This happened a couple of years ago and I don’t think I ever told this story but here it goes. So, I found this tiny quarter-sized turtle during one winter and it was pretty much half dead. I ended up keeping it alive and actually kept it as a pet. As it got bigger, I would take this turtle everywhere outside to run around, eat grass, and dig holes. The hole digging part is what makes this particular turtle special. It’s known as a gopher turtle, actually a tortoise, and it’s an endangered one in the USA. I got to find this out the hard way as people openly would walk up to me to ask about it and I’d say, “It’s a gopher turtle”. I even had cops in the park walk up to me and wonder what the hell someone was doing with a turtle digging holes. They never said anything, they just stared at it, asked if a puppy would be more fun, and go back to their cars. And to my surprise, A LOT of women were intrigued by this thing running around, I even had a guy nearby playing with a black lab puppy getting out done by a softball with legs digging a hole while women say, “AWWWWW?! What is it?!”
Fast forward past all the fun stuff and I stop by my parents house after work where the turtle has been for years and a silver F150 slowly creeps up as I am trying to go inside. A window rolls down and a guy asks, “Are you Mr. Hughes?”. I said yes a little cautious and he tells me to hold on a moment while he shuts his truck off. At this point I’m a little nervous and the guy comes across the street, flips out a badge. I’m thinking something has happened in the area and he needs to ask me questions. Then he tells me he is with the Florida Wildlife Conservation and Protection for endangered species, or something like that. As soon as he said that I got a knot in my stomach because I knew why he was there and then he said, “I’m here for the gopher turtle.” The guy tells me we can do this easy way, I go get the turtle without any hassle or we do it the hard way and he contacts law enforcement as back up. At this point I laughed a little because a home can’t be searched without a proper warrant, and I doubt they could whip one up on the spot, but I didn’t want any trouble. So I told him, “Relax, you see me in a suit and tie, does it look like I’m dangerous? I’ll get it.”
So out comes the turtle and the guy confirms it’s a gopher breed, an endangered species which by the way is illegal to possess without a warrant. So he took the turtle and put it in a container inside the truck. I thought that was going to be the end of it…well I was hoping anyway. He then walks back across the street and lets me know because he found what he was called to investigate, he had to issue a ticket/summons. I guess it depends on the type of endangered species but for turtles in the state of Florida it’s a misdemeanor charge. When he told me this, I was beside myself and automatically went for the worst case scenario of jail time, fines, and hurting future job opportunities. He told me to keep calm and that it never gets that bad but he wasn’t the one having to get the ticket/summons. So in between freaking out about the misdemeanor charge, it hit me: who in the fuck called the wildlife cops on me? Twice! Someone watched me and called Florida wildlife twice on me. Could have just left a note on my door telling me what I had, I would have set it free pretty quick. So I, like anyone pissed off, started talking out loud about wanting to find the person who was monitoring me and got me in this shit. And I shouldn’t have done that.
“Ok…so now you’re looking at a felony, sir. Do you want to keep talking like you are?” So at this point, I’m about ready to blow a gasket because this whole thing is sounding like some bullshit setup. I say, “Look, the sooner you give me my misdemeanor, the sooner I can go drink a beer.” Of course, he snaps back that I haven’t been convicted of anything in a court yet. “Whatever you want to think. You’re about to give me some papers that will have my ass in front of a judge for fines and possible jail time…for SAVING a turtle.” He eventually tells me to chill the fuck out and I do but I’m still pissed someone called about me.
So some time passes, and thankfully my boss lets me out of work to go to my court date. I know more than a few people here have been to court, for those who haven’t, it’s not like the movies. For this kind of stuff you have to sit with a scheduled group of accused individuals who have to stand before a judge and enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest (if I remember right). Everyone there was pretty rough looking. You’re given a number and you get up from your part of the room when your number is called and you have to go stand in front of a mic in front of the judge. I heard all kinds of charges like some guy caught with 900 pounds of red fish (heavily regulated fish), theft, two homeless guys drunk in public. Probably the funniest one was a lady who was charged with hosting adult entertainment without a license. I never knew you needed one and the kicker was she just happened to be the manager on shift when her business was busted, so she got stuck with a charge.
So my turn came to go stand in front of the court. The DA passed my file to the judge, who read out loud my charge of possessing an endangered species. Then she made this confused face and slowly looked up at me and said, “A turtle?..Is that correct?” At this point the whole fucking court behind me is giggling at my ass and I couldn’t help but shake my head and say yes. I couldn’t believe I was wasting their time and tax dollars with shit like this, either. She asked me how I plead and I said guilty but if I could speak about it. She allowed it and I gave her the whole rundown of why I had the turtle in the first place and if it was getting the treatment it deserved from the zoo where they brought it, then my fine was worth it. At this point the DA got on a mic and informed the judge that the state of Florida drops all charges against the defendant. She agreed and off I went back to work a little wiser.
- RPD befriends dying turtle
- Public inquires about turtle
- Silver F150 is creeping, get off the corner, the block is hot with jump out boys
- Misdemeanor charge for possession of endangered species
- State of Florida tells RPD in legal phrasing to “GTFO” when in court for said misdemeanor
- Possession of gopher tortoise allowable with permit prior to 1988 only
- Possession of gopher tortoise is a misdemeanor charge including up to $3,000 in fines and jail time
- Illegal to disturb or go near gopher turtle holes even on property owned
- Wildlife services must be called to remove turtle from property at owner’s expense
- Gopher turtles evacuate water stored in their bladder as a defense mechanism
- Said defense mechanism quickly dehydrates tortoise, leading to death