A woman made headlines last week when she was caught molesting a manatee near St. Petersburg. Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez, 52, thought it would be fun to simply hop on the back of a manatee and go for a ride. The police put out the word they were looking for her, and she turned herself in. This story is interesting on a number of levels as it brings to light Florida’s anti-cruelty statutes, ignorance of the law, and turning oneself into the police.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 both prohibit interacting with manatees. Manatees are also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. These animals are not only protected because of their status on the endangered species list, but also because interacting with them in the way Gutierrez did could be considered animal cruelty under Fl. Statute 828.012. She is a large woman and easily could have injured the manatee in the process of trying to ride it like a boogie board. There was a time when people could do just about anything they wanted to an animal and nobody really cared. Then, social scientists discovered a link between animal cruelty and abuse to humans. Now, when people abuse animals, society sits up and takes notice. Indeed, media outlets often say when they air a story about animal abuse they get ten times more response than they do when they air a story about someone abusing a person. The moral of this story is, leave the animals alone. Even feeding a manatee is a misdemeanor under current regulations.
The next issue is that of being ignorant of the law. Ms. Gutierrez claimed she was new to the area and therefore didn’t know it was against the law to ride on the back of a manatee. Sadly for her, ignorance of the law is no excuse. It is up to every citizen or visitor to a new place to know and understand the laws of the land. If you were to go to Ireland, rent a car, and drive on the same side of the street you drive on in America, you’d get a ticket at the very least. Telling the officer you didn’t know the Irish drive on the other side of the street won’t cut it. Gutierrez faces sixty days in jail and/or a $500 fine for her ignorance.
On to the final issue, that of turning oneself in to police. This is not such a bad idea considering everyone and their dog has a video recorder in their pocket. Was there ever any doubt authorities would figure out who this woman is? Her photo is all over the Internet, and the video viewed on YouTube thousands of times. Angry witnesses called police and demanded she leave the animal alone. So yeah, she was going to get caught. Turning herself in was a good idea because it shows a good faith effort to do the right thing and the police tend to look kindly on people who do the right thing. Her honest mistake may cost her, but then again, they may just let her off with a warning since she didn’t make them track her down. But she did err on one point, she should have hired an attorney before turning herself in. With federal protection, state statutes and the court of public opinion all on the side of the sea cow, Gutierrez is all alone in her plight. Having an attorney by her side would have been a better move for her.
They say the smartest people learn not only from their mistakes, but also the mistakes of others. The lesson learned here is, if you’ve done something you know is a crime and the police are hunting for you, hire a lawyer before you call the police. For more information, call Richard Tendler, Esq.