The Florida Bar has opened an investigation into a Clearwater lawyer who shooed a stowaway raccoon off his boat and posted a video of the floundering mammal on social media.
Bar officials acknowledged opening the investigation into what Thomas Cope did with the raccoon, but did not specify what part of the rules of professional conduct his actions might have violated. However, the rules do specify that lawyers are considered officers of the court and thus should not "commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects."
In a brief emailed statement to the Tampa Bay Times, Cope said he was not aware of this new investigation, which comes on top of one launched May 8 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In a previous statement, he apologized for his actions, and said he wished he could have taken the animal back to shore instead of chasing it off his boat into the Gulf of Mexico.
The video that Cope posted showed a man, presumably Cope, yelling at a raccoon that he said had hidden away on the boat for several hours before revealing its presence after the boat was "well offshore" — or about 20 miles out, he wrote on Facebook.
"Get off my f------ boat," the man yelled at the raccoon, which was scurrying around the bow. "We're just going to have to push him off." The man shouted more while approaching the animal. Then the raccoon appeared to fall off the boat. The video zoomed in on the raccoon paddling in the water, trying to stay afloat. "So long, sucker," the man said.
The raccoon is presumed to have drowned. After Cope posted the video on social media, he was condemned by viewers who called what happened "disgusting" and "despicable."
Cope soon posted an apology that said he wished he could have come up with a better way of handling the situation.
"The animal was running around the boat hissing and growling, making it impossible for me or my friend to drive the boat," Cope wrote. "Knowing raccoons can be rabid and unpredictable, the only realistic option we could think of in the moment was to get the raccoon off the boat."
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Agency officials said they were taking the incident "very seriously" and asked anyone who has additional information about what happened to call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922.
"It is still too early to speculate as to what violations took place in this incident," the wildlife agency's statement said. "However, the FWC would like to state that we believe these vile acts of animal cruelty have no place in our state or anywhere else."
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Cope is a former prosecutor with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office who also spent five years with an insurance defense firm. He was included in the Florida Super Lawyers Rising Stars list of 2010, according to the website for his law firm, Cope, Zebro & Crawford.
Times staff writers Josh Solomon and Caitlin Johnston contributed to this report. Contact Craig Pittman at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow @craigtimes.