Animals

Prosecutors Charge Man for Abandoning Pet Fish Before Realizing That Isn't Illegal

Common sense wins out...sort of.

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Chua Wee Boo/agefotostock/Newscom

A North Carolina man who was evicted from his home last month is off the hook after neglecting to take care of his pet fish.

The New Hanover County District Attorney's Office didn't drop animal cruelty charges against Michael Hinson because they realized treating a man like a criminal over a pet fish was ridiculous. Rather, authorities were forced to let Hinson off after realizing he hadn't actually broken the law.

Hinson was evicted from his home on March 22. The 53-year-old did not take his pet oscar fish with him, so there was no one to feed it or provide fresh water. Several days later, cops showed up at the home and discovered the fish, which by that point was in poor health. The animal was taken to The Fish Room, a fish store in Wilmington.

"It came in with a disease, hole in the head, which is a parasite that is caused by poor water quality and malnutrition," Ethan Lane, a store employee, told The State. "It was a pretty severe case of the disease, which opens sores and lesions on the fish's head. It is an infection that can be fatal." The fish, who is now recuperating, had been surviving on cockroaches that dropped into the tank, Lane said.

Hinson, meanwhile, was arrested and faced three charges of misdemeanor animal cruelty and an additional charge of animal abandonment. "This is a life just like any dog or cat," New Hanover County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Lt. Jerry Brewer told WECT. "If you harm or neglect an animal in New Hanover County, we are coming for you."

Actually, under state law, pet fishes are not the same. The state statute that deals with animal cruelty defines "animal" as "every living vertebrate in the classes Amphibia, Reptilia, Aves, and Mammalia except human beings." Notably, none of those categories include pet fish.

As a result, prosecutors had no choice but to drop the charges. "We take a very dim view of anyone who would abuse any creature great or small and appreciate [the Animal Services Division's] enforcement of the laws to protect vulnerable animals," District Attorney Ben David said in a press release. "Fish are not protected under these statues, therefore all charges against Mr. Hinson are dismissed."

Ultimately, it's a good thing that Hinson won't face criminal charges for neglecting his pet fish. This is not to downplay the fish's worth or the value of its life. Hopefully, it will continue to recover and eventually find a new home with an owner that will provide proper care.

But this appears to be a situation where common sense should have won out from the start, and where criminal charges were completely pointless. Remember, Hinson had been evicted from his home. It's not clear if he had somewhere to go, but regardless, fish tanks are not the easiest things to carry around. And I'd imagine that caring for one's oscar fish (which probably didn't cost much more than $50), would not be all that high on one's to-do list.

It's also worth noting that there's a big difference between actively torturing or otherwise hurting a pet (like a dog or cat), and neglecting to feed your fish because you're trying to find a place to live. Under North Carolina law, both are misdemeanors.

Again, this is not to say that Hinson was in the right, only that his offense was not criminal in nature. And treating him like a criminal would not have helped his fish recover. So while Hinson may not be winning "Pet Owner of the Year" awards any time soon, punishing him for abandoning his fish wouldn't have done any good.

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74 responses to “Prosecutors Charge Man for Abandoning Pet Fish Before Realizing That Isn't Illegal

  1. The Venn Diagram of people who are outraged over the poor treatment of this fish and the people who think a 24 week old fetus is just a parasitic tumor is pretty close to just being a circle.

    1. Stated alternatively, don’t throw the fish out with the baby.

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    3. I don’t feel much outrage over the fish’s treatment, but I do feel comfortable asserting that

      1. I value the life and feelings of an adult fish comparable, if not more than, those of a human fetus.

      2. Were you to claim you feel otherwise, it would be pure virtue signalling, an un-falsifiable and improbable claim.

      I have yet to debate with a single pro-life individual who convinces me that they actually give a fuck, that the issue is anything more than a moral high-horse from which to beat down upon their ideological opponents. Typically there utterly lack empathy (which is fine) for everything and everyone, except suddenly they deeply care about fetus they will never meet and whose continued existence (or not) will have no impact on their life. Yeah, right.

      You especially.

      1. Grammar fail. You get my point.

      2. That’s just the bad faith and prejudice in you. I’m obviously not going to change your mind but I believe that you are absolutely wrong. Pro-lifers aren’t just the people who march outside clinics and spit bile on the internet. I absolutely do care and have considered the issue deeply. The bad faith assumption of the absolute worst about the outgroyo/ideological “enemies” has come to define political discourse, and your bad faith assumptions are a striking example of this.

        1. *outgroup

      3. You haven’t debated with anyone obviously. Especially after I fathered two children and saw them via sonogram, I understood clearly these were my children and not masses of tissue. They were human beings. And there are hundreds of pro-lifers who work with mothers to help them either raise their children or to help another couple who wants to adopt. to bring the joy that children bring to their families. You are probably arguing with the movie depiction of pro-lifers and Christians and not real people.

      4. marshaul: “1. I value the life and feelings of an adult fish comparable, if not more than, those of a human fetus.”

        I believe you.

        Without some moral frame of reference, there is nothing to disbelieve.

        The Vikings were known to generally impale babies on their swords. They were ignorant savages too.

      5. You have obviously never debated anyone who was ACTUALLY Pro-Life.

        The Pro-Abortion crowd are more interested in a woman’s right to choose to kill an unborn baby than than they are in anything and everything else. I find it absolutely incredibly hypocritical that the same woman who screams it is “her sole right” to have an abortion with no concern for the father’s Right to have a child, is the same woman who, if she decided to forgo the abortion will scream the father should financially support the child. There is a massive amount of hypocrisy in that position. In addition, the majority of the same people condoning the “right” to kill unborn babies are the same crowd that scream about the the cruelty of animals and how they MUST be protected. There is more concern for animals than human life. This is the issue I have with the Pro-Abortion crowd, their hypocrisy…

        In seeding complete authority over the life of the unborn child in just one of the two responsible for creating that life, there is no fundamental integrity within the decision itself, yet the father has no say in the matter. If he “chose” to have the unborn baby aborted and the woman “chose” to have the baby, he is still on the hook for the support of that child, yet when the woman decides to abort the child, the father has no “Right” to stop that killing of his unborn child. This is simply ridiculous… Women have had it both ways since the passage of Rv.W.

    4. You’d be surprised how many pro-life vegans there are. They don’t get much of a voice because they’re swept up into and ultimately drowned out by the progressive majority, but whether you agree with them or not, they are at least being consistent in that regard.

      Source: vegans I knew/know from the big city living, who probably wouldn’t have confided that pro-life stance in many others apart from old Potato here.

  2. “‘We take a very dim view of anyone who would abuse any creature great or small and appreciate [the Animal Services Division’s] enforcement of the laws to protect vulnerable animals,’ District Attorney Ben David said in a press release.”

    Ben, you ignorant slut, how could they be enforcing a law which doesn’t exist?

    Fish aren’t mammals, amphibians, reptiles or birds, you retard, and you were responsible for knowing that. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, shit-for-brains.

    1. “”This is a life just like any dog or cat,” New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Jerry Brewer told WECT.”

      And I bet he gets away with arresting someone for that which is not even a crime.

      (Next let’s investigate people who put hooks through fishes’ mouths)

      1. What if I use a live frog (amphibia) for bait? And then catch a turtle? And then make soup?

        1. Hmmm…you’d have to ask your local DA about that. I see they have an exception for “Lawful activities conducted for the primary purpose of providing food for human or animal consumption,” but as we’ve seen the authorities don’t adhere to a strictly literal reading of the law.

    2. ” Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

      The US courts, all the way up to SCOTUS have explicitly ruled that ignorance of the law is a perfectly valid excuse, as long as you are a law enforcement official. Even beyond qualified immunity, they have held the LEOs can’t be held liable for mistakes of law, explicitly giving the justification that it’s unreasonable to expect law enforcement officers to know the law.

    3. So if outrage and hyperbole are the rule of the day, learn to read, Eddy, you ignorant *#(&$!. Ben, the District Attorney, clearly knows that and said so.

      The person who didn’t understand the law (and should have) was New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Jerry Brewer and the cops who report to him.

      1. One slight question: Who filed the charges in the first place?

        If it wasn’t him, he still shouldn’t have been praising the agency which referred a non-crime for prosecution.

        1. And where was he, exactly, during the initial media coverage, which assumed the charges were good?

    4. With any layperson, I can definitely understand this misunderstanding. The idea that fish aren’t included is just surprising.

      However, with police and especially prosecutors, it is their duty to know the law and confirm it before they arrest anyone.

  3. Ultimately, it’s a good thing that Hinson won’t face criminal charges for neglecting his pet fish. This is not to downplay the fish’s worth or the value of its life. Hopefully, it will continue to recover and eventually find a new home with an owner that will provide proper care.

    Robbie, you’re not fooling anybody with your “Joe Seyton” sockpuppet account when you put a 20-foot high flashing neon “to be sure” right in the middle of your post.

  4. Come on; This was just taken from The Onion, right?

  5. >>>So while Hinson may not be winning “Pet Owner of the Year” awards

    put it in a ziploc and take it with you, what about bob. geez

  6. It’s hard to live on the street, or in a car or a buddy’s spare room, with a 30 gallon fish tank (the size you need for a full-grown oscar) that weighs around 500 pounds full of water and requires electricity to run pumps and filters.

    1. 30 gallons of water weighs 240 lb. Even with accessories, that setup barely breaks 300.

    2. I have an adult Oscar in a 55, and I’m going to re-home him.

      I wouldn’t keep one in less than a 75.

  7. Fish Abandonment?
    This asshole deserves the death penalty?
    Doesn’t he know fish are people too?

    1. A woman needs a fish like a man needs a bicycle.

  8. If you’re about to be evicted and you know you won’t be able to take care of your pets, they would probably make a great last meal.

    1. Make your pets earn their keep…(the remainder of this joke is just too disgusting to print)

      1. So what’s stopping you?

        1. Because I know your imagination is more disgusting even than mine, so I’m leaving you to fill in the gaps in the joke far more effectively than I ever could.

          1. How do you know me…so well?

  9. In Japan, small outdoor pools for carp (koi) are popular. One friend had such a pool and the fish were surprisingly pet like, responding to a hand clap to signal food was on the way. Even the family dog recognized the pet status of the fish, becoming jealous if the fish were fed first or received undue attention.

    In China, businesses (especially restaurants) have a fish tank located in the ‘money spot’ according to feng shui analysis. Fish stir up the water in the tank, stimulating the flow of currency to the business.

    1. Yes. And in Viet Nam they eat dogs.

      What is your point?

      1. My point is that I’m not all that keen on fish as pets, but given the right surroundings, they can be worthy companions. I prefer dogs as pets but rabbits can make rewarding pets as well. I’d recommend a female rabbit as males can be tough and aggressive towards others.

      2. In China they eat bugs. Are bugs pets too?

        1. Crickets are pets in China and Japan. At least they are fed and kept in cages and their chirpings appreciated. Many high school boys share a mania for collecting, keeping (and fighting) rhinoceros or stag beetles.

  10. “This is not to downplay the fish’s worth or the value of its life. Hopefully, it will continue to recover and eventually find a new home with an owner that will provide proper care.”

    Heavens no, let’s be sure and not do that…

  11. Has America completely gone insane? It’s a fucking FISH !

    1. Yeah, unless its name is Wanda, calm the heck down.

  12. And notice the media stories which simply regurgitated the cop/prosecutor talking points without even bothering to consult the statute the guy was supposed to have violated – which any half-educated nitwit (i. e. journalist) could see doesn’t apply to fishes, no matter how cute.

    Then the prosecutor waited a week before checking the law and dropping the charges.

    1. Is it obvious, though? I was surprised to find the law applied to reptiles. People are weird.

      1. Again, to us plebs “ignorance of the law is no excuse” – so what shall we say of the people who self-righteously proclaim themselves to be crusaders enforcing the law?

  13. It’s also worth noting that there’s a big difference between actively torturing or otherwise hurting a pet (like a dog or cat), and neglecting to feed your fish because you’re trying to find a place to live. Under North Carolina law, both are misdemeanors.

    If they’re both misdemeanors, you’re gonna need to rewrite the whole article.

  14. L.E. and D.A.’s don’t give a shit about fish, dogs, people etc;
    It’s an excuse to virtue signal how compassionate they are, and an excuse to do what they love…which is kicking people when they’re down.

    1. It’s also a lot safer than going after bad guys.

  15. If neglecting or failing to properly care for fish is a crime, then most aquarium owners are probably guilty at some point.

    1. If neglecting or failing to properly care for fish is a crime, then most aquarium owners are probably guilty at some point.

      The issue that that ‘failing’ and ‘properly’ are highly subjective. Pretty much anyone who owns a body of water and most fishermen (can’t even count the number of fish I’ve killed with a hook, even barbless). The DNR should probably be hanged and anybody who owns any land in a stream where the fish population has waned or vanished should be looking over their shoulder.

      1. It all gets pretty ridiculous. I’m pretty OK with laws against torturing your pets or livestock, but even that can be pretty subjective. Much beyond that and it becomes another law that can be applied selectively in too many situations.

    2. “If neglecting or failing to properly care for fish is a crime, then most aquarium owners are probably guilty at some point.”

      That goes for golf course owners too. A friend lost all the carp in his pond due to the poisonous runoff of the chemicals sprayed on a neighbouring golf course.

  16. That reminds me, In have some tuna steaks I need to cook.

  17. This is more of lawbertarian thing. Obviously I’m a “huge dumb SJW libtard faggot” for potentially expressing concern for the fish, which is dependent on being fed and provided fresh water. It not being codified in law means we all get to cry foul at state involvement, and the charges brought against the evictee. However, when did being opposed to heavy handed and unlawful police and prosecutorial conduct morph into trashing fish?

    I like fish. Despite the general myth that floats around about fish memory, they can be pretty smart and aware. I’m glad the fish is being cared for.

    1. The state could certainly pass a law about fish. The difference between what’s cruelty and what’s (no pun intended) fair game is not intuitively obvious, so all we can ask is that the legislature draw some clear legal distinctions.

      And they did here – at least to the extent of excluding fish from their animal cruelty statute. They can of course change that in the future.

      But the significance right now is this guy was arrested for a non-crime, and the watchdog media (I hate to be cruel to watchdogs) didn’t even notice the problem. Then when he had to drop the charges a week later, the prosecutor didn’t grovel in penitence before the victim as at minimum he ought to have done, he channeled Cecil Frances Alexander about all creatures great and small, like this was a Disney movie instead of a case of false arrest.

      1. Thanks for explaining what happened, though I clearly understand that. Honestly I like you Eddy, and I know your post is all in good faith, but my point was exactly that; it’s arguing the law, but seems to have morphed toward “it’s a fucking fish!”, so I was just being an advocate for fish where I didn’t see many in the discussion, hopefully using my free speech to articulate a position that is supportive of both the outcome (charges dropped), and the fish.

        Get well soon, fish.

        1. I don’t want to take it out on the fish, but on the humans who did the false arrest.

      2. “…he channeled Cecil Frances Alexander about all creatures great and small, like this was a Disney movie instead of a case of false arrest.”

        No need for penitence as he was on solid moral ground and the man managed to escape justice because of a loophole. That fish was obviously obtained in a fish show parking lot.

        What, no basic science classes required for criminal justice degrees?

  18. Why did cops suddenly show up at an apartment no one lived in? Did the apartment owner call them? If the apartment owner threw someone out and knew there was a fish there, then wouldn’t the person who owned the apartment be responsible for the fish?

    1. No witnesses. Good spot for clandestine extra-legal “police business”? Turns out it was! But, like I said above, on the flip side at least the fish is now being cared for, and no bogus charges brought. I’ll take a win.

      The guy’s 4th amendent rights ran out when he was evicted, yes? “Cops save fish from unoccupied apartment” would be fine, but being the police they fell foul of the usual ignorance of the letter of the law. Arrest ’em all and let the judicial system sort ’em out! Or not, when you get railroaded for a “confession”, denied your right to legal counsel, and have gangs of cops going round trying to influence witness testimony with leading questions and implied threats. Man I really feel bad for the 5% of cops that are made to look bad by the other 95%.

      1. I don’t because those 5% aren’t speaking out so they are just as guilty. As for the fish, I’m glad it’s being taken care of too. I lost my oranda last year. I never thought I could love a fish after having guppies as a kid but I really loved that fish. He was beautiful and loved to interact with me. I was able to teach him 5 tricks before he died.

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  20. What do Oscar fish taste like?

  21. Talk about kicking someone when they’re down. Arrest someone on a bogus charge after they’ve been evicted from their home. Speaking of the eviction, nobody seems to have reported on why he was evicted. Not only may he not have had anywhere else to go, much less a place to take a fish to, but what about the landlord/owner of the home? Why didn’t they discover the fish? Why didn’t the police charge them with animal endangerment?
    And in the end, they only let the guy go because their law didn’t specifically apply to fish, not because they had a sudden attack of common sense. He’s already suffered the indignities of arrest, jail, and bail. Hmmm…and who put up the bail? Way too much information is missing from the reported stories.

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  23. “This is a life just like any dog or cat,” New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Jerry Brewer told WECT. “If you harm or neglect an animal in New Hanover County, we are coming for you.”

    The Orkin Man better watch his back!

  24. Doesn’t every single pet store have a tank of “feeder” fish just waiting to be eaten alive and slowly digested by such a fish as an Oscar? What about the cruelty suffered byTHOSE fish?!?!?

  25. Surely, even the family dog recognized the pet status of the fish, becoming jealous if the fish were fed first or received undue attention.

  26. The authorities have no proof of any crime. They are on a mere fishing expedition

  27. First the proper and duly registered fish license is not in evidence. I have one, Eric the fish.

    Secondly the species in question is not native to North America, of Amazonian descent, and is thus illegal and a danger in any meaningful way.

    One can only imagine our waterways taken over by this carnivorous beast of an animal.

  28. The bond between a man and his fish should not be broken, we need to change that law! (sarc)

  29. I once had an oscar that developed hole-in-the-head. This was back in the late ’80s, and also in N.C. I scooped it up, wrapped it in a plastic bag, and threw it in the dumpster. Now I guess I have to be concerned N.C may seek to extradite me from Maryland. Perhaps the statue of limitations has expired? If not, I sure hope I’m placed somewhere like Newport prison rather than Central in Raleigh. This could be the end of my life as I know it! I’m sure my pension is likely to disappear once I’m incarcerated; likely to be taken for reparations. Do one little thing in your youth and you’re screwed forever! Dam!

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