Turtle owner won’t face prosecution

Robert Zinn will not face criminal prosecution for the misdemeanor citation he received when state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agents seized 103 of his 115 box turtles April 2, saying he did not have the proper permits to house them.

Zinn said while he was happy to learn Wednesday that he will not face criminal prosecution, he is disappointed because he wanted to face Wildlife and Fisheries in court.

“Aw shucks, I’m not going to have my day in court and prove what idiots they’ve been,” said Zinn, 2415 Dogwood Ave., Baton Rouge.

For 13 years, Zinn said, Wildlife and Fisheries agents issued him permits to house the turtles.

In 2012, however, the agency refused to issue Zinn a special-purpose possession permit, citing overcrowding, lack of natural food sources and natural vegetation and infighting within the colony.

A special-purpose possession permit allows the holder to house animals native to Louisiana.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he decided not to pursue
charges because in a letter Zinn received in 1999, a biologist asked him for the species and number of animals that would be permanently held when he applied for a special-purpose possession permit.

Moore said the words “permanently held” are what he based his decision on.

“I’m presuming in his favor that the turtles he had in 1999 were the same turtles he had in 2013,” Moore said. “He gets the benefit of the doubt.”

Moore said state agents were within their rights to seize the turtles because a technical violation occurred and they showed him proof that the turtles seized were in poor health — more than 25 percent had diseases and two had to euthanized.

“I can see both sides and I think the proper thing in this case was to err on his side because he had good intent and he was obviously close with these animals,” Moore said.

Moore would not comment on whether Wildlife and Fisheries agents could be forced to return the turtles to Zinn, saying that was for a judge to decide.

Wildlife and Fisheries spokesman Bo Boehringer has said that because Zinn did not have the proper permits when the turtles were seized, the agency would not return them.

In a statement Wednesday, Boehringer said the agency does not plan to take any further action.

“A large percentage of the turtles were diseased and lawfully seized and removed,” Boehringer said. “The violation was thus terminated upon their removal. Since the turtles have been relocated to proper and healthy habitats, the department believes the inhumane treatment of the animals has ended.”

Zinn said while he hopes to get the turtles back, the chances of getting all of them are low.

“I think I might get some of them back, I doubt that they’ll all be retrieveable because they’ve been farmed out to other states and other people that are going to care about the turtles,” he said.

Zinn said he is still mulling his options because the news from Moore was unexpected. He had filed a temporary injunction after the turtles were seized, but the lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice because the judge ruled it was premature since the criminal trial had not began.

Zinn said he may contact the Louisiana Attorney General’s office about a possible settlement for damages, getting his turtles returned and forcing Wildlife and Fisheries agents to issue the permits.

If that does not work, Zinn could refile his civil suit. “I don’t know at the moment what my next move is,” he said.