Teens arrested for Gopher tortoise torture:
Two girls seen on a Facebook video torturing and killing a gopher tortoise on July 16 in front of an Orange Park home were arrested Friday by investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Clay County Sheriff’s Office.
Jennifer Emoke Greene, 18, and a 15-year-old juvenile were both charged with felony cruelty to animals and a misdemeanor charge of taking, harassing, harming or killing a gopher tortoise, according to commission spokeswoman Karen Parker. Greene is in the Clay County jail on $55,000 bail.
The two were arrested about 11 a.m. at the younger girl’s home on Parkridge Avenue, according to Parker. The arrest comes a week and a half after animal rights officials in Nevada saw graphic Facebook video of a young gopher tortoise being burned, tortured and crushed to death and alerted Florida officials.
“We take these issues extremely seriously and appreciate the public’s help,” Parker said. “We received many complaints about the video and many calls to our wildlife alert number.”
The gopher tortoise has been listed as a threatened species in Florida since 2007, an upgrade from its previous “species of special concern” designation.
Clay Humane Executive Director Linda Welzant said the agency’s Facebook page has been humming with comments about the videos and the animal abuse shown on it.
“We are pleased the authorities acted so quickly and we hope this sets a precedent that animal cruelty should not be tolerated,” Welzant said. “Our Facebook and our email was getting a lot of feedback and a lot of outpouring from the community regarding this case and how upset they were.”
The graphic videos shows two Orange Park girls burning a small gopher tortoise, then laughing and cursing as they throw it down the street. The tortoise is doused with alcohol and lit as it crawls in circles through the flames. The tortoise tries to flee after it is doused again.
“Burn baby, burn baby,” one girl says as they light the tortoise on fire. “Now you are scared of us, huh?”
The second video is more graphic as one girl stomps on the tortoise until it is dead, with its organs squishing out. The girls scream in laughter.
“His heart came out with a bunch of grass,” the girl with the camera says as she laughs, then kicks the corpse. “He’s dead. That’s funny.”
A 16-year-old Ridgeview High School classmate and Facebook friend of the two girls told the Times-Union that he was disgusted when he saw the videos and downloaded them. When the girls began receiving negative comments on the videos, they removed them from Facebook. But the classmate reposted them. As the videos went viral, they caught the attention of a Las Vegas animal control officer who told Nevada Voters for Animal president Gina Greisen about them on July 15.
Greisen was one of the first to complain to Florida officials and said she was pleased with the arrests.
“We need to send a message to the world that this kind of treatment should not be tolerated,” Greisen said Friday. “On the Internet there are no boundaries and we were able to reach out. I hope it sends a strong message that not only is animal cruelty a felony, but people will turn you in.”
Greisen also thanked the classmate for saving the videos after the girls deleted them, saying that without his quick thinking, it never would have been investigated. She also thanked all the people who angrily protested the behavior they saw on the viral videos and called to log their protests with state officials as well.
Greisen implored parents to talk with their children about animal cruelty and the severe penalties they could face, adding that “this could be your kid” committing a serious crime in a case like she’s never seen before.
“Parents, where are you? Know what your kids are doing and talk to them about animal cruelty,” she said.
Welzant said animal-cruelty issues will be taken more seriously now that there has been more attention, and this incident will be discussed when her staff and volunteers present humane education in Clay County schools.
“State officials acting so quickly and the punishment coming down as a possible felony sends a message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated,” Welzant said. “In cases like these, we hope these young women get the help they need as well.”
Neither girl would comment when a Times-Union reporter went to the home last week and no one answered the door early Friday evening. One of their fathers told WJXT TV-4 they were remorseful and were raised better than that. He said the videos sickened him and they must face the consequences. He also said he took away cellphone and social media privileges.
If convicted, Greene faces up to five years in prison on the felony animal-cruelty charge, while the misdemeanor charge carries up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine, according to commission officials. The 15-year-old’s case would be handled in juvenile court.