FWC Officers Slaughter Pet Boa and 34 other Snakes on Holy Thursday
USARK Florida Calls on Governor DeSantis to ask for resignation of FWC leaders and the immediate end to forced euthanasia of captive animals by FWC
Above: An FWC officer smiles as he surveys the scene after the killing of 34 pythons and a pregnant pet boa by FWC officers (Photo by Chris Coffee, who has granted permission for this photo to be published and disseminated)
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Law Enforcement Officers showed up at a reptile facility in Sunrise and slaughtered 34 pythons and one pregnant boa constrictor. The pet Boa constrictor was misidentified as a python and, according to its owner Bill McAdam, executed via "nail gun to the head" by four FWC officers. The FWC officers also killed 29 Reticulated pythons and five Burmese pythons owned by Chris Coffee. Under prior directive from FWC, Coffee was forced to maintain the snakes in captivity for over a year since an arbitrary deadline had passed to rehome the animals.
Coffee had a large collection of both Reticulated and Burmese pythons, which were possessed legally with a "Conditional Species Permit," before FWC made that permit obsolete by passing "Prohibited Species" rules in 2021. Therefore, his animals should have been grandfathered in and exempt from the new regulations. Nonetheless, after the rules banning the snakes were passed, Coffee chose to rehome 120 of his pythons, but he was unable to disperse all of his collection before an arbitrary FWC deadline. In an effort to remain on good terms with FWC, Coffee notified FWC in good faith about a year ago that he was having difficulties rehoming his animals in the short amount of time allowed by FWC. He asked FWC for more time, believing that he had no choice.
FWC responded by raiding Coffee's facility, arresting him, and issuing him two charges for each Reticulated and Burmese python possessed, for a total of 72 criminal charges. However, rather than seize the animals, FWC officers told Coffee that he had to continue to keep the snakes in captivity and that he could not rehome or euthanize them or he would be arrested again. Coffee's life has been turned upside down and he is still on probation as a result of the charges that never should have been issued against him.
Above: FWC Officer poses for picture with a freshly-killed captive bred Hypomelanistic Burmese python named “Sweetie,” before the snake’s carcass is unceremoniously thrown into a trash can. (Photo by Chris Coffee, who has granted permission for this photo to be published and disseminated)
Coffee's pythons were maintained at the facility of Bill McAdam with FWC's full knowledge of their whereabouts for approximately a year, until FWC's raid and subsequent massacre on Thursday, April 6, 2023. On that date, coinciding with the observance of Passover and Holy Thursday, FWC officers Lex Corteguera, Jonathon Wright, Zach Beppel, and Christopher Ryan showed up to McAdams' facility, alleging that they had a report of an escaped Reticulated python in the area.
The officers said that they wanted to check to see if it was one of Coffee's snakes that had escaped. This turned out to not be the real reason for their visit. After Coffee allowed them into the facility, the officers began pulling snakes out of their enclosures and killing them, with what Coffee described as a sort of nail gun, on the floor of McAdam's facility. The device used to kill the snakes was likely a device called a "penetrating captive bolt gun." The FWC officers spent around four hours killing snakes, firing multiple shots to the heads of some snakes when it appeared that the first shots failed to kill them. When it was all done, they had killed 29 Reticulated pythons and five Burmese pythons, in addition to the misidentified Boa constrictor. The reptile community is calling this event the “Holy Thursday Massacre.” Social media posts on this horrific story have received tens of thousands of views.
Above: FWC officers misidentified McAdam’s pet Boa constrictor as a python and killed it. This 10-year old female boa was raised from a baby by McAdam and was pregnant at the time of her death at the hands of FWC officers. The officers tried to take the carcass of this snake along with those of Coffee’s pythons, but Coffee insisted that they leave it in the freezer at McAdam’s facility for future necropsy. (Photos by Chris Coffee, who has granted permission for this photo to be published and disseminated)
Boas are legal to own in Florida and are among the most popular pet snakes. This Boa was ten years old, and gravid (the term for pregnant in snakes). According to McAdam, this Boa was a cherished pet that he had raised from a baby. Regardless of how you may feel about snakes, these were innocent, healthy animals and there were many alternatives to this unwarranted butchery. Imagine if these were dogs, goats, or horses. Would you be infuriated then?
This is not the first instance where FWC has either seized or killed animals which were legally possessed before the Prohibited Species rules took effect. Though FWC Commissioners promised animal owners that they would be able to keep their pets when the rules were passed, that has turned out not to be true. Last year, FWC officer Bob O'Horo confiscated 87 iguanas from Ty Park, the owner of IguanaLand. Over 30 of those iguanas were reportedly euthanized by FWC, while the others eventually found homes out of state. In yet another case, FWC officer Mia Ruggiero threatened to seize and euthanize "Green Day the Iguana," the mascot of Rotary Park in Cape Coral, before embarrassing media coverage caused FWC to backtrack and eventually permit the park to continue to keep "Green Day" and other "Prohibited" lizards on display. FWC has not made such accommodations for Steve Tishfield, who voluntarily microchipped and registered his 23-year old and 16-year old pet iguanas as suggested by former FWC Nonnative Species Biologist Kristen Penney Sommers, who has since resigned from the agency. FWC officer Damon Saunders, who recently investigated Tishfield and his iguanas, admitted on camera that the Tishfield's caging was secure, but said that he had missed “the deadline” to apply for a permit and he therefore would not be able to continue to keep his pet iguanas. Tishfield now fears for his longtime pets' lives.
USARK Florida questions how FWC officers who are not competent enough to identify animals properly are empowered by the state to kill them. We believe that in instances where euthanasia is absolutely necessary, the animals should be identified by an expert and only euthanized by a qualified veterinarian using the most humane methods possible.
Above: Blood, feces, and urates cover the floor of Bill McAdam’s facility after what reptile keepers are calling the “Holy Thursday Massacre.” (Photo by Chris Coffee, who has granted permission for this photo to be published and disseminated)
USARK FL is calling for a full investigation into the killing of McAdam's Boa constrictor and Coffee’s Pythons by the officers Corteguera, Wright, Beppel, and Ryan by new FWC Inspector General (IG) Percy Griffin. Griffin was appointed earlier this year after previous Inspector General Michael Troelstrup resigned in disgrace with the revelation of a scandal involving his "inappropriate relationship" with the wife of an FWC officer whom he was investigating.
Before that scandal became public, controversy surrounded the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in the aftermath of the shooting of an individual named Adam Bounds in 2019. Bounds was shot three times by FWC officer David Dipre on his own houseboat off Key West. The shooting happened less than two hours after Bounds had called the FWC OIG to ask that local FWC officers be investigated because they continually entered his home without permission and he feared for his life. After surviving three Glock 9mm bullet wounds from FWC officer Dipre, Bounds was charged with, among other things, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. A jury subsequently found him NOT GUILTY following trial. We hope that IG Griffin will be better equipped to handle an investigation than the previous Inspector General.
USARK Florida is also calling on Governor DeSantis to hold FWC accountable by asking for the resignation of the FWC employee who gave the unjust order for these snakes to be brutally killed without cause. Further, USARK Florida respectfully requests that the Governor replace current staff leadership with new leadership, capable of focusing agency resources on Florida’s true wildlife issues, including but not limited to excessive mortality of wild Manatees, Florida panthers, Gopher tortoises, and Diamondback terrapins, as well as address water and habitat quality issues caused by FWC's extensive herbicide spraying program.
Furthermore, we ask that FWC suspend its seizure and killing of animals as well as prosecution of animal owners for "Prohibited Species," until USARK Florida's lawsuit challenging the validity and constitutionality of these draconian rules is resolved. FWC Commissioners and staff promised that animal owners would be able to continue to keep their pets, which has proven over and over to not be true.
Below: Boa constrictors, like this Albino specimen, are among the most popular pet snakes. Just like all pet keepers, reptile keepers consider their pets to be valued members of the family. (Photo by Daniel Parker, who has granted permission for this photo to be published and disseminated)
Video footage shot by Chris Coffee documenting the FWC massacre may be viewed on the USARK FL YouTube channel here:https://youtu.be/BuimdwINSzk
For additional photos or information on this topic, or to schedule an interview, please call Daniel Parker, Director of Media for USARK FL at 863-441-5067 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also contact USARK FL Legal Advisor Curt Harbsmeier 863-640-7484 email@example.com Media outlets are given permission by Daniel Parker and Chris Coffee to publish the photos contained in this press release.