DEEP: Ridgefield cop won't be charged in killing of Bobbi the bear, 'feared for safety of his family'

Photo of Liz Hardaway
A bear tagged as #217 was known as Bobbi to many residents. An off-duty Ridgefield police officer fatally shot the black bear in May. She was survived by her two cubs.

A bear tagged as #217 was known as Bobbi to many residents. An off-duty Ridgefield police officer fatally shot the black bear in May. She was survived by her two cubs.

Contributed Photo

Officials have determined that they will not charge a Ridgefield police sergeant with shooting and killing a black bear known as Bobbi earlier this year.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said, following a comprehensive investigation with the Newtown Police Department and the State’s Attorney's Office in Danbury, that there was “insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the homeowner.” The homeowner was identified as Sgt. Lawrence “Larry” Clarke.

“The investigation determined that the homeowner had numerous encounters with the same bear over multiple days that caused him to fear for the safety of his family, for himself, and for his livestock,” DEEP said in a news release Friday.

A necropsy determined Clarke shot Bobbi four times in the head. DEEP seized an AR-15 rifle, seven bullet casings, 17 live rounds and a 30-round magazine as evidence from the incident, according to reports from DEEP obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The bear, tagged as #217, was something of a celebrity in the Newtown area. Residents would document their sightings on a Facebook group that was followed by hundreds of people.

Bobbi was survived by her two cubs, which were sent to a wildlife rehabilitation center in New Hampshire. The cubs will be trained to survive on their own and then be released back in Connecticut.

The Ridgefield Police Department placed Clarke on administrative leave with pay on May 17 during the investigation. Clarke was put back on duty on Friday, according to records from the police department.

Clarke, who was off duty at the time, fatally shot the 208-pound bear on May 12.

He told DEEP Environmental Conservation police that the bear was 30 feet away from his 3-year-old grandson, prompting Clarke to go outside and scare off the bear, according to reports from DEEP.

Over the next hour, Clarke said Bobbi kept returning to his chicken coop and he would yell at her, prompting her to retreat in the woods. He shot the bear with his AR-15 rifle after she tried to pull over his chicken coop and later took a step toward him, the reports said.

As part of the investigation, DEEP’s Environmental Conservation Police reviewed historic reports of Bobbi’s sightings. In October 2017, the bear was captured in Waterbury, tagged and relocated to Mattatuck State Forest, according to a report from the agency. She was later relocated again in May 2018 to Naugatuck State Forest because she “was showing signs of habituation,” the agency said.

By 2019, Bobbi “showed little to no fear of humans,” the report said. That was also the first time Bobbi was seen with cubs.

Between 2017 and 2021, there were 191 reported sightings of Bobbi, mostly in the Southbury, Redding and Newtown areas. The majority of the sightings involved Bobbi damaging bird feeders and chicken coops and killing numerous chickens, according to a report from DEEP.

“Based on bear #217’s behavior and frequent interactions with humans it was considered a ‘habituated’ and ‘food-conditioned’ bear, meaning it had lost its fear of humans and had learned to associate humans with sources of food,” DEEP said Friday.

Bears are protected in Connecticut, and there’s no right to kill a bear, DEEP states. When a bear is killed, the Environmental Conservation Police investigate and the State’s Attorney’s Office determines if a chargeable criminal offense occurred.

“The State’s Attorney’s Office only files charges if there is sufficient evidence for a specific charge beyond a reasonable doubt,” DEEP said.

The state environmental agency said that, due to the increasing prevalence of human-bear conflicts and bears breaking into homes, further legislative clarity is needed to address bear-related incidents. DEEP said it has proposed legislation for multiple years that, if passed, would ban the feeding of bears.

“The habituation of bears is dangerous for both bears and people,” DEEP said in a statement. “Habituated bears that find a food ‘reward’ such as a bird feeder, garbage can, or any other human-associated food quickly become food-conditioned and pose a greater risk to public safety and often cause damage to houses, cars, pets, and livestock.”

“When bears associate people, pets, or livestock with sources of food, bear and human conflicts are more likely to increase,” DEEP continued. “Please do your part to help keep both bears and people safe by never feeding bears, intentionally or unintentionally.”

What happened

DEEP officers were called to Clarke’s home in Newtown at around 11:15 a.m. on May 12 for the reported fatal shooting.

Clarke, 55, told officers that the incident began at around 9:30 a.m. when his son and his 3-year-old grandson were in the front yard. The toddler was playing with a dump truck by a trampoline when his son spotted the bear about 30 feet away. Clarke’s son said the bear was looking at the grandson and not at the chicken coop, prompting him to run, yell at the bear and grab the toddler, Clarke told DEEP officers.

The bear huffed and stomped on the ground toward Clarke’s son and grandson. The two ran inside and told Clarke what happened. Clarke went outside to shout at the bear, causing her to retreat into the woods, according to reports from DEEP.

Over the next hour, Clarke said the bear kept returning to the chicken coop and pawing at it. He continued to go outside and yell at the bear to scare her off, the reports said.

Bobbi then returned on her hind feet and used her paws to try and pull over the chicken coop. Clarke told officers he went back into his home, retrieved an AR-15 rifle and walked toward Bobbi. The bear slowly walked away, according to reports.

The two were then about 20 feet apart — Bobbi, huffing and pouncing on the ground, while Clarke shouted to scare her off. Bobbi took a step toward him, he told officers.

Clarke then shot the bear once in the head. Bobbi got on all fours, stepped back and dropped to the ground still alive, the reports said.

“The bear was alive and Clarke stated that he felt horrible,” the reports state. “The bear was having a seizure and Clarke could not allow himself to watch the bear suffer. Clarke then walked closer to the bear and fired 7 or 8 more rounds until it died.”

Clarke told officers that this wasn’t his first time encountering a bear. He said a bear had tipped over his chicken coop and killed three of his birds just two days before, the reports said.

Within an hour of noticing the coop being tipped over, Clarke said he saw a large black bear approach the coop. He ran outside and yelled at the bear, causing it to run into the woods, according to reports.

While repairing the chicken coop, Clarke saw the bear again about 15 feet away. Clarke went inside to retrieve a starter pistol and fired it twice to try and scare the bear. The bear did not leave, so he began yelling and walking toward it, causing the bear to retreat into the woods, the reports said.

Clarke told officers his wife called DEEP to report the bear in his chicken coop and that it had killed three of his birds.

That day, Clarke bought an electric fence to protect the coop. The report stated that, according to the electric fence manufacturer, the solar-powered fence takes three days to charge. He was unable to set it up beforehand.