Charlestown zoo says state must provide inspector identities before inspection

The Charlestown zoo at the center both state and federal litigation is asking an Indianapolis court to delay an inspection scheduled to begin Friday until the identities of the inspectors are revealed, arguing the state litigation is being used to bolster federal claims brought by the animal-rights group PETA.

Counsel for Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed Inc. moved Wednesday for a preliminary injunction that could delay the inspection of its properties scheduled for Friday and Saturday. The inspection was ordered in a Monday ruling from Marion Superior Court Civil Division 10 Judge David Dreyer.

“Plaintiffs advised that the individuals it intended to conduct the inspection would be veterinarians and employees of the Indianapolis zoo,” New Albany attorney J. Clayton Culotta wrote in court filings Monday. “It is only right and proper that Plaintiff identify and provide the credentials of these individuals in advance of their showing up for the scheduled inspection so that any objection Defendants may have with them can be timely heard by the Court.”

Culotta is representing WIN, which is a nonprofit, and Melisa Lane, its officer. WIN’s owner and director, Timothy Stark, is proceeding pro se but joined the preliminary injunction motion.

Stark, Lane and WIN were sued by the Office of Attorney General, which is asking Dreyer to shut down the zoo. The state case was filed in February, but a federal suit brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been ongoing for several years.

In his Monday order, Dreyer ordered WIN to make all of its properties and records available for inspection Friday and Saturday. The state was permitted to use up to five inspectors of its choosing.

In emails attached to the preliminary injunction motion, Culotta asks multiple times for the identities of the state inspectors. Two identities are revealed — Robert Shumaker and Jay Pratte — but no other names are provided. Culotta also asks for the inspectors’ credentials.

“Our team is currently going over this request. Why do you need the names of the inspectors and CV’s at this time?” Phil Rizzo, an attorney with the OAG, wrote in a Tuesday email to Culotta. That email came after what was at least the third request in writing from Culotta for the inspectors’ information.

“This is not Perry Mason. I need to know who you want to bring before they get there in the event that we have an objection to them,” Culotta responded.

“I’ve spoken with our case team and we are working up a proposed protective order before sending you the identities of the inspectors,” Rizzo wrote in response. He continues to say that a proposed order will be provided by Tuesday or Wednesday, but in the Wednesday filing, Culotta said he had not yet seen the proposal.

“The protective order goes back to our concerns for the inspectors’ safety given that our office has received a threat of violence regarding this case and Mr. Stark has also mentioned violent conduct to the media. For these reasons, we want the inspectors’ identities protected. We also want to alleviate any fears the inspectors have. We raised these safety concerns in open court on Friday and the judge was sympathetic to those concerns,” Rizzo continued, referencing a Feb. 28 hearing before Dreyer.

In the state complaint, Stark and Lane are accused of using “scare tactics” to prevent WIN employees and volunteers from reporting wrongdoing. And in a February order revoking Stark’s federal exhibitor’s license, an administrative law judge with the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that Stark had intimidated inspectors on multiple occasions.

“Additionally, per paragraph 12 of the Court’s order, the State can use the inspectors of its choice, so you have no basis to object to our inspectors. Per paragraph 9 of the Court’s order, Defendants cannot impede our investigation that will be taking place March 6th and 7th,” Rizzo wrote.

The defendants, however, raised the possibility of a conspiracy between the state and PETA, allegedly evidenced by the use of an inspector named Jay Pratte.

According to a March 2019 letter attached as an exhibit, Pratte participated in an inspection of the zoo as part of the case of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed, LLC et al., 4:17-cv-186. The inspection at issue was supposed to focus only on big cats, the letter says, but Pratte repeatedly visited the spotted hyena enclosure.

“In addition to Mr. Pratte, PETA has also identified two additional individuals, Dr. Kim Haddad and Dr. Jennifer Conrad, it intends to call in that litigation,” Culotta wrote in his Wednesday motion. “All three of these individuals have long standing relationships with PETA and have worked for it in prior litigation.

“If Plaintiff identifies Haddad and Conrad as two more of their inspectors it would be far more than just a coincidence,” the motion continues. “Defendants believe that the State and PETA have conspired and colluded to bring this litigation to backdoor PETA’s access to Defendants’ property and records.”

Indiana Lawyer has reached out to PETA for comment on the conspiracy allegations. The state had not filed a response to the preliminary injunction motion by IL deadline.

“Defendants’ due process right to confront and assess the inspectors’ credentials and object to them if necessary will be violated if the Court does not Order Plaintiff to enter into an equitable protective order in advance of the scheduled inspection,” Culotta wrote. “Defendants believe without the Court’s intervention Plaintiff will push forward with the inspection without providing Defendants any advance notice of the individuals they intend to bring or their credentials.”

The case is State of Indiana v. Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed, Inc., Timothy L. Stark, and Melisa D. Lane, 49D10-2002-PL-6192.

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