Washington, DC—In a letter sent Tuesday to Florida state, county and school officials, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is calling for a full investigation into the alleged drowning of multiple animals last week in front of students by a faculty member at Forest High School in Ocala.
AWI believes that Dewie Brewton, who resigned from his teaching position Thursday, violated regulations of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida animal cruelty laws, and Marion County school board policies when he allegedly trapped and, with student participation, killed two raccoons and an opossum.
"It is unconscionable that any teacher who mentors students would consider it acceptable, appropriate, or ethical to kill any animal by drowning and to encourage the students to participate in such cruelty," AWI President Cathy Liss said. "We are relieved that Mr. Brewton has retired but such actions, which clearly violate multiple state laws, must have legal consequences in order to send a clear message that drowning animals is wrong."
AWI’s letter was distributed to Bo Rivard, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission; Deborah Horvath, director of Marion County Animal Services; Matthew Minter, county attorney of Marion County; and Heidi Maier, superintendent of Marion County Public Schools.
Brewton allegedly killed these “nuisance” animals by drowning, which is not a humane method for killing nuisance wildlife under Florida law. Moreover, AWI believes that he should be cited and prosecuted for animal cruelty under state statute, since his actions caused these animals to experience unnecessary pain and suffering and a cruel death.
Animal cruelty is a third-degree felony in Florida. If convicted, Brewton could face a $10,000 fine, a maximum of five-year imprisonment for each offense, or both. Since Brewton has allegedly killed three animals, he may be charged with three counts of aggravated cruelty and be sentenced for up to 15 years if the sentences are imposed consecutively.
Apart from the potential criminal charges, AWI believes that Brewton’s alleged actions violate provisions of the Florida Administrative Code that deal with educator standards and performance, Florida’s Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession, and Marion County school board rules. While Brewton has reportedly retired, it is crucial that a formal investigation be conducted. Absent an inquiry, he could pursue future employment with another district and not be held accountable for his actions.
AWI is also urging the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to contact the Marion County Public School Board and Forest High School and offer to send a qualified expert to educate students about the proper treatment of nuisance wildlife and to provide guidance on how to humanely resolve wildlife-human conflicts.
Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, firstname.lastname@example.org