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State: No charges in Connecticut chimpanzee attack

By Jamie Guzzardo, CNN
Travis the chimpanzee belonged to 77-year-old Sandra Herold.
Travis the chimpanzee belonged to 77-year-old Sandra Herold.
  • Chimpanzee mauled and blinded a Connecticut woman earlier this year
  • Owner was not aware of the risk the chimpanzee posed, state's attorney says
  • Criminal prosecution would have had to determine that owner acted recklessly
  • In March, Charla Nash filed a lawsuit seeking $50 million in damages from the owner
  • Charla Nash
  • Pets
  • Wildlife

New York (CNN) -- Criminal charges will not be filed against the owner of a chimpanzee that mauled and blinded a Connecticut woman earlier this year, according to Connecticut State's Attorney David Cohen.

At a news conference Monday, Cohen explained that criminal prosecution against Sandra Herold, 77, was not warranted because she was not aware of the risk her pet posed.

On February 16, Herold had called her friend Charla Nash, 55, for help in getting her pet chimpanzee Travis back inside her house after he used a key to escape. When Nash arrived at the Stamford home of her friend, the chimp, who had been featured in TV commercials for Coca-Cola and Old Navy, jumped on her and began biting and mauling her, causing serious injuries to her face, neck and hands. Police shot Travis to halt the attack and he later died of gunshot wounds.

Cohen explained that the dangers of keeping a pet chimpanzee were never fully explained to Herold by the Connecticut State Department of Environmental Protection. While the agency was aware that the chimpanzee was living with Herold, there is no evidence that they ever reached out to her to detail why the primate posed a threat to her and others in the community.

Furthermore, Herold had never had any problems with Travis in the past. Although Travis had escaped once before in 2003 and "wreaked havoc" on the streets of Stamford for a couple of hours, the chimp had never exhibited any violent behavior, especially towards Nash, with whom he had interacted with regularly. Nash, Cohen stated, had specifically been called that day because Herold thought she could help in controlling the escaped chimpanzee.

In the state of Connecticut, criminal prosecution would have to determine that Herold acted recklessly, disregarding the risk that Travis would attack and cause serious injuries to another person. Because of the chimp's familiarity with Nash, his previously placid behavior and the lack of contact by the Department of Environmental Protection, Cohen determined that Herold would not be held criminally responsible for the attack.

"This does not in any way minimize the horror that we all feel with what occurred and with the horrendous injuries suffered," he said. "Our prayers go out to the family and to the victim."

In March, shortly after the attack, the family of Charla Nash filed a lawsuit seeking $50 million in damages from the owner of the primate. The court papers, filed in Stamford Superior Court in Connecticut, alleged that the owner was liable for the attack, negligent and reckless in her ownership of a wild animal.

Following the attack, Nash was transported to the famed Cleveland Clinic, where the nation's first face transplant was performed. In a written statement the Cleveland Clinic said that Nash had lost her nose, upper and lower lips, eyelids and both her hands in the attack, as well as the "bony structures in her mid-face."

The attack has raised questions about whether exotic animals should be kept as pets. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has stated that primates and crocodiles should be added to a state list of animals citizens are not allowed to own.

When asked if there was anything to be learned from the attack, Cohen said, "I think the public will have to draw their own lessons from what was a very tragic incident."