Cincinnati Police Launch Criminal Probe Into Gorilla Incident at Zoo

Cincinnati police are looking into possible criminal charges

ByABC News
May 31, 2016, 7:40 PM

— -- The shooting death of an endangered silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday to rescue a toddler who had fallen into the enclosure has garnered national outrage from animal rights activists and citizens concerned about zoo safety.

Today prosecutors from Hamilton County, Ohio, said that the Cincinnati Police Department will look into the incident for possible criminal charges.

"The incident at the Cincinnati Zoo involving the young child who fell into the gorilla enclosure is under investigation by the Cincinnati Police Department," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters said in a statement today. "Once their investigation is concluded, they will confer with our office on possible criminal charges. When the investigation and review are complete, we will update the media."

In a later statement, the police department said that its review "is only regarding the actions of the parents/family that led up to the incident and not related to the operation or safety of the Cincinnati Zoo."

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums said it will also conduct an investigation into the incident, spokesperson Rob Vernon said. The AZA will request a report from the zoo, which will be reviewed by the accreditation commission.

The review may include a site inspection, Vernon said, adding that this is the standard review process when a serious event occurs. The Cincinnati Zoo has been continuously accredited since 1979 and was last inspected for accreditation in 2014. The AZA will not be releasing its previous accreditation results for the zoo, Vernon said.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Animal protection group Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) argued today in a press release that the Cincinnati Zoo is responsible for the child's entering the enclosure and the resulting the death of the gorilla. The group launched a complaint to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the service, told ABC News today that it inspects facilities on average once a year but may inspect them more frequently if they have repeat noncompliance issues or a complaint is received.

The most recent APHIS report on the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens took place on April 7, 2016, and stated, "No noncompliant items identified during this inspection."

According to the USDA's Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations, a perimeter fence for an outdoor housing facility for nonhuman primates "must be constructed so that it protects nonhuman primates by restricting unauthorized humans and animals the size of dogs, skunks and raccoons from going through it or under it and having contact with the nonhuman primates."

Espinosa added that, at this point, the APHIS does not have an investigation open into the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo but that "we will be looking into this incident to determine whether there were any Animal Welfare Act noncompliances that contributed." The SAEN complaint is the only one the USDA has received about the incident so far.