Lawyers want state records in chimp-attack case
Seek data on how pets are monitored
HARTFORD - Attorneys for the brother of a Stamford woman who was mauled by a chimpanzee in February asked the state yesterday to release records documenting how officials monitored the animal and other exotic pets.
Attorneys for Michael Nash, conservator for the estate of his sister, Charla Nash, have not said if they plan to sue the state. They have already filed a $50 million lawsuit against the chimp’s owner, Sandra Herold of Stamford.
The 200-pound chimpanzee named Travis attacked Charla Nash of Stamford in February, ripping off her hands, nose, lips, and eyelids. She has been hospitalized for months at the Cleveland Clinic. The hospital said yesterday that she was in stable condition.
Nash’s attorneys have asked the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission to order the Department of Environmental Protection to release numerous documents, including records of the state’s dealings with Travis. They also want to know how the DEP performed risk assessments of exotic animals, as well as records of all cases in which the state removed an exotic animal from its owner.
Nash’s attorneys say they want the records to aid their investigation of the accident.
Melinda Decker, DEP attorney, said the state has already turned over thousands of documents to Nash in March and May, enough to fill five boxes, but has withheld some documents exempt from Freedom of Information rules. She said those documents include some protected by attorney-client privilege, drafts, and some concerning an unrelated primate case that is under investigation.
The request for documents is addressed to Gina McCarthy, who was Connecticut’s environmental protection commissioner at the time of the attack. She was named earlier this year to be the new assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation in Washington in the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Documents previously obtained by the Associated Press through a Freedom of Information request show that Connecticut officials were repeatedly warned about the dangers posed by Travis and were urged to take action more than three years before the attack but failed to do so.
Last October, a DEP biologist warned state officials that Travis could seriously hurt someone if he felt threatened, pointing out that he was large and strong.
“I would like to express the urgency of addressing this issue,’’ the biologist wrote. “It is an accident waiting to happen.’’
DEP officials have said that in the 13 years Travis was with Herold, the agency received only a small number of inquiries about Travis among thousands about possession of wild animals.
Connecticut lawmakers passed a law that requires people who own exotic animals to have a DEP permit but exempted anyone who owned a primate before 2003 if it weighed less than 50 pounds. Travis weighed about 200 pounds, but the DEP did not enforce the requirement. Legislative records show that Travis was the only primate in the state required to have a permit as a result of the change in the law.
Charles J. Willinger Jr. and Matthew Newman, Nash’s attorneys, said yesterday that they believe the state is still withholding pertinent information, but they would not say if any other suits would be filed.
Lisa Siegel, a hearing officer, said she will mail a written recommendation to the full commission and both sides by mid-October.