Group alleges man struck alligator
LAFAYETTE — The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is pushing for the prosecution of a swamp tour operator accused of striking an alligator, but the St. Martin Parish District Attorney’s Office is questioning the strength of the case.
Bryan Champagne, with Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours, is scheduled for arraignment Wednesday on misdemeanor charges of simple cruelty to animals and possession of a live alligator without a permit.
PETA sent a letter on Tuesday to the St. Martin Parish District Attorney’s Office asking that Champagne be prohibited from approaching wildlife “for as long as legally possible” if he is convicted.
The group said in a statement that the district attorney’s office should “see to it that the harassment of animals and flouting of Louisiana’s animal-protection laws are stopped.”
But St. Martin Parish prosecutor Chester Cedars said he is unsure how strong a criminal case he might have.
The investigation was prompted by a video PETA alleged captures images of Champagne striking the head of an alligator. The video, provided to the newspaper by PETA, was originally posted on YouTube but has since been taken down.
The video shows a man on the bank of a waterway with a large alligator while a group of people, presumably swamp tour patrons, watch from a boat as the animal reacts to a paddle. It is not clear when or where the video was taken or by whom.
While PETA characterizes Champagne’s alleged actions as “striking,” Cedars said he viewed the video and would characterize what he saw as “tapping.”
That activity might not be considered criminal under a state law with a definition of animal cruelty that includes such language as “torments,” “cruelly beats,” and “unjustifiably injures,” Cedars said.
“There is no way a St. Martin Parish jury is going to find this man guilty of cruelty to animals — no way,” Cedars said.
The possession of a live alligator charge stems from a second video PETA alleges shows Champagne handling a baby alligator. Cedars said a potential problem with that charge is that other people in the video, likely swamp tour patrons, are also seen handling the baby gator.
Striking mature alligators and handling baby ones might not be a good idea, Cedars said, but it is unclear whether the law was broken.
Cedars said he has made no final decision on how to handle the case, but if there is no additional evidence other than the videos, he does not foresee pursuing the cruelty charge.
PETA Senior Cruelty Caseworker Kristin Simon said the organization became involved after people saw the videos on YouTube and alerted PETA in May.
PETA then provided the video to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, according to a statement from the animal rights group.
Cedars said that his office was initially asked to review the case by the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office this summer.
Cedars said he and several members of his staff viewed the video of the alleged striking of the alligator.
“Every single one of us felt it did not fit the statute of cruelty to animals,” Cedars said.
He said Wildlife and Fisheries issued its two citations later, but officials with the state agency had not discussed the case with the district attorney’s office.
Champagne, when contacted by telephone on Tuesday, offered only a brief comment.
“It didn’t happen,” he said.
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