Three face felony charges for abuse of gopher tortoises

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Public Information Coordinator Joy Hill reported to Historic City News in St Augustine that two adults and a juvenile are facing prison time and fines after for killing a state-designated “threatened species” and for felony cruelty to animals.

According to the report, the three allegedly ran over two gopher tortoises with a vehicle in the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area; and then, while the tortoises were still alive, picked them up and intentionally slammed them violently to the ground.

Officers arrested 20-year-old Michael Dublin of Jacksonville; 18 year-old Dalton Bothwell of Middleburg, and a 17-year-old juvenile male from Middleburg, on third-degree felony charges — each carries a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.

FWC Officer Steve McDaniel and FWC Reserve Officer James Nelson were patrolling the Tosohatchee around 2:00 p.m. on May 27 when they found a large, severely injured gopher tortoise attempting to move on a roadway.

Its upper and lower shells were cracked open, and internal organs were protruding from its sides. There was a large amount of blood on the road and the tortoise was barely alive. Nearby was another, smaller tortoise. It also had a cracked shell; and was surrounded by a pool of blood.

After investigating the incident, the officers determined that Dublin had intentionally struck the tortoises. He struck the smaller tortoise first, left the injured animal to suffer and die in the hot sun.

Hours later, as they were leaving the area, they struck the larger tortoise and then got out, picked up the injured animal and slammed it to the ground, causing additional injuries. They located the first tortoise, found it injured but still alive, and picked it up and slammed it into the ground. Both animals died.

“They made no attempt to render aid or take the animals to a vet,” Office McDaniel wrote in his report. “They said they simply wanted to see what would happen if we dropped it.”

To report wildlife, fish and boating violations, please call the FWC’s 24-hour toll-free Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). Callers may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward if their information leads to an arrest.

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