Originally online in The KeyNoter (keysnet.com) by journalist Kevin Wadlow (SINCE REMOVED)
An animal-rights activist arrested in September near the Marine Mammal Conservancy site on Key Largo discovered Thursday that his misdemeanor case now includes a felony: A count of disrupting an “animal enterprise” was newly lodged against Arnold Christopher Lagergren, 41, of Miami.
“Suddenly being charged with a felony is not a good thing,” said Richard Wunsch, a Key West attorney representing Lagergren. “The timing is unusual, to say the least.”
Jonathan Raiche, prosecuting the case for the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office, said adding new counts is “a fairly typical thing” when a review of the case points to additional charges.
“We try to be as vigilant as we can, when possible,” Raiche said. “It is one of the more obscure felony offenses. It’s not a charge you would necessarily expect the law-enforcement officer at the scene to be aware of.”
Florida Statute 828.42, a third-degree felony, prohibits “physical disruption to the property, personnel or operations of an animal enterprise.”
Raiche said another prosecutor alerted him to the law. “I reviewed the statute and it fits for bill” for the Lagergren case, Raiche said. “The statute exists so we filed it.”
Wunsch said he is not aware of any other Florida prosecutions of the “animal enterprise disruption” law, which apparently is intended to prosecute people intent on freeing animals from laboratories, attractions or farms. “Use of it seems to be very rare,” he said.
When Lagergren appeared Thursday at the Plantation Key Government Center to request a continuance, he was informed that his case was being moved to felony court.
Lagergren initially was charged in September with two counts of trespass and two counts of criminal mischief for entering the Marine Mammal Conservancy site at mile marker 102.2.
At the time, MMC volunteers were caring for two pilot whales from a mass stranding in May in the Lower Keys. The female whales, an adult and a calf, were declared non-releasable due to health and age problems and later transported to SeaWorld in Orlando.
An off-duty Miami police officer volunteering with the MMC chased and arrested Lagergren at gunpoint after the officer reported seeing Lagergren enter the MMC property after previously being banned. Lagergren tampered with an MMC fence, said the officer, Javier Ortiz.
The whales, being held in another area of the property at the time of the incident, were not harmed.
Lagergren referred questions to his attorney. He is free on a $30,000 bond. Police reports describe Lagergren as affiliated with the Animal Liberation Front organization, which advocates “direct action” against animal captivity.