Florida lawyer, Thomas Cope continues to find himself in hot water. After the Clearwater attorney shooed a raccoon off of his boat 20 miles offshore, Cope has come into a litany of backlash, including an investigation that may leave him disbarred.
The video posted to Facebook shows Cope shooing the raccoon off of his boat, using profanity and ultimately leaving the raccoon stranded 20 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Over 80,000 People Have Signed a Petition to get Cope Disbarred
- According to a Care 2 petition, about 83,000 people have signed to get the Florida Bar to investigate Cope and have him disbarred if found accountable.
“Have you heard the one about the lawyer and the raccoon? No, it’s not a modern twist of an ancient fable. It’s the disturbing tale of how one man ruthlessly and without remorse killed an innocent animal all because he could,” the petition’s description begins.
The petition which has a goal of 85,000 signees has amassed signatures spanning all over the world. Unfortunately for Cope, people have been ruthless with their comments about the video.
“Thomas Cope chose to slowly torture this little animal to death, and he thought it was funny. This reveals so much about his character. He has no business practicing law,” commented one signee from Kentucky.
2. Cope has Apologized for the Video
After Cope’s video went viral, and the backlash ensued, Cope issued an apology.
According to WFLA, Cope’s statement said he wished there was another way.
“I apologize for my actions on the boat earlier this week. I sincerely wish there was some way I could have safely returned to shore to release the raccoon,” Cope said. “The animal was running around the boat hissing and growling, making it impossible for me or my friend to drive the boat.”
Cope was also scared that the raccoon could have been rabid.
“Knowing raccoons can be rabid and unpredictable, the only realistic option we could think of in that moment was to get the raccoon off the boat,” Cope said. “I feel bad for the animal and I’m sorry for what I did.”
3. Cope is Under Investigation by the Florida Bar & Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
According to WFTS, Cope is currently under investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The FWC was made aware of the video on May 8 and put out the following statement:
It is still too early to speculate as to what violations took place in this incident, 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.
The Tampa Bay Times reports Cope is also under investigation by the Florida Bar.
Animal rights attorney Nora Constance Marino told WFTS that Florida’s animal cruelty statute is “pretty solid.”
“The Florida animal cruelty statute is pretty solid. First, it applies to ‘any’ animal, which would include raccoons,” Marino said. “It further applies to a person who has ‘custody or control of any animal,’ who commits or fails to commit an act, ‘which results in the cruel death, or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering.’ The images set forth in that video, to me, clearly meet this standard.”
4. Cope Said ‘So Long, Sucker’ After the Raccoon Fell Into the Water
According to the video posted to Facebook, Cope and his friends had some pretty harsh words for the raccoon that was on their boat.
“Get off my f*cking boat! What the f*ck is wrong with you?” one man is heard yelling in the video. “We’re just going to have to push him off,” another says.
After the raccoon fell into the water, the man who took the video, presumably Cope, said “So long, sucker,” as the raccoon swam around aimlessly in the water.
Unfortunately for Cope, he could be the “sucker” being said “so long” to, if the Florida Bar decides to act on their investigation and strip away his attorney status.
5. Experts Say Cope ‘Had a World of Options’ Instead of Leaving the Raccoon to Drown
Merritt Clifton, the editor of Animals 24-7, a nonprofit online newspaper and information service that focuses on humane animal treatment, spoke to the Tampa Bay Times. Clifton said Cope “had a world of options.”
“Cope and whoever was in the boat with him had a world of options, including radioing to the Florida Wildlife Commission for advice if he needed it — or going on Facebook, sending out text messages, etc., to find other potential advisors,” Clifton said.
Clifton also recommended using a cardboard box, fishing net or ice chest to entrap the animal, before locking it in the boat’s cabin.
Bob Jones, executive director of the Florida Fisheries Foundation, also talked to the Tampa Bay Times.
“As a Southern boy taught to eat whatever I kill, I would have tried to shoo the raccoon into the fish box if possible,” Jones said. “If all the poor critter did was poo poo on the boat that would not rise to a killing offense. However, if the raccoon attacked the Captain of the ship, maritime legal precedents would have to be considered.”
Not everyone took the time to signal their virtues with the Tampa Bay Times though. Terry Daniel of Speed Boat Adventures, a charter boat operation in St. Pete Beach said he would’ve done the same thing Cope did – except for one major detail.
“Anybody would’ve done the same thing,” Terry Daniel said. “He just shouldn’t have filmed it.”