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Man sues FWP for $1 million over lost picture of daughter’s first fish

Enterprise photo by Shawn Raecke

Thomas Karnatz is pictured outside the City-County Complex in Livingston, Friday morning.



A Livingston man is asking the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to return a photograph of his daughter catching her first fish or pay him $1 million in a lawsuit filed against the agency.

Thomas Karnatz filed the lawsuit this summer in Park County District Court, but said when mediation failed last month to return photographs and an antelope mount confiscated during a search of his home in May 2011, he decided to amend his suit and is now seeking $1 million.

“I’m not after the money,” Karnatz said. “I just want my pictures back. I’ll drop everything in a heartbeat if I get my pictures back.”

One of the photographs, of his adult daughter, was taken when she was 2 years old and is irreplaceable, Karnatz said. Another was a shot of now-deceased hunting buddies. The photos were in an album confiscated by Fish, Wildlife and Parks wardens during a search on Karnatz’s property that led to one charge of unlawful possession of an unlawfully killed game animal against Karnatz. The charge against Karnatz was later dismissed. 

Although the photo album was eventually returned to Karnatz, he said it was missing the photo of his daughter, along with the other photo of his hunting buddies. 

Wardens also seized the antelope mount during the search, the lawsuit alleges.

Jack Lynch, legal counsel for FWP, said the agency has no knowledge of whether the photographs in question were ever in its possession, but “every photo lawfully seized was returned to the plaintiff.” 

Lynch said then-Judge Nels Swandal ruled that FWP would retain possession of the antelope mount.

Karnatz said he and his ex-wife are sure the photographs were in the album when wardens seized it.

“They took a photo album from my home that dated back almost 40 years with the search warrant,” Karnatz said. “They had no right to do that. Then they gave it back to me missing pictures.”

Karnatz, who is representing himself, said the process has been frustrating. He never intended to file a lawsuit, he said, and did so only when he lost hope that the photos would be returned.

He wrote in court documents, “After consulting with an attorney for options and resolution, I have been forced to face my lack of legal knowledge and my lack of funds in which to hire legal representation.”

He added that he’s still entitled to a fair trial. 

“I just want my pictures back is the bottom line,” Karnatz said.


Natalie Storey may be reached at nstorey@livent.net.