Vicksburg Campaign, which Montague said she had read. Asked if she would have given him a passing grade, she said, “Just barely.”

Taylor’s wife was charged with a misdemeanor and paid a fine, and his son, 18 at the time, was not prosecuted, she said.

The VNMP was established by Congress in 1899 as a memorial to the 1863 campaign and siege of Vicksburg. Nearly 1,400 monuments, markers, tablets and plaques commemorate the military action and those who fought here.

An unsolved case of digging for relics in the park dates to 2007, when about $35,000 worth of damage was assessed, Montague said at the time Taylor was caught. Similar cases, with no charges or arrests, occurred in 1999 and 2000, she said.