PJ Nilaja Patterson claims the encounter he had with an iguana was self-defense, claiming the 3-foot green iguana was the aggressor and that he was acting in self-defense when he killed the creature. A laceration on his arm from a bite required 22 staples to close up. Prosecutors counter that a surveillance video of the incident shows that Patterson tormented the animal, and then went into a violent rage when it bit him while defending itself. The iguana had to be put down due to the injuries suffered in the confrontation.
Patterson claimed immunity from prosecution under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, that allows the use of force when defending oneself. A judge has denied the motion, however, Patterson still has a right to argue justifiable use of force at trial.
Green Iguanas are invasive creatures, and it is permitted to kill them under Florida law, but it must be done humanely. It’s not the first time we’ve covered the inhumane killing of an iguana that led to felony animal cruelty charges. The state has cleared it’s initial burden to allow the case to go forward, but to convict him, they will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not have a reasonable fear, or that the level of force use was not justified.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen self-defense argued for the killing of an animal. In 2013, a man accused of killing a protected sandbar shark testified at trial in Fort Myers that he killed the animal in self-defense. The court rejected that claim and he was convicted at a bench trial. A man in Bonita Springs claimed self-defense (and defense of property) when he killed a bear that entered his property back in 2009. He argued that Stand Your Ground also granted him immunity, and the state argued that Stand Your Ground only applies to humans. The judge denied his motion, and he ended up agreeing to plead guilty to killing a protected species and do probation in lieu of a trial. I am not aware of any case law that goes as far to say that Stand Your Ground does not apply to animals, and the self-defense statute reads, “[a] person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another”. Fla. Stat. Sec. 776.012(2)- it does not say anything that would limit it to defending yourself (or others) against a person instead of an animal. (Law enforcement officers kill aggressive pets with some frequency, for instance, which is lawful.)
The hurdle for Mr. Patterson is that the iguana was only three feet, and they are docile vegetarians. They run away from people. If the video shows him provoking the animal, he will be unlikely to garner much sympathy from the jury, despite his injury. People don’t like it when animals die: He may explore a plea deal, but he’s facing a felony for animal cruelty.
Candidly, I did not know it was illegal to keep raccoons as pets, and have never seen anybody charged with it. The Florida administrative code has classified several native species so that they cannot be kept without a permit if they are taken from the wild. Included under this classification are also skunks, bats, fox and whitetail deer- so no trying to keep Bambi! There is no restriction on keeping rats, mice, squirrels, chipmunks and most of the commonly kept pet animals.
Tori Parsons, of Venice, Florida was cited after a neighbor reported she was keeping racoons as pets. She only ended up getting arrested when she failed to appear for court, and got a bench warrant, though she has since bonded out. The charge is criminal, but it is only a second degree misdemeanor, the least serious criminal offense in Florida. FWC gave her three days to transport and surrender the animals to a licensed wildlife facility, and it was only when she failed to do so that she was cited.
As always, Crimcourts will stay on top of all wildlife related criminal news. Which reminds me, I didn’t get to report on the recent story about Florida Flying Squirrels. National Geographic reports that thousands of Southern Flying Squirrels may have been illegally trapped for the pet trade, and shipped overseas to places like South Korea. Rodney Knox and 5 of his associates are facing charges as serious as racketeering for the ongoing operation. Knox runs a farm and breeding operation, but FWC alleges that was a front for an illegal capture business, and Knox has a history running afoul of breeding regulations, including a warning for trapping flying squirrels. This operation rivals the time FWC set up a fake alligator farm to catch egg poachers!
A Florida man was sentenced for his part in a scheme to traffic in Water Monitor lizards from the Philippines. Adbar Akram and an accomplice in Massachusetts imported lizards that were taped into socks, and then concealed in audio speakers and other electronic equipment. Akram admitted to his part in the scheme, and to selling lizards to buyers around the United States. All this is illegal, and he was sentenced to 4 years of probation with 90 days home detention and 288 hours of community service. Don’t smuggle wildlife!
Two Fort Myers men are charged in a turtle trafficking ring that may have netted tens of thousands of dollars. It’s the largest turtle theft bust in Florida history, and the turtles recovered had a black market value of $200,000. FWC alleges that Michael Clemons and Michael Boesenberg were selling wild-caught turtles to overseas interests for money and sometimes for marijuana.
Some of the rescued turtles
It’s important to police wildlife violations to protect the fauna of Florida. FWC says Lee County was hardest hit, and that local turtle populations may be substantially affected. The good news is that more than 600 turtles were rescued and returned to the wild.
Is that a gator in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?
A couple in Charlotte County were pulled over when they failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign in the wee hours of the morning. The deputy gave them a warning for the sign and asked where they were coming from. They told him they’d been collecting frogs and snakes. The deputy then asked them if he could see what they caught, to make sure they were complying with the rules. The woman opened a backpack to reveal 42 small turtles; one softshell and the rest three-striped mud turtles. The deputy then asked her if she had anything else, and she pulled a foot long alligator out of her yoga pants!
It is Illegal to Possess a Florida Panther* (*Unless you have a permit)
A large cat, apparently a Florida panther, was located in a residential neighborhood in Parkland, Florida and successfully captured by wildlife officials. Residents noticed the cat and contacted authorities, who were able to safely tranquilize and capture the cat. The cat was wearing a collar, which suggests that it may have been an escaped pet. Authorities initially believed the cat was a endangered Florida panther, but there are none permitted in the area. Further consideration suggests it may not have been a Florida panther, a rare subspecies of cougar native to Florida, and under greater protection as an endangered species. The fact that the animal had a collar, and due to the rarity of Florida panthers, particularly in Broward County, (and since none are permitted near there,) it is more likely a common puma, aka cougar.
Cougars/Pumas/Florida Panthers/Catamounts or whatever name you wish to call them… they are still wildlife that requires a permit to be kept in Florida (I believe they qualify as Class I animals, which could present a danger to the public.) Regardless, it is also a violation to fail to keep a permitted animal safely caged or restrained.
*Update: Apparently, to obtain a permit for Class I animals such as cougars, one must have at least a year of practical experience in the husbandry of that species, or at the genus level (Puma) of cougars and panthers.
Poor Rocky Cale was arrested this week for pulling aquatic weeds. Rollin ‘Rocky’ Cale, 75, and some other members of the Model Yacht Club removed some aquatic weeds two months ago so they could launch their john boat to maintain some buoys. Apparently, this was the protocol that had been in place for years for maintaining that section of the lake. There is a Florida statute that requires a permit to remove aquatic weeds, Sec. 379.501, and makes it a misdemeanor if the person does it due to “reckless indifference or gross careless disregard,” though that does not seem to be the case for Mr. Cale, as he and his group had apparently believed that they were authorized for the removal. It looks like a bad arrest.
The backstory is that Cale, as head of the Marco Island Community Sailing Center, had earlier disputes with parks manager Samantha Malloy and the city, who had ultimately locked out the Sailing Club during that dispute. So the legal action being taken now smacks of retribution for the earlier dispute, and the city is investigating how it went down. It may have started as a littering complaint for the weeds that had been pulled and were sitting there, as Malloy first contacted code enforcement, who apparently referred her to FWC, and there was a littering charge the State Attorney decided not to pursue. It is all a lot of overzealous enforcement brought on by a pile of weeds… weeds that Cale helped dispose of after he was contacted. This should have been resolved with a phone call, not by involving law enforcement.
The sad thing is, this poor 75-year-old man, who has volunteered countless hours to his community through the sailing club and the model yacht group, etc, had to go to jail over this. It was an inadvertent infraction by a whole group of people, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be the ‘reckless indifference’ necessary to sustain the charge. Mr. Cale was completely cooperative, and had no idea there was a prohibition on the plant removal. And instead of just giving him a summons with a court date, they issued a capias warrant and had him arrested and booked into jail. On top of that, the Marco Eagle reports that the weeds were scheduled to be sprayed and destroyed. He basically did them a favor, but no good deed goes unpunished. Every government official involved in this arrest should be ashamed of themselves. Sad.
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller caught a hammerhead shark while fishing in Florida, and posted pictures on social media. Miller is well known, not only for being Super Bowl MVP, but he has also done a lot of commercials and even appeared on Dancing with the Stars. Now he’s in hot water as there may be an investigation since hammerheads are a protected species. The video, embedded in the TMZ article, shows that the shark was released alive, but it also shows the shark was bleeding on the boat, and distressed when returned to the water.
I don’t think Miller is in the wrong here, as he has video showing the shark’s release. FWC will still conduct an investigation, but it won’t need to be too intensive. It appears he is on a fishing charter. It’s incumbent on the captain to ensure that the animals are treated humanely by everyone on board, and returned safely. Miller could be facing misdemeanor criminal charges. I don’t see any charges for Viller, and hopefully, the shark was ok.