Houston Man Arrested As Police Continue Search For Missing Tiger

A story in Houston has everything you would want in a legal controversy: a murder, a mysterious figure known only as “D”, a missing Bengal tiger named India and even Carole Baskin of Tiger King fame.

That is the situation facing the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office after picking up Victor Hugo Cuevas, 26, after a bizarre incident involving a wayward tiger.  For Cuevas, there is no good option. To quote that other Victor Hugo “If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned!”

The controversy first burst into public view after the posting of a bizarre videotape showing India roaming outside of a house:

A man believed to be Cuevas is shown outside the home as an off-duty Waller County deputy, who lives nearby, tells him to Cuevas to take India back inside. After the tiger is brought inside, however, another man in a white jeep appears and took India away. Despite a search for the jeep, he and India disappeared.

 

Both Cuevas and India would later go missing. Cuevas went to another county where he was arrested and charged with evading arrest.

It turns out that Cuevas was out on bond on a murder charge for allegedly gunning down a man in July 2017 in front of a Buffalo Wild Wings. His lawyer, Michael Elliott, insists that he was on his way to surrender to police when he was picked up.

He insists that he was just the caretaker for the nine-month old Bengal tiger and the real owner was a guy known as “D.” It appears that D may stand for Deandre and the lawyer believes that D is involved in the illegal exotic animal trade.

In the meantime, people feel that India is roaming about and Carole Baskin has appeared to declare the situation of a missing Bengal tiger roaming Houston to be dangerous.

Cuevas’ bond now is revoked.  He is facing both criminal and potential tort liability for the tiger incident.

It is illegal to “keep” a wild dangerous animal in Houston. That includes a lion, tiger, ocelot, cougar, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, bobcat, lynx, serval, caracal, hyena, bear, coyote, jackal, baboon, chimpanzee, orangutan and gorilla. The punishment is a misdemeanor charge and fines of $500 to $2,000.

Notably, according to the New York Post, there were also two monkeys living with Cuevas in the house but that is not itself unlawful. There are also reports of Cuevas having a history with exotic animals.

Having India in the home would constitute “keeping” a wild animal even if Cuevas is not the owner. Moreover, he could be implicated in unlawful trade of wild animals, which is both a state and federal offense. The Lacey Act and other federal wildlife statutes  could be charged for such conduct.  The Lacey Act makes it a federal crime to break the wildlife laws of any state, tribe, or foreign country, in interstate commerce. However, the penalties are notably higher. If convicted of a felony, the maximum penalty is $20,000 and/or up to five years imprisonment. For a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is $10,000 and/or up to one-year imprisonment. There can also be civil penalties of up to $10,000 as well as forfeiture provisions.

Even if “D” is not found, Cuevas’ counsel (and the videotape) have confirmed that he did indeed keep a wild animal. If Cuevas called “D” after 911 was called, it could be viewed as further action in a criminal enterprise. One does not just happen to become the caretaker of a nine-month-old Bengal Tiger and most people would ask why the wild animal is being kept by its owner.

On the tort side, Cuevas is liable for any injuries caused by a wild animal in his possession. If in fact the owner took back possession, it is likely that his strict liability would end but he could still be subject to negligence claims. Under the common law, there is strict liability for injuries caused by wild animals in your possession. However, possession for roaming animals has been litigated. This was the issue in Woods-Leber v Hyatt Hotels of Puerto Rico (1997), Hyatt was found not to be strictly liable for an attack on its grounds by a rabid mongoose on a guest. It was not viewed as possessing the animal since wild animals could move freely on to the property. The same issue came up recently in the United States in the case of the woman who had her face ripped off by a neighbor’s pet chimpanzee and a case in Arizona involving a javelina. Likewise, we previously discussed his issue with an alligator attack on a Disney property.  Even without a claiming of legal ownership or control, you can still possess an animal for purposes of liability.

It does not appear that the tiger bit anyone while in Cuevo’s possession. Whoever currently has possession would be subject to strict liability. However, if the tiger were to escape and injure someone, Cuevo was part of the chain of events leading to such an injury. Since his conduct was unlawful in “keeping” a tiger, he would likely be viewed as per se negligent. There would still remain questions of factual and legal causation and the role of the mysterious “D” as a superseding intervening actor.

In the end, Cuevo is facing the prior murder charge, new evading charge, possible state and federal wildlife charges, and potential civil liability. It is the type of tragic character befitting Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

 

 

23 thoughts on “Houston Man Arrested As Police Continue Search For Missing Tiger”

  1. I’m not certain where the tiger was allegedly roaming, but Fort Bend County is NOT in Houston and a Waller County cop has no jurisdiction in either Houston or Fort Bend County. As for Carol Baskin, the woman belongs in jail for murdering her husband. She’s a public menace.

  2. This is just sad. Exotic cats don’t do too well in captivity. They live boring lives, and if they bite a human because of a careless keeper, they get shot.

    Wild animals are beautiful, and often evoke a strong pull within us. Some people want to collect them as a taxidermy specimen or a fur, while others want them as pets. But tigers kept as pets are not happy.

    I’ve seen these big cats forfeited to rescues. People buy them because they’re sweet and cuddly as cubs. Then they tear their couch to pieces, or the play biting gets dangerous, or they rear up on their hind legs against a fence and show their teeth at a neighbor. That’s the end of the cute, cuddly pet, who spends the rest of his life in a boring cage. Sure, they have more room now than the early zoos, but it’s still the same four walls, the same dirt, and the same food every day. They’re just bored, bored, bored.

    They are like the wolves and wolf hybrids who wear a trail along the fence line, eating their hearts out with being trapped. I’ve encountered a surprising number of people who’ve had wolves and wolf hybrids. They all had a strong instinct to roam. Some of them bonded pretty tightly to their people, but they all had this urge to hunt rabbits, squirrels, or birds, and to go walkabout. Sometimes that led to disastrous results.

    1. Kind of like my Corgis who hunt, kill and eat (if I can’t get to them in time) gophers, rabbits, squirrels, birds,snakes etc. Vicious little things, just like a lot of other dogs.

  3. New public service announcement for Houston: “It’s 10:00 p.m. and there’s a tiger roaming the streets. Do you know where your kids are?”

  4. Come on Jonathan. The case of the missing Bengal tiger in Houston might be an interesting topic of discussion for students in your torts or criminal law classes but the wider audience out here that follows your blogs might ask: “With all the topics you could discuss why do you choose a less then earth shattering subject like tort or criminal liability for keeping a dangerous animal?” In your last blog you applauded the overturning of the conviction of a retired Air Force Colonel who was charged under civil statutes for calling a Black woman in a shoe store the “n”-word. You called this a victory for “free speech”. Fine. But you have intentionally ignored more important “free speech” issues occurring right under your nose.

    For example, the First Amendment rights of journalists are under attack around the country. In Michigan Republican state Rep. Matt Maddock is proposing legislation to penalize “fact checkers” (journalists) who challenge Republican claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump .He clearly wants to take away the “free speech” rights of journalists. Maddock’s “Fact Checker Registration Act” would require journalists to register with the state and insure themselves with a $1 million fidelity bond. Any journalist who does not register could face a $1,000 per day fine. Maddock claims, without evidence, that journalists have unfairly reported on conservative politicians and he wants them to pay! He wants to establish a government registry just for journalists who refuse to accept Trump’s big lie about the election. Maddock and his wife Meshawn, who is the Michigan GOP party chair, have led the effort in Michigan against the coronavirus pandemic restrictions and backed attempts to overturn the 2020 election results. Rep. Maddock was one of 2 Michigan legislators who joined the federal lawsuit challenging Biden’s victory. The Maddocks also joined Trump’s “Stop the Steal” march on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Maddock’s legislation is not confined to Michigan. Similar GOP legislation has been proposed in South Carolina, Indiana and Georgia. Do all these efforts sound like what happens in Russia, China or in other authoritarian regimes? You bet! In Georgia GOP legislators have gone from new voter suppression laws to attacking the press. Georgia’s Rep. Andrew Clyde is upset at journalists who have called the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol an “insurrection”. Clyde says there was no “insurrection”. He says it was really a “normal tourist visit” conducted in “an orderly fashion”. Wow! No wonder Republicans in Georgia want to silence journalists.

    You have been big on defending the “free speech” rights of conservative professors and students. But when Republican legislators want to make criminal what journalists have a right to do under the First Amendment you are strangely silent. The GOP proposed anti-journalist and anti-First Amendment legislation may go nowhere because even the very conservative Supremes would not look favorably on laws that criminalize journalists that exercise their First Amendment rights. But the proposed legislation signals a dangerous trend that seeks to silence any journalist who does not endorse the “big lie” by Trump and his supporters. And this is a threat to our Democracy and the constitutional order. Now you would think that as a constitutional law expert, who supports the “free speech” rights of almost everyone, you would be leading the defense of journalists who are under attack. But, of course, that stance would not fit in very well with your gig on FoxNews would it? Your silence on attacks on journalists speaks volumes about your lack of real commitment to “free speech”.

    1. “You have been big on defending the “free speech” rights of conservative professors and students. But when Republican legislators want to make criminal what journalists have a right to do under the First Amendment you are strangely silent. ”

      Sadly, those aspects of journalist free speech are outside the mandates of his contract with Fox.

      EB

      1. Could there be another explanation? Whatever Turley might have to say to justify his silence, I’m not buying it. He is a chicken.

    2. While I disagree with Maddock’s approach, he has a point that “fact checkers” appear to just make stuff up in order to help Democrats. The “fact checkers” at Facebook are Leftist partisan hacks.

      Example: Fact checkers claimed that Hunter Biden’s laptop scandal was “Russian disinformation” ahead of the election. It most certainly was not. It was just a convenient lie they said in order to protect Biden in the election.

      So the question is, do “fact checkers” have to be accurate? Do they have to prove their positions? Is it false advertising to call themselves “fact checkers”? How can you sue libelous “fact checkers” if they remain anonymous?

      I think the solution is to restore libel rights to public figures. I don’t think a public figure should surrender the right to recompense if they are deliberately slandered or libeled, as opposed to just an opinion. That would also keep public figures more careful about what they say about other public figures. I strongly disagree with Maddock’s proposal. However, it seems an impossible task to shovel through all the false information pushed as gospel by Big Tech, otherwise known as the Democrat Pravda.

      There is a difference between hyperbole, and outright lies.

      Shouldn’t a public figure be able to sue a newspaper or cable news if they publish demonstrably false information that goes beyond mere opinion?

      I also tire of people who don’t spend 5 minutes reading the Georgia law before they post the law disenfranchises voters. First of all, voter ID requirements have been associated with an increase, not a decrease, in minority votes. It’s racist to claim that black people are too incompetent to get an ID. No other minority seems to have a problem getting ID. Black people get ID just fine. It is shockingly racist for white liberals to claim that black people don’t know how to work a computer, or how to find the DMV. States get people photo ID for free when there is need. When Nikki Haley enacted voter ID law while governor of South Carolina, she was flooded with criticism that the law disenfranchised black people who couldn’t possibly be expected to have transpiration to get an ID. She offered free transportation to the DMV to get the free ID. All of 25 people in the entire state took her up on it.

      This claim that black people can’t figure out how to get a photo ID is racist, and terribly insulting to them.

      Trump’s “Stop the Steal” was a peaceful rally. Many thousands of attendees had a great time, and had absolutely no idea what was going on a few miles away at the Capitol. Those who broke into the Capitol did so while Trump was still speaking. Those who attended the rally and did not partake in any trespassing are guilty of absolutely nothing. Yet in the same breath you proclaim your fear for the loss of Free Speech, while claiming that complaining about election fraud is a “big lie.”

      Insurrection – a violent uprising against an authority or government.

      There was no “insurrection.” That handful of people were not trying to overthrow the government. They stupidly broke into offices and posed for photos sitting in chairs. Be honest, and admit they were not trying to overthrow the government. They were not threatening to burn down cities across America unless their political demands are met.

      Insurrection is BLM threatening to burn down cities unless a court case verdict goes how they demand, if the police aren’t defunded, or if their political demands are not met. It’s BLM throwing bombs at federal buildings. It’s seizing entire city blocks and preventing police from entering. It’s burning down police stations. It’s accosting people dining in a restaurant and demanding they chant “Black Lives Matter” or they’ll beat them up. It’s marching into neighborhoods and threatening to burn residents’ homes down, demanding they give their homes to black people as ‘reparations.” That’s domestic terrorism and insurrection.

      Remember when Democrats stormed the Capitol and Senate Offices during the Kavanaugh Hearing? Applying your own standards, that would be insurrection.

      By your own standards, BLM’s arson, looting, and rioting for the past months on end would be insurrection.

      Do you apply the same rule to everything?

      You are to recall that the lawsuits against election results were dismissed for lack of standing, not for lack of evidence. Republicans, clearly, are not going to be granted the years of investigations that Democrats were given to look into the Russia hoax perpetrated by Hillary Clinton.

  5. ‘Oh yeah, I was just on the way to turn myself in when you guys picked me up.’ Yup.

    And think god you mentioned that Carole Baskin popped into the story when you did, because I was thinking, where the hell is Carole Baskin when all this other stuff is going down??? Bahahahahaha.

    EB

  6. Here kitty, kitty

    Here’s an in depth review of what led to a 400lb tiger on-stage mauling during the Siegfried & Roy show in Las Vegas. Year 2003. Roy Horn made an error. The show brought in $45 million/year until kitty quit.

  7. I think Mr. Cuevas has more to worry about than a big cat running around loose. Murder charges would catch my attention, although a tiger running around makes good copy.

  8. Let everyone think there are wild tigers and many other dangerous animals roaming around here in Houston. That way they’ll stay away from Texas in all those crazy cities up north. Wouldn’t want to risk going to a place like that, therefore, I’ll just remain up here in New York/Los Angeles so as not to get attacked by tigers. From Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, C’est La Vie.We like it that way.

  9. Meanwhile in Arizona, when the auditors finally got to look at the machines, whoopsie, the entire database has been deleted by your buddies on the left! The vote tallies don’t match the ballots! Tra la la! Nothing to see here! That’s not guilty behavior AT ALL. Let’s talk about escaped tigers!

  10. “It is the type of tragic character befitting Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.”

    I don’t know. Jean Valjean was noble in the face of tragedy. This fella has to demonstrate nobility…

  11. Hunt down the pipeline computer cash demanders and cut off their heads. We need gas in America.

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Res ipsa loquitur – The thing itself speaks
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