The controversial owner of a now-defunct Charlestown zoo is vowing to “prepare for war” after his roadside attraction was formally dissolved.
Timothy Stark was released from the Marion County Jail at 1:19 p.m. Sunday, online records show. His release came less than a week after Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer entered default judgment against Stark’s zoo, Wildlife in Need, shuttering its operations.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill in February sued Stark, the zoo — formally known as the nonprofit Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed Inc. — and Melisa Lane, another zoo officer. Hill’s office alleged that the zoo featuring big cats and other species of exotic animals was not run in accordance with the mission of the nonprofit and that Stark had embezzled zoo assets for his personal use.
A months-long battle then began that ended with Stark’s arrest in Washington County, New York, for contempt. The state alleged that Stark interfered with the court-ordered removal of animals from WIN, including by harassing and intimidating the removal team and hiding animals.
More than 160 animals were taken from the Charlestown property, but some $165,000 worth of animals were reported missing, Hill’s office said. Some animals were later discovered, while others remain missing.
While the state’s contempt motion was pending, WIN’s board voted in October to dissolve the nonprofit.
Dreyer’s subsequent entry of default judgment applies only to the zoo. The judge declined to enter default judgment against Stark or Lane, holding that Stark purged his contempt by serving 10 days in the Marion County Jail.
“We have won our case against Wildlife in Need,” Hill said in a news release. “From here, we must look to appropriately deal with assets that were held by the organization and tend to other related matters, but we are pleased with the dissolution of the nonprofit corporation and the court’s resolution of the central issues of this case.”
Earlier this week, the state filed a notice suggesting that Kightlinger & Gray lawyer Van T. Willis be appointed as receiver “for all appropriate purposes consistent with judgment against WIN, including but not limited to winding down WIN, which necessarily will entail locating all assets, including misappropriated assets, and liquidating those assets; and further coordinating with the Indianapolis Zoo for the arrangement and placement of all WIN animals into designated animal sanctuaries.”
The Indianapolis Zoological Society was previously appointed as receiver during the removal of the animals from the WIN property.
A senior partner with Kightlinger & Gray and a part-time magistrate judge in the Indiana Southern District Court, Willis practices law in New Albany, just one county over from Charlestown.
Stark, however, indicated in a Facebook video that even though his zoo is closed, he does not believe the fight is over.
“I’m no longer a caged animal. I’m set free,” he said in a Facebook Live video taken about an hour after his release from jail. “I’m on my way back home. Prepare for war. That’s where it’s gonna go.”
Stark has previously taken to Facebook on multiple occasions to speak out against the litigation, at times using racial slurs and seemingly inciting violence against parties representing the state. He’s likewise facing criminal charges in Clark County for alleged battery and intimidation against a deputy attorney general involved in a court-ordered state inspection of the zoo.
But in his latest social media video, the former zoo owner attributed his behavior to a medication side effect. He said he learned his medication “create(d) that monster” but claimed to now be a “different me.”
“Now I’m gonna start firing back, but I’m gonna be doing it in a more ‘politically correct way,’” he said on the video. “I handled things wrong. I’ll be the first one to admit that.
“I did things wrong. I got a little too vulgar, a little too ornery, and it wasn’t professional,” he continued. “You can rant, rave, cuss and carry on, there’s nothing wrong with that. But the way I jumped into it and started taking it into a personal level … that was wrong.”
Stark has not filed any additional court documents in either the civil or criminal case since his release on Sunday. He’s facing a December dissolution hearing in the civil case, State of Indiana v. Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed, Inc., Timothy Stark, Melisa Lane, 49D10-2002-PL-006192.
A pretrial conference is set for Nov. 19 in the criminal case, State of Indiana v. Timothy Stark, 10C03-2009-F6-001273.
Stark and his zoo have also faced trouble in federal court.
Earlier this year, an administrative law judge with the U.S. Department of Agriculture revoked Stark’s exhibitor’s license. Later, the Indiana Southern District Court ruled in favor of animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which had filed a civil case against Stark and WIN.