CAMDEN, Tenn. (WKRN) — If you found cameras on your property, odds are, you’d be a little surprised.
“It was right here,” Camden resident, Hunter Hollingsworth, said while pointing at a tree on his property. “Out of those two little scrub oaks, it was on the one on the right, kind of right where that hole is right in there. Ten feet up or so.”
Hollingsworth has lived in Camden his entire life—its population is less than 4,000. Hunting and fishing aren’t just hobbies in these parts—for many, it’s a religion.
“Since I was in pull-ups,” Hollingsworth said when asked how long he’s been hunting.
In a story first extensively reported by Field & Stream magazine, Hollingsworth was driving on his hunting property one morning in January 2018 when he noticed something odd in one of the trees.
“As we came around the curve, my headlights caught something shining in the tree. I thought it was a [rac]coon or a possum or some animal in a tree,” he said. “So, I grabbed a flashlight out of my truck and shined the tree to see what it was, and I saw that it was a camera with an antenna.”
He took the camera down and found pictures of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents on them — as well as himself.
Hollingsworth put the camera in his gun safe and essentially forgot about it until that fall, which is when law enforcement came knocking with a search warrant, saying he stole the camera.
“They had on bulletproof vests, first aid kits, extra magazines, like they were a SWAT team to come get this camera that I ‘stole’ that was on my property illegally,” Hollingsworth said. “They searched my whole house.”
Officers handcuffed Hollingsworth but he didn’t go to jail or receive a citation that day.
Months later, U.S. Fish and Wildlife charged him with several violations, including illegal baiting and theft of government property. Hollingsworth took a plea deal to drop most of the charges, which resulted in the suspension of his license for three years.
In response, he filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the cameras. A federal court threw the lawsuit out. With legal fees adding up, Hollingsworth was running out of options.
“You’re playing against a loaded deck to start with,” he said. “Your average person doesn’t have the funds or the time to fight them because they’ll just drag you out and run you out of money.”
That’s when the Institute for Justice, a non-profit, public law firm stepped in.
As Hollingsworth came to find out, he wasn’t the only one the TWRA was watching.
Reporter’s note: This is a complex story with many parties and complex issues. We recognize there are multiple sides to this story. Over the next couple of days, we’ll bring you more from Hollingsworth, the other man who spoke about the TWRA watching him, the Institute for Justice and the TWRA itself.