According to a June 7 statement by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters, there will be no criminal charges brought against the mother of the three-year-old child who fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo. The incident, which prompted zoo personnel to fatally shoot an endangered Western Lowlands silverback gorilla, has polarized public opinion.
An online petition that received close to 500,000 signatures demanded that local authorities bring child endangerment criminal charges against the boy’s mother, and requested that child services conduct an “investigation of the child’s home environment in the interests of protecting the child and his siblings from further incidents of parental negligence that may result in serious bodily harm or even death.”
But after hearing testimony from witnesses at the scene, the prosecutor’s office concluded that the child’s mother did not commit an act of criminal child endangerment. The Cincinnati zoo, on the other hand, may face penalties for violating federal safety regulations for facilities that research and display animals.
When Can Parents Face Criminal Charges for Bad Parenting?
Section 2919.22 of the Ohio Penal Code makes it illegal for a parent, guardian, or someone with control over a child to create a substantial risk to the health or safety of a child by failing to care for, protect, or support the child. Endangering children is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor—the most serious misdemeanor charge—for which the maximum sentence is six months in jail and a fine of $1,000.
Witnesses of the Cincinnati zoo incident testified that the boy told his mother he wanted to go into the moat on the other side of the gorilla enclosure’s fence. The mother scolded the boy, and then got distracted by other children in the group. While she was distracted, the boy crawled under the fence and then fell into the moat.
Next, a 450-pound gorilla named Harambe seized the boy, dragged him across the moat and threw him onto the ground of his enclosure. Unwilling to wait for a tranquilizer to take effect, zoo personnel decided to shoot Harambe as he stood guard over the child.
Upon reviewing these facts, prosecutor Joseph Deters stated that “by all accounts, this mother did not act in any way where she presented this child to some harm.” He added that: “She had three other kids with her and turned her back. … And if anyone doesn’t believe a 3-year-old can scamper off very quickly, they’ve never had kids.”
The director of the Cincinnati zoo recently stated that “in light of what happened, we have modified the outer public barrier to make entry even more difficult.” The zoo raised the public barrier to 42 inches and added rope netting to fill the gap between the ground and the fence.
Despite these assurances, both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have opened investigations into incident. Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an animal rights group, filed a negligence complaint with the USDA, seeking the maximum penalty of $10,000 for “a clear and fatal violation of Animal Welfare Act.”
It’s unclear whether the Cincinnati zoo will face any penalties. The USDA will need to first determine whether the zoo’s facilities met federal safety standards. According to the zoo’s director, the facilities at the time of the incident went above and beyond federal standards. Additionally, the USDA already conducted yearly inspections of the site, so it’s unlikely any incriminating safety issues will emerge.
Charged with Child Endangerment in Ohio? Call Attorney Brad Groene with Luftman, Heck & Associates
This summer, some parents may find themselves facing criminal charges for endangering their children while enjoying the outdoors. From boating, to driving all-terrain vehicles, to participating in sporting events, leisure activities can be dangerous for children. Always ensure that your children are engaged in activities appropriate for their age and under appropriate supervision. If you get charged with child endangerment, the Cincinnati criminal defense lawyers of Luftman, Heck & Associates can help. Call us today at (513) 338-1890 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.