What may be the last word on an escaped bison that roamed Lake County for months before being captured last May played out in court Friday.
It was good news for Scott Comstock, owner of Milk and Honey Farmstead in Wauconda. Three citations alleging that he brought the bison to the Lakewood Forest Preserve or allowed it to remain there were dismissed.
Judge Raymond D. Collins found the prosecutors did not make the case against Comstock, saying it was not proved he owned the animal. Collins said the delivery of the bison to Comstock was never made, and he did not allow it to remain loose.
“It’s very unfortunate this much money and resources were put into it, but justice was served,” Comstock said after the proceeding.
“The bison is safe. The rest was just an unfortunate situation for Mr. Noble,” he added, referring to Matt Noble, who specializes in capturing loose domestic livestock.
After initial efforts failed, the forest preserve district hired Noble to corral the 1,300-pound animal.
“We respect but disagree with the court’s decision – the bison has always been safe; this was about whether Mr. Comstock violated forest preserve ordinances and about whether he was doing enough to corral it,” Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sara Avalos said later Friday. “We didn’t think he was, and the court disagreed.”
By the time Noble was enlisted, the elusive bison, known as “Tyson,” “Billie” or “Billy,” had captured the public’s attention as a familiar sight around western Lake County.
“This bison became famous,” said Mundelein attorney David Spada, who represented Comstock. “People loved this bison.”
Prosecutors did not say what they were seeking, but the citations carry a fine of up to $500 a day. Prosecutors also wanted compensation for Noble’s services, Spada said.
Noble testified that his bill was $2,800. He said after the proceeding that he was owed an additional $4,620 for 154 days of housing and care for the bison after it was caught. However, no contract was signed nor invoices produced, testimony showed.
The gist of Spada’s case was that Comstock was not the owner and shouldn’t have been cited.
“My client did not own the bison. That’s the key,” Spada said in court.
Comstock was acquiring two bison from a farmer in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Tyson’s sister, Twinkle Toes, was delivered without trouble, but the handoff with Tyson was botched and she bolted, Spada said.
By April, it was determined Tyson was living in the Lakewood Forest Preserve. Comstock was given 30 days to remove the animal.
Forest preserve police Cmdr. Ken Hoffman testified that trail cameras caught the bison on camera on three separate dates in May, corresponding to the three citations.
A plan was made to lure the bison into a trailer and later a horse barn at Lakewood using food, Hoffman said. Comstock brought grain and hay and was with Hoffman and another officer two of five nights when they lay in wait for the animal.
“He wanted to help the forest preserve in the interest of public safety,” Hoffman said.
He also testified that when asked, Comstock said it was not his bison.
“He said when the bison was being delivered he never took possession. The bison got out of the trailer and fled,” Hoffman testified.
Hoffman also testified that in his opinion, Comstock did not allow the bison to be on forest preserve property.
Noble testified that after he captured the animal, Comstock asked when he was going to bring it back to his farm. Noble said a bill for $2,800 would need to be settled.
Noble also testified that Comstock in an initial conversation said he’d heard Noble had captured “my buffalo” and that it was widely reported the bison was Comstock’s animal.
On July 11, the court granted Spada’s “motion for preservation” of the bison and ordered Noble to ensure no harm came to it and that it was properly fed, contained and underwent a preventive health program. That order also barred Noble from selling or transferring the bison without court permission.
In November, the order was replaced to allow the bison to be released to the Intertribal Buffalo Council and let Noble transfer it to lands out of state that the council deemed fit.
That transfer occurred, and Tyson now is at the Forest County Potawatomi Reservation in northern Wisconsin.