The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jason Coats speaks out about Missouri Primate Foundation-Connie Casey Braun

When a chimpanzee once featured in TV commercials mauled a woman last week (February 16) in Connecticut, a Festus man's own experience with chimpanzee attacks came back into the local spotlight.

In 2001, Jason Coats, then 18, encountered three chimpanzees that had escaped from an unlocked cage at Chimparty, a facility near his home. He ended up shooting and killing one of the chimps, Suzy, spurring a bitter feud between Coats and Chimparty owners Mike and Connie Casey.

After the jump: an excerpt from an RFT story about the incident:

Cover of June 27, 2001 RFT
The day Suzy was shot was "an average day," says Coats. "I wasn't in a bad mood or anything. We had just come from the Dairy Queen -- I work there, got some friends that work there. They gave me some food and a ride home." It was around 6 that evening when the four teens -- Coats, Kenny Wright, Steven Cluff and Amanda McCullough, who was driving -- arrived at Coats' home with music blaring from the Chevy Cavalier. They got a surprise. "We pull in my driveway, and there's monkeys," says Coats. "We were, like, 'Wow! There's monkeys in the driveway!' And one of them came up. He was all wiggling his arms, and it sounds kind of dumb, but his balls were all hanging out and we thought it was funny."

It wasn't funny for long.

It's unclear what set off the chimps. The teens may have teased or taunted the animals, or the chimps may have felt giddy or rambunctious in their state of freedom. Nevertheless, something about the loud music, the car or its occupants really excited the chimps, especially the big male, Coco. "We were laughing at him," says Coats, "and he came up to the window, started banging and screaming and baring his teeth. I don't know, it scared us."

It was a warm fall day in 1994, and Jennifer and Terry Mercer, who had just received their wedding pictures, were visiting a friend, Paula Lowe, who lived in a trailer on the back of some property on Highway CC near Festus. Four adults and three children were in the trailer, all on a couch, looking at the wedding album, when they heard a loud noise. "We heard this thud up against the trailer," says Jennifer. "We thought it was Paula's dad, bumping around outside, and the next thing we knew, the door swung open and there was this monkey standing there in the doorway, looking at us. I remember looking it right in the eyes. You never expect a monkey to open the damn door and come in the living room. Paula said, 'Oh my God, it's one of them monkeys got loose from the chimpanzee farm.'"

Pandemonium ensued. "The monkey came in," Jennifer continues. "We all jumped up, screaming and hollering." Lowe's niece, 2-year-old Erica, was on her lap. "It grabbed [Erica] by the ponytail, and it was dragging her across the floor. By then, we had all gone into the bedroom, but my husband, he was trying to get that little girl from that monkey."

Terry "started fighting with it," says Lowe. "It was almost funny. If Terry would push that monkey, the monkey would push Terry. If Terry would punch the monkey, the monkey would ball up his fists and punch Terry. Finally, [Terry] said, 'This isn't going to work.'"

"He grabbed a skillet," says Jennifer, "and he beat it in the head -- oh, it was nuts."

Someone dialed 911. Meanwhile, Connie Casey, the owner of the "chimpanzee farm," two doors down, came in with a tranquilizer gun. Eventually the police came. Both Terry and Erica, who were scratched and bruised, received tetanus shots at the hospital. Some injuries weren't so apparent at first. Erica "has trouble sometimes going to the zoo to see the monkeys," says Lowe.

"And that thud we heard?" says Jennifer. "That was that monkey throwing Paula's dog up against the trailer."

The Mercers got a lawyer and reached a settlement out of court with the chimpanzee's owners, Mike and Connie Casey. Time went on. Jennifer and Terry got divorced. Lowe moved to Bonne Terre. The Caseys added more chimps to their menagerie.

Now things have gotten ugly again. This time a chimp is dead, the teenage boy who shot it faces prison and there's bad blood in the neighborhood.

"I told that boy," says Jennifer, "I said, 'Nobody knows what it feels like until you're actually in that kind of situation.' It's scary -- it is, because you can go on about 'Them monkeys are so playful,' this and that. They're not. They get mean. I feel sorry for that kid, I really do. Nothing's ever been said about [the chimps] getting out in '94. And Connie Casey, she needs to be more careful and not let them things get out, because there's little kids in that neighborhood, and one day one of them escaped monkeys is gonna hurt them kids."

"You know what it's like to sit in jail from shooting a chimpanzee and watch yourself on the 10 o' clock news? That's something I never thought I'd see, never ever in a thousand years," says 18-year-old Jason Coats, grinning and chuckling at the absurdity of it. "It shows me on the porch of our house, swinging my arms like the monkeys were swinging theirs. It looked kind of dumb, really."

Coats was picked up by detectives who came by his home in southern Jefferson County. It was Friday, May 18, a month after the incident. Because culpability wasn't at all clear, Jefferson County Prosecutor Bob Wilkins ordered an investigation, and at suppertime on a Friday, with Coats about to head out with his friends, the boot came down. The late-Friday arrest is an old prosecutor trick to force a suspect to linger in jail over the weekend before he or she can make bail. Jason's bond was set at $3,500. He was charged with destruction of property over $750 (Suzy), a felony; and animal abuse, a misdemeanor andan understatement. After all, the chimp was dead. If found guilty, Coats faces as much as a year in prison and a $1,000 fine for the misdemeanor and up to five years and a $5,000 fine for the felony.

Coats, a high-school sophomore, is a tall, gangly kid with short peroxide-streaked hair, acne and small earrings. He does not look tough or menacing. When he found himself in the group holding cell with about 20 adults -- drunks, pimps, burglars -- he wasn't afraid. "The other prisoners," he says, still amused about his experience, "they gave me respect, I'll tell you that. I stepped on this guy's cot trying to get to my bunk, and he's, like, 'Man, what you steppin' on my cot for?' And this other guy sitting there, he says, 'Don't mess with him. He's the monkey murderer. Leave him alone -- he's crazy.' I said, 'Yeah, that's right. Leave me alone.'"

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  1. Anonymous6:19 AM

    Chalk one up for wrongful conviction. That judge should be ashamed of himself. 300 letters of apology? Jail time? He should lock himself up and write Jason 300 letters of apology. I love animals, but chimpanzees can become unstable, they can rip you limb from limb without breaking a sweat. I support Jason and his familys attempts to protect themselves.

  2. Judie Harrison8:17 AM

    Dear anon;
    Thank you for your comment and your opinion, which everyone is entitled to.

    I have known Mike Casey for many years, although I don't agree "now" with what he "use" to do (breeding and selling of Chimpanzees) I can say that he is kind and know their behaviour better than anyone in the chimp business that I have met, including all of these so called sanctuary owners.

    That day, that awful day for everyone.... was not only frightening for the coats family but also for the Caseys and the chimps.

    The caseys are well experieinced in darting large adult chimps. (they take the babies away that way from their moms) Susie was IN FACT already darted and sedated leaning up against a tree when Jason shot her. She was of no threat at that point. He was showing off in front of his friends and had no patience. What he did that day would be the same as going up to a chimpanzee in a cage and shooting him or her. There was NO POINT in shooting her after the fact.

    This case as I have said too many times is totally different than the Charla/Sandra/Travis case. If Sandra had been experienced and had a blow dart gun or dart gun, she could have sedated travis (as the Caseys did), Charla would not have been attacked, Travis would not have been killed and Sandra would not have died of a broken heart.

    You with most of the public don't understand the love and connection that a human has with their chimp pet. If you raise a dog for 12 years and this dog dies, you are devasted but only on a smaller scale than when your chimp dies.

    Perhaps if Jason had been a bit more older and mature he could have thought a bit more rational, had a bit of patience and really looked at the situation, he would have perhaps made a different decision. When boys are young and around their friends they seem to want to be macho, because of their lack of maturity.

  3. Anonymous7:42 PM

    Did you know Jane Goodall, the expert in primates, is against owning chimps as pets?It's funny you should mention how the "bond between a chimp" is more important than the bond between an dog and its owner. Jason was infact trying to save his dog's life. I guess the bond between Jason and his dog isn't really that important to you. So you think breastfeeding, sleeping and bathing with a chimp (as such humans have done) is normal huh? I wonder what you would have done if a vicious dog was trying to kill your pet chimp.

  4. I’m well aware of the stories be told about Jane Goodall. I don’t believe I ever made a comment about the importance between a dog and a chimp. Both are beloved animals, regardless of what species they are.

    To be honest with you, I think I ask myself that same question at least 10 times a week, STILL. I don’t know what I would have done In Sandra’s case also. Both horrible tragedies for all, even people that weren’t directly involved.