Farm field nightmare: A hunter, a crossbow, four terrified juveniles

An appeals court has ordered the seizure of weapons from a man who forced four frightened youngsters to kneel while he wielded a crossbow during a trespassing dispute.

The ruling came in a case that began when the juveniles entered a Burlington County farm field to take photographs on an October evening in 2020.

Juvenile terrified, 'preparing to die'

The hunter, who falsely claimed to own the land, told the minors to kneel, empty their pockets and put their hands behind their backs while he questioned them, the decision said.

The children later testified about being terrified by the man, identified in the ruling only as F.H.

"All were scared they would be shot or killed and did not feel they were free to leave," said the ruling, which overturned a lower-court decision to return F.H.’s weapons.

"One victim was preparing herself mentally to either die or watch one of her friends die. Another thought he and his friends were being robbed and were going to die."

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Quick-thinking mother uses location-sharing app

The confrontation appeared to end after F.H. directed a girl to call her mother, leading to a conversation between the parent and the “increasingly nasty” hunter.

When F.H. and the girl both said the juveniles could not leave the field, the woman activated an app to find her daughter’s phone.

The mother tracked the juveniles to an area off a cul de sac in her neighborhood. She called the hunter, who allowed the children to flee.

The ruling does not identify the incident’s location or the children’s ages.

It says F.H. later went to the girl’s home, where her father asked if the hunter "had 'pulled a crossbow'” on the children. F.H. allegedly answered "yeah, that's what happened," according to the ruling.

It said F.H. also encountered the children and their parents at a police station, where he angrily “told the group they were a ‘bunch of f---ing liars."

Superior Court judge grants request to seize weapons

On the next day, a municipal court judge granted an order – sought by the girl’s mother and a police officer – to seize F.H.’s weapons.

The temporary extreme risk protective order, or TERPO, was authorized under the state’s 2018 “red flag” law.It allows the removal of weapons from a person “who poses a danger to self or others,” the appellate ruling said.

A Superior Court judge declared a final order, or FERPO, after a two-day hearing in February 2021. But the judge later terminated the order, setting up the appeal by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.

At the February 2021 hearing, the judge - also unnamed in the ruling - described the juveniles’ testimony as "credible and largely consistent.”

Judge: Deer hunter's actions 'unconscionable'

The hearing judge found no dispute that F.H. was armed with a deadly weapon, the crossbow.

An attorney for F.H. said the hunter had the property owner’s permission to hunt on the field and to confront trespassers.

The hearing judge also heard F.H. had become frustrated after police failed to address “his prior trespassing complaints to his satisfaction.”

But the judge said F.H.’s actions, even if prompted by a legitimate concern, were “unconscionable.”

The judge also said F.H. could seek reconsideration if he produced a “psychological/psychiatric evaluation" that showed he was not a significant danger.

And after an expert in clinical forensic psychology testified on behalf of F.H., the judge terminated the FERPO in August 2021.

The order remained in effect during the appeal, which the prosecutor’s office won in a Feb. 15 ruling that restored the FERPO.

NJ appellate court weighs in

The appeals court noted a FERPO’s termination requires a judge to find “a change of circumstances” that eliminates the significant danger posed by a person.

It said no such evidence had been shown, and that F.H.’s expert instead had essentially argued the FERPO was a mistake in the first place.

It also rejected the trial judge’s ultimate conclusion that F.H.’s behavior had been “aberrant.”

The appeals court found no evidence showed F.H. “has gained an understanding of the cause of his threatening and dangerous behavior with the juveniles or how to avoid engaging in such behavior … in the future.”

Jim Walsh is a senior reporter with the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal.

This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: NJ court orders hunter's weapons seized after Burlco farm incident