Case of monkey is sent back to Animal Control

District judge says he has no jurisdiction as couple tries to get macaque back

May 12, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

A Glen Burnie couple who sued the county to force Anne Arundel County Animal Control to return their pet monkey will have to take the case to a different venue, a District Court judge said yesterday.

Judge Nancy Davis-Loomis said the court does not have jurisdiction over whether to return Jamie, a 2-year-old Bonnett macaque, to its owners, Stephen and Kimberly Ritterspach, because the couple had not first gone through the Animal Control Commission, an administrative means for settling the dispute.

Animal Control officials said they may not be able to schedule a hearing of the seven-member panel until July, but Eugene Brennan, the Ritterspach's lawyer, said he would try to arrange an emergency hearing this week.

"I trust the commission will give us a fair hearing, but the fact is, it's an animal control commission and there may be some objectivity issues," Brennan said. "Maybe the possibility exists that they wouldn't want to impugn the decision of someone in the agency."

Animal Control took Jamie last month after the monkey bit a woman in the lip, touching off a brawl in which two other people were attacked, according to records. The agency already had on file instance of four other people who had been bitten or scratched by the 9-pound animal.

Animal Control officials issued orders labeling Jamie a dangerous animal and prohibiting the Ritterspachs from taking it in public before the April 2 melee. Officers had also fined Steven Ritterspach twice before the brawl because he had taken the animal out in public. After the fight, Animal Control Administrator Tahira Shane Thomas decided to take the monkey from the couple for good and fine them again, bringing their total penalty to $850. The Ritterspachs say they will those fines.

"This animal is posing a very serious danger to the public because of the action or lack of action by the owner," Thomas said yesterday after the hearing. "The monkey is hurting people. The bites are small but they're not minor."

Brennan said yesterday he took the case to court hoping the judge would allow him to argue Jamie's detainment as a property issue. He did not dispute the county agency's decision to quarantine the monkey, but argued that Animal Control decided to detain the animal permanently without giving the Ritterspachs a fair hearing.

Assistant County Attorney Sally Iliff said she agreed with the judge's decision, but she was sure the case would return to court. Animal Control officials said that since the case has been publicized, they've received four additional unconfirmed reports of people who have been bitten or scratched by the monkey.

Meanwhile, Jamie remains at a Howard County wildlife and primate refuge where he was taken after he was seized.

One of the victims, a Pasadena barber who was scratched on her hand last November, also is suing the couple for $25,000. That case is set for trial June 22.

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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