The family of Ana Gloria Garcia-Gutierrez, the 53-year-old St. Petersburg woman arrested for molesting a manatee, is none too fired up about cops arresting her after she committed a crime.
Police arrested Gutierrez at her job in a St. Petersburg Sears over the weekend on a warrant for violating the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. She was caught in various photographs touching a manatee at Fort Desoto Park, a few miles from downtown St. Petersburg. One of the photos shows Gutierrez trying to climb on top of the animal to ride it.
Gutierrez's family claims that she is so distraught and embarrassed over the incident that she won't go home. They are upset that cops are treating this so seriously, given that the charge amounts to a misdemeanor and all.
St. Petersburg Police Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said that the arresting officer did his job by the book and that, yes, trying to ride an endangered animal as if it were a pony is, in fact, an arrestable offense.
Gutierrez's family members, who are from Cuba and speak only Spanish, say she didn't know touching a manatee is illegal.
One would call what Gutierrez did not so much "touching" as "heaving herself on top of." Either way, the law is the law, and she broke it.
The family claims she had recently moved to Florida and is used to an environment of close contact with animals.
People probably ride manatees all the time in Cuba. They might have manatee races, even. But Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Barry Martin says not knowing any better is pretty much a terrible defense.
"Unfortunately, ignorance is no excuse to break the law," he said.
As for Gutierrez being arrested at her job, Sheriff Gualtieri says the arresting officer did nothing wrong and even went out of his way to not make a scene.
"The deputy went to the store's Human Resources officer," he said. "He did not handcuff her in the store. He walked her outside to confirm her identity and then arrested her. He was very low-key."
Under the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, sea-cow molestation constitutes a second-degree misdemeanor, an offense punishable by a $500 fine or a term of up to 60 days in the county jail.
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