TUCSON (CN) - Federal wildlife officials refuse to hand over more than 230 pages of documents in a criminal investigation of the 2009 capture and death of a wild jaguar named Macho B, the Arizona Daily Star claims in court.
Star Publishing Co. and reporter Tony Davis sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of the Interior for the information in Federal Court.
The Star claims the agencies improperly withheld more than 230 of 3,430 pages of documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
Uncle Sam heavily redacted several other pages, and for 18 months has "delayed or rebuffed" the Star's efforts to uncover the information, the newspaper says.
Macho B died in 2009 after Fish and Wildlife scientists captured and collared him in the wilds of Southern Arizona.
The 16-year-old big cat was at the time the last known wild jaguar in the United States.
Macho B, who was regionally famous after having been photographed several times in the wild by a motion-sensor camera, was captured during a bear and lion study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to examine the impact of a border fence on wildlife migration.
"The $3 million study was designed to capture and place radio collars on mountain lions and bears to monitor and document their movements and range," according to the lawsuit. "Although jaguars were not included in the study, at some point researchers discovered Macho B roaming in the study area, and decided to attempt to capture him."
But the capture did not go well, and the elderly jaguar rapidly declined.
"A few days after Macho B was released, researchers discovered he was suffering from trauma associated with his capture and was immobile," the complaint states. "On March 1, 2009, researchers attempted to recapture Macho B. He was located about two miles from the site he was originally snared, but the attempt to capture him failed.
"On March 2, 2009, Macho B was treed by tracking hounds and shot with a tranquilizer dart from a helicopter. When researchers found him, he had lost 20 pounds in less than two weeks and a hind leg was swollen with infection," the complaint adds. "Researchers flew Macho B to the Phoenix Zoo, where he was diagnosed with kidney failure and euthanized."
Fish and Wildlife then launched a criminal investigation into the botched operation. The investigation produced more than 3,000 pages of documents.
In 2011, research assistant and whistleblower Janay Brun acknowledged that she had placed jaguar scat at a snare site in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Charges against her were eventually dropped, and she continues to write about the issue and post information on the Internet
In 2010, cougar researcher Emil McCain pleaded guilty to the prohibited take of an endangered species and was sentenced to 5 years probation. Persistent claims that Brun and McCain may have been scapegoats for officials higher up in the agency were detailed in a December 2012 article by the Arizona Republic that made use of the thousands of pages of documents that also were handed over to the Star.
In its FOIA complaint, the Star demands "access to inspect and copy the Investigative Report, including: (a) the names of all public officials mentioned in the Investigative Report;
"(b) the names of all private citizens mentioned in the Investigative Report who already have been identified in news coverage about the Macho B case or who were otherwise identified in publicly disclosed state or federal records;
"(c) all segregable factual information in the 98 pages of the Investigative Report withheld under Exemption 5 relating to inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda; and
"(d) all segregable information in 41 pages of the Investigative Report withheld under exemption 4 relating to confidential business information."
The Star is represented by David Bodney and Chris Moeser, with Steptoe & Johnson, in Phoenix.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.