No Criminal Charges for Owner of Violent Chimp

Chimp owner's lawyer welcomes decision

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    For the next two years, Charla Nash will go through surgeries as she recovers from a vicious chimp attack in Stamford in February that left her disfigured, blind and near death. Her brothers are by her side through her recovery.

     

    No criminal charges are planned against the owner of the chimp that brutally attacked a woman and left her disfigured.
     
    In February, Charla Nash was trying to help her friend and boss, Sandra Herold, coax a 200-pound chimp into Herold’s Stamford home when it mauled Nash, leaving her horribly wounded and blind -- she lost her hands, nose and lips.
     
    On Monday, state’s attorney David Cohen held a news conference and released a statement about the February attack and the criminal investigation into the incident, officials said.
     
    Cohen said he reviewed the entire Stamford Police Department file, including all interviews that were conducted and the results of the necropsy performed on the chimpanzee and requested further investigation.
     
    “It is, therefore, my determination, based on the evidence presented at this time, that no criminal prosecution is warranted in this case,” He said. “This does not in any way minimize the horror that we all feel with what occurred and with the horrendous injuries suffered by Ms. Nash. Our prayers go out to her and her family. Nor does this decision mean that no one is responsible for this tragedy, whether it be Mrs. Herold or State authorities. However, I feel that, based on the criminal statutes of Connecticut, that determination will have to be made in the civil courts of this State.”
     
    -- READ THE FULL STATEMENT HERE --
     
    On the afternoon of Feb. 16, Nash and Herold were on the phone and Herold said Travis, the chimp, had let himself out of the house. Nash offered to come over and assist Herold in getting the chimpanzee back inside, Cohen said.
     
    Before Nash arrived, Herold got the chimpanzee back in the house and gave him a cup of tea that contained “several” pills of Xanax, Cohen said. When Nash arrived, however, the chimp attacked.
     
    Cohen said he took several factors into consideration but: there “was no record of this chimpanzee having attacked previously … the chimpanzee was very familiar with the victim and they had interacted numerous times in the past and there is no record of the State Department of Environmental Protection having had any contact with Mrs. Herold.”
     
    Nash is being treated at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, where she has undergone several surgeries and doctors have said it is a miracle she even survived.
     
    In the months since the attack, several lawsuits have been filed. Nash’s family sued
    Herold for $59 million, accusing her of negligence and recklessness for owning "a wild animal with violent propensities."
     
    The suit also claims that Herold lacked sufficient skill, strength and/or experience to subdue the chimpanzee when necessary. The Nash family also claims that Herold had given the chimp medication that further upset the animal.
     
    Nash’s family is also looking for permission to sue the state for $150 million, claiming it did nothing to prevent the attack.
     
    Nash's attorneys said officials from the Department of Environmental Protection were aware of concerns about Travis -- including that he could be dangerous -- for years, but didn't act.
     
    "It is an accident waiting to happen," a DEP biologist wrote in a letter, obtained by the Associated Press, dated October 2008 -- five months before Travis mauled Nash. 
    Cohen said his investigation did not discover any evidence that Herold “was aware of the risk that the chimpanzee posed and disregarded it” and Travis had not previously exhibited violent behavior, especially toward the victim, who was there present that day specifically because it was thought that she could help in controlling the chimpanzee, he said.
     
    The Nash family said they are at peace with the state’s attorney’s decision and appreciate the time and effort spent investigating, but a criminal prosecution could never undo what happened to Charla, nor could it provide any measure of relief or assistance to her.
     
    Nash’s family remains focused on Charla’s continued care and rehabilitation, they said.
    The decision would not impact the civil claims that are pending against Herold, they said.
     
    Cohen added that there is no record of the State Department of Environmental Protection warning Herold that the chimp could be dangerous and pose a threat to people.
     
    Monday's announcement just weeks after Nash made her first appearance since the attack on the Today Show and Oprah, showing her mangled face to the world for the first time.
     
    Herold’s attorney said he would welcome the state’s decision not to press criminal charges and said what happened is a “regrettable accident.
     
    “If it's the state’s decision not to pursue criminal charges, we welcome that decision and agree that this is tragic accident would best be handled civilly,” Robert Golger, Herold’s attorney, said. “It's apparent there was no intent of behalf of Sandra Herold to have any harm occasioned to Charla Nash. It's a regrettable accident but we believe the conduct did not rise to the level of a criminal offense.”