Charlestown zoo inspection to proceed as scheduled, judge rules

An inspection of a controversial Charlestown zoo will continue as scheduled this weekend after an Indianapolis judge denied a motion to stay the inspection until the identities of the inspectors are revealed.

Marion Superior Court Civil Division 10 Judge David Dreyer denied Thursday the preliminary injunction motion brought by Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed Inc., Timothy Stark and Melisa Lane.

Dreyer has not yet entered a written order, but a court staffer said the judge asked that notice of the denial be posted on the online docket. The written order is forthcoming.

Dreyer on Monday had ordered that state inspectors send a team to the Wildlife in Need, or WIN, zoo in Charlestown. The zoo is owned by Stark and run by Stark and Lane as director and officer, respectively.

The Indiana Office of the Attorney General has sued to shut down the zoo, raising allegations of animal abuse and neglect and other wrongdoing in violation of state law and the nonprofit zoo’s mission.

Dreyer’s initial order scheduled the inspection for Friday and Saturday, giving the state permission to use five inspectors of its choice and to bring law enforcement protection. The complaint says Stark and Lane have used “scare tactics” to prevent reports of their wrongdoing, while a federal order revoking Stark’s exhibitor’s license said he has intimidated inspectors in the past.

But J. Clayton Culotta, a New Albany attorney representing WIN and Lane, moved for a preliminary injunction Wednesday because the state had not revealed the identities and qualifications of each of its inspectors. Based on one of the inspectors who was identified, Culotta alleged the state was conspiring with the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is suing the zoo in federal court. 

PETA did not respond to an IL request for comment on the conspiracy allegations. Nor did the state address those allegations in its response against the preliminary injunction.

Instead, the OAG wrote in a late Wednesday filing that it had offered Culotta a compromise: disclosure of the names of the inspectors with the agreement that their identities would be kept confidential until the court issues a protective order. Proposed protective orders, according to Dreyer’s initial ruling, must be submitted within 30 days of the inspection.

Additionally, the state wrote, it offered to keep confidential the names of all WIN employees and volunteers present at the inspection.

In emails submitted with the court filings,  deputies attorney general tell Culotta they have concerns about the inspectors’ safety. Similarly, in its Wednesday filing, the state said Stark confirmed at a Feb. 28 hearing that he has made threatening comments in the past.

The deputies asked Culotta in an email if he would agree to the proposed confidentiality terms, but Culotta never does so. He argued in the preliminary injunction motion that the zoo has a due process right to know the identities of the inspectors in advance and object, if necessary.

Stark is proceeding pro se but joined Culotta’s preliminary injunction motion.

The case is State of Indiana v. Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed, Inc., Timothy Stark, and Melisa Lane, 49D10-2002-PL-006192.

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