2 men face felony charges for harassing wildlife in South Florida, authorities say

Two South Florida men were arrested Tuesday on felony charges for allegedly harassing wildlife and then posting videos of their interactions on social media.

Alfredo Lopez de Queralta, 45, and Javier Torres, 42, both of Miami, were arrested in North Miami on eight felony counts each of killing, injuring or possessing alligators or eggs without authority and eight misdemeanor counts pertaining to handling endangered or threatened species.

They have since been transferred to a jail in Monroe County. 

Federal and state authorities raided Torres’s home last March in connection with the case.

According to an arrest warrant, Torres posted photos and videos on his social media sites of himself interacting with endangered wildlife.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers said Lopez de Queralta filmed the interactions and uploaded them to YouTube.

In one video from Feb. 22, 2017, Torres is seen entering a panther’s den and removing two panther kittens.

Investigator Guy Gilbert wrote in the arrest warrant that an adult panther fled out of the backside of the den as Torres entered the den.

Gilbert said Torres exited the den, breaking through natural foliage to conceal it, and posed with the kittens, kissing and cuddling them.

Gilbert said Torres stated that one of the kittens was male and one was female before tossing them back into the den.

Authorities said other videos posted online show Torres harassing alligators.

In one incident, Torres allegedly waded into a swamp, held an alligator’s mouth open and stuck his head inside the gator’s mouth.

Another video posted on social media appears to show Torres sitting on a gator before he gets tossed off it.

Other videos feature sharks and snakes.

Neighbors told Local 10 News last year that Torres was trained to train pigeons.

Authorities said Torres and Lopez de Queralta have never obtained permits or a license that would allow them to capture gators in Florida.

Both men are being held in lieu of $80,000 bail. 

Follow this story

2 sentenced to 6 months in jail for taking 3 key deer in car

Two men convicted of federal charges for capturing, harassing and harming three key deer in Monroe County were sentenced Monday to six months in Monroe County Jail. 

Erik Yosmany Damas Acosta and Tumani Anthony Younge were convicted of three counts of violations of the Endangered Species Act. They were also sentenced to probation for three years, and they must pay restitution to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation for the cost of the investigation. 

Damas and Younge used food to lure an adult male, a juvenile male and a female from The National Key Deer Refuge July 2017, according to authorities. They restrained them and put two in the back seat and the other in the trunk. 

Damas and Younge told Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies that they were planning on taking pictures of them. One of the key deer was severe injured and had to be euthanized. 


Follow this story

Wild chicken invasion ruffles South Florida city

You can find them hanging on the streets and gathering in parking lots at area businesses, leading to complaints from people in the northwest section of Pompano Beach who say they’re disrupting the neighborhood. 

No, it’s not wild teens, it’s wild chickens that are multiplying at an uncontrollable rate and aggravating those who say the feral fowl are messing up their lawns, waking them up at ungodly hours, and overall causing a mess. 

“The chickens are a big complaint for this community,” said City Commissioner Beverly Perkins, adding that the chickens got on the city’s radar a couple of years ago and just keep growing in numbers. “We’re not sure where they’re coming from, but they’re multiplying.”

Apartment manager Cristina Costa said the chicken problem is so bad that she was driven to offer tenants a discount on their rent if they could “disappear” them. 

“You have chickens getting inside units, all over the parking lot, showing units you have chickens walking around you,” said Costa. 

The deal was $10 off for ever six chickens caught, but nobody ever collected. 

“They tried, but they couldn’t catch the chickens,” said Costa. 

She called Animal Control, but that agency simply doesn’t do chickens, so she called the city itself which actually sent out trappers, but again, no luck. 

“They couldn’t catch one chicken,” she said.

Rob McCaughan, the city’s public works director, said one thing he’s learned in his crash course on city chickens is that even though they number in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, in plain sight, they are not easy to rein in. 

“The chicken itself is very difficult to catch,” said McCaughan. “They are very leery of people. Wehired a local firm, we thought, ‘Well hey, we’re not experts, let’s hire the experts.’ They were not very successful either.” 

He said the city paid the company, TruTech Wildlife Removal, $1000 a month to respond to residents’ complaints and catch chickens. 

“Over about a nine-month period where we had the contract, it was approximately six chickens that we had documentation they were able to capture,” said McCaughan, adding that those six chickens were humanely put down with lethal injections. 

Doing the math, that comes to $1,500 a chicken captured.  

“Bad investment,” said resident Joshua Allen with a laugh. “I guess the chickens are smarter.”

Pompano Mayor Lamar Fisher said the city is dedicated to finding an answer. 

“We’re trying our best to deal with it,” said Fisher. “It’s a complicated issue.”
He said one of the reasons that it’s difficult to tame the wild chicken population is that some cultures welcome them. 
“We have a lot of Latins in our community,” he said. “We have a lot of Hatian communities that cater to chickens.” 
The city at one point tried to use code enforcement officers to cite the chicken owners, since it is illegal in Pompano to have chickens as pets. But Code Enforcement Supervisor Mario Sotolango said that too was a futile effort, since nobody admitted they were the owners of the chickens and the city was hard-pressed to prove otherwise. 
“It’s very difficult to have someone really admit yes this is my property,” said Sotolango. 
“How do you prove someone owns a chicken? You don’t,” said city spokeswoman Sandra King. 

McCaughan said he reached out to other cities that have neighborhoods overrun with chickens – including Miami, Hialeah, and Key West. He said the first two cities had no solution to offer Pompano Beach, but Key West did: embrace the chickens. 
“I guess Key West has accepted the chickens,” said McCaughan. “They embrace the chickens, is their solution.”
Pompano isn’t embracing the Key West solution, however. The city has six chicken traps that it offers free of charge to residents. But so far only a few chickens have been caught by residents and it’s not a fool-proof method. 
“A lot of times we catch an animal,” said McCaughan. “We don’t want to catch a cat or small dog.” 
At the time of our interview, all six of the city’s traps were unused, but officials from the mayor down said the city is determined to solve the problem. 
“We believe at some point that we, if we’re not able to eradicate the problem, will contain it,” said Sotolango.  

Follow this story

Are Irma cleanup efforts making South Florida residents sick?

Residents rebuilding after Hurricane Irma expressed health concerns related to cleanup efforts, including crushing boats in their neighborhoods.

Several residents in Tavernier who live near Harry Harris Park, have reported getting sick as crews destroyed damaged, unclaimed boats just feet from their homes. 

“Crushing them and exposing us to that. That’s wrong to me,” resident Carly Squire said. 

“It’s a huge concern. I think given everything that people have gone through after the storm,” resident Elizabeth Brown said.

In December residents began hearing that Harry Harris Park, which is still closed to the public, would be used as a Disaster Debris Management Site by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other agencies. The park would be used as a holding area for damaged boats, and possibly as a site for crushing boats. 

“I was outside in my yard and the first boat came in and I said, ‘Oh, so it’s no longer a possibility, they’re doing this,'” Squire said. 

Local 10 News obtained cellphone video of crews destroying boats. Video shows the dust and particles carried by the ocean breeze. 

Dr. Marcus Cooke, a professor of environmental toxicology at Florida International University, said recent studies indicate fiberglass is likely not a carcinogen, but it is also not something a person should be breathing.

“Fiberglass is known to be an irritant,” Cooke said. “It can irritate the eyes and throat as well. And the higher the exposure, the worse the irritation you can get.”

Elizabeth Brown described one scary experience after a day on which crews crushed boats. “Everything was fine when we went to bed and, a couple hours later, my son woke up and wasn’t able to breathe,” said Brown. 

Her 21-month old son, Patrick had been outside all day with her husband as crews worked behind their home in January. 

“We do have small children and this is literally our back yard and we have a constant ocean breeze that comes through,” Brown said.

That night, she said, both her son and husband had to go to the hospital when they had trouble breathing.  

“My baby that night was so sick that he ended up in the ER just with respiratory issues,” she said.

A spokesperson for Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, one of the agencies overseeing the project, said in an email that crews follow a safety plan for hazardous materials, including “contained working surfaces” and “protective berm.” 

“We were told they were going to build a barrier,” said resident Carly Squire, “And that’s not happening. They’re doing it out in the open.” 

Local 10 learned Monroe County officials also had concerns. The subject line on an email exchange with the FWC on Jan. 8 is: “Why are there no vertical barriers in HH Park for boat crushing?”

An FWC spokesperson told Local 10 the commission received “no evidence indicating airborne particles … are causing a threat to public health and safety.” 

When Local 10 asked the Department of Environmental Protection about any testing done at the site, it sent an emailed response that said, “No dust issues were identified during the inspection … no site specific air monitoring has been determined to be warranted at this time.”

“I can’t see dust not being released when fiberglass boats are being crushed,” Cooke said. “What else is being released is open to speculation. It would be better to minimize exposure, ultimately.” 

“It’s taking advantage of the residents who are otherwise occupied trying to rebuild their homes and their lives,” Squire said. 

The FWC could not provide a timeline for when it will complete work at Harry Harris Park. County officials said the commission told them it hopes to wrap up at that location by the end of February. 

FWC spokesperson Rob Klepper also said in an emailed statement:  

“Safety of the response crews and the public is the top priority while destroying vessels in staging areas. Crews use appropriate personal protective equipment and follow proper procedures for workplace safety.”

Follow this story

Lover’s quarrel results in plants being thrown off Islamorada hotel balcony, deputies say

 A 48-year-old woman was arrested Monday after she screamed at resort staff and threw plants off a hotel balcony, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Adam Linhardt said. 

Wendy Sue Crocker, of Islamorada, faces charges of resisting arrest without violence and breach of peace. 

Linhardt said a deputy arrived at the Coconut Grove Resort & Marina about 11 a.m. Monday, where employees told him that Crocker and her boyfriend were arguing on a room balcony and throwing plants at each other.

Employees said one of the plants was thrown from the balcony and almost hit an employee in the head.

Linhardt said Crocker resisted being handcuffed after refusing to follow the deputy’s orders. 

The deputy later removed the handcuffs so Crocker could gather her belongings from the hotel room, but she began to remove the bedding owned by the resort and place it into her vehicle, Linhardt said.

Crocker was taken back into custody after refusing the deputy’s orders to stop putting the hotel bedding in her car, authorities said.

Linhardt said Crocker’s boyfriend was trespassed from the hotel property and Crocker was taken to the Monroe County Detention Center on Plantation Key.

Follow this story