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SHARK determined to protect, save deer

Animal-rights group files new lawsuit against Summit County parks

By Bob Downing
Ackron Beacon Journal staff writer
Thu, Jun. 21, 2007

 SHARK is back, ready to take a chomp out of Metro Parks, Serving Summit County.

The Illinois-based animal rights group, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, has filed a new lawsuit in connection with its long-simmering dispute about the park district's shooting of white-tailed deer.

``We haven't given up on it... and we're not going away,'' SHARK spokesman Steve Hindi said.

The suit, filed Friday, charges that the park district, its rangers and a contractor hired by the park district illegally seized, erased and damaged six digital video cameras that SHARK had placed in four parks to record deer being shot in 2004.

The suit seeks unspecified damages from the district, rangers Dave Rankin and Justin Simon and White Buffalo Inc. of Moodus, Conn., and its president, Anthony DeNicola, who had been hired to help plan and conduct the deer-reduction operation.

Keith Shy, director-secretary of the park district, declined comment, saying he had not seen the suit.

The case has been assigned to Judge Marvin A. Shapiro.

On Nov. 23, 2004, SHARK filed a suit against the park system in U.S. District Court in Akron. It claimed the recording by SHARK of the deer being shot in Silver Creek, Sand Run, Cascade Valley and Munroe Falls metro parks was a lawful exercise of the group's First Amendment rights.

On June 16, 2006, U.S. District Judge John Adams ruled against SHARK. That decision has been appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Oral arguments have been made before a three-judge panel, but it is not known when the appeals court might issue a final ruling, said Kenneth D. Myers of Cleveland, SHARK's attorney.

Local prosecutors had declined to pursue criminal charges against park officials for damaging SHARK's recording equipment and declined to pursue charges against SHARK for trespassing in the parks.

SHARK remains unhappy with the deer-reduction program in Summit County.

The group, based in Geneva, Ill., contends the tapes showed that the deer were being mistreated, with the animals being shot and then dragged or suffocated with plastic bags over their heads while they were still moving. Park and state officials said no deer were mistreated, and that such twitching is common. They said the plastic bags were placed over the animals' heads to keep blood from draining onto the ground.

The park district began shooting the deer in early 2004 to protect plants and other animals in the park system. To date, 617 deer have been killed.

The deer were shot by park sharpshooters at night from elevated stands in parks that were closed to the public. The venison was provided to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.