Judge orders state inspection of embattled Charlestown zoo

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated. 

A controversial Charlestown zoo whose owner has already lost his federal exhibitor’s license has been ordered to comply with a state inspection on Friday and Saturday.

Marion Superior Court Civil Division 10 Judge David Dreyer entered an injunction Monday against Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed Inc., also known as WIN, as well as Timothy Stark and Melisa Lane, the zoo’s only decision-makers.

The injunction comes after Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill filed a lawsuit last month to shut down the zoo. The complaint alleges Stark and Lane have committed misconduct that prevents the zoo, a nonprofit organization, from fulfilling its rehabilitation and release mission.

The injunction orders Stark and Lane to provide state inspectors with access to any locations where animals are housed and cared for, and to any locations where records are kept. They are specifically prohibited from disrupting, harassing or impeding the inspection on the properties, which must be available for inspection between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Further, Stark and Lane are ordered to properly care for their animals, including providing proper food and veterinary care. They are also prohibited from transferring or removing any animals from their property, and they must notify Dreyer of any animal deaths, births or acquisitions. Death notices must include photo documentation.

The attorney general’s lawsuit alleged WIN violated Indiana’s Nonprofit Corporations Act and Deceptive Consumer Sales Act by not housing the animals — nearly 300 in 2018 — in proper facilities, not providing them with necessary medical care and even letting animals die from neglect. The zoo houses a variety of species, including tigers, lions, bears, dogs, hyenas, monkeys and hybrids, among others.

Further, Stark and Lane are accused in the complaint of using “scare tactics” to keep employees and volunteers from reporting wrongdoing at the zoo. And in a February order revoking Stark’s exhibitor’s license, the United States Department of Agriculture found that Stark tried to intimidate inspectors, among dozens of other violations of federal regulations.

To that end, Dreyer’s injunction allows inspectors to bring up to six law enforcement officers with them during the inspection of the WIN properties. The inspection team can include up to five state inspectors, up to three Office of Attorney General investigators to document the inspection and up to four OAG attorneys to observe.

Stark and Lane are permitted to document the inspection via video and/or photography, but the images cannot intentionally include the faces of the members of the inspection team.

The inspection team will be permitted to enter lion, tiger, bear or wolf enclosures, Dreyer wrote, while veterinarians on the team will be permitted to physically contact and/or treat animals believed to be “in distress” or “in need of medical attention.”

Dreyer held a hearing on the injunction motion on Friday.

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

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