NAPLES, Fla. — Local legal experts say a Naples man could be facing criminal and civil charges following the death of Eko the endangered tiger at the Naples Zoo.
River Rosenquist, 26, was working for a third-party cleaning company after hours on Dec. 29, when authorities say he approached the tiger enclosure. The tiger bit Rosenquist’s hand and would not let go, forcing a Collier County Sheriff’s deputy to shoot Eko.
The tiger let go of Rosenquist and later died from the gunshot wound.
On Thursday, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the investigation into the incident is still active.
We asked local legal experts just what could happen next in the case of Rosenquist. Those experts told FOX4 that prosecutors have a real case against the Naples man.
He worked for a third-party cleaning company that was supposed to clean buildings — not the animal cages. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office says Rosenquist entered an unauthorized area and stuck his hand in Eko’s enclosure.
“(There) can be felony level charges depending upon the nature of the circumstances, the facts and exactly what conduct happened,” said Naples attorney Jim Kelleher.
Kelleher runs the Kelleher Law firm in Naples. He said given the tragic nature of Eko’s death, he believes local officials will pursue criminal charges against River Rosenquist.
“Being somewhere you are not authorized to be is a criminal trespass situation,” Kelleher said. “The zoo would say clearly he was not authorized to be there, that’s an obvious one.”
Another charge could be centered around the fact that Eko was an endangered animal. There are only hundreds of Malayan tigers left in the world.
Pamella Seay, a law professor at FGCU, said that could lead to serious charges.
“If you are harassing an endangered species, that is considered a taking, and that can be charged under both federal and state law,” Seay said.
As on Thursday, the petition had more than 17,000 digital signatures.
Both Kelleher and Seay said that the severity of any potential charges depends on intent — on whether Rosenquist meant to cause harm or was simply acting recklessly.
“Intentional conduct is punishable with greater penalties than negligence or recklessness conduct in a criminal sense,” Kelleher explained.