Tarzan’s Friend Retaliates….On the Doorstep of Death for Charla Nash

In the Beginning  Imagine…a widow in her early 70’s living in an affluent section of Connecticut.  She is the owner “and mate” to an animal actor, a chimpanzee named Travis, born in an animal compound in Missouri and adopted when he was three days old in 1995.  Travis was adopted by Sandra and Jerome Herold who owned a towing company In Stamford, CT.  Travis appeared in Coca-Cola commercials and a TV pilot with Sheryl Crow among others. 

The Herolds doted on Travis to the point of treating him as if he was their “human son”.  (They had previously lost a child in a car accident.) According to Wikipedia.com Travis viewed photos on the computer, performed a variety of domestic chores, was dressed up in a baseball uniform, accompanied them on car towing calls and could anticipate when all of the neighborhood ice cream trucks arrived…   However, at some point in time, Sandra really crossed the line into lunacy when she not only ate with him…. but slept and bathed with him. [LJ One can speculate that such bizarre behavior increased as Travis grew from a young chimp to a 220 pounds over his 15 years of life.] Reportedly, Sandra’s husband died of cancer in 2004.

In May 2010, abcnews.go.com covered the passing of Sandra Herold in sympathetic tones, claiming she suffered “a series of heartbreaking losses over the past several years” – the death of her only child, the death of her husband, the killing of her beloved chimp (2009), the tragic maiming and near death of her friend, Charla Nash. [LJ As if loss excuses total irresponsibility!]

The article stated that the past year was “particularly difficult for her… living alone in a house with constant reminders of the vibrant and happy life she once lead….and the stress of defending a multi-million dollar law suit.”  [LJ- Oh C’mon… Where’s the true remorse for Charla? If you want to live a bizarre life behind closed doors that doesn’t affect others, that’s one thing…  (***See yet another example from Ladyjustice: http://herewomentalk.com/san-francisco%E2%80%99s-decline-into-darkness%E2%80%A6).  However, when your predilections are not in the mainstream… When you try to “fill the void of grief with dangerous hobbies and behaviors, such as trying to domesticate a wild animal, you are asking for “Mount Catastrophe.” You become a hazard to the public.

February 2010   Imagine….Police officer Frank Chiafari receiving the call and responding to the Herold’s home…                                                                                                                                                        911 Call: (Sandra Herold) “The chimp killed my friend. Send the police with a gun, with a gun.” Dispatcher: “Who’s killing your friend?”  (Sandra Herold) “My chimpanzee.  He ripped her apart. Shoot him. Shoot him!”

 Imagine…   Officer Chiafari goes to the palatial Legislative Office Building (LOB) in Hartford and recounts his personal nightmare in order to advocate for a bill to offer worker’s compensation to police officers using deadly force “on a mammal”…as it was worded in the bill.  http://www.cga.ct.gov/2010/FC/2010SB-00168-R000609-FC.htm.

Initially, Chiafari was denied worker’s compensation by a supervisor within five days of the ordeal!  As reported in the Hartford Courant on February 26, 2010, Chiafari was called to the scene, positioned his patrol car to try to create a barrier against further attack.  The officer unlocked his door, hoping to reach Charla Nash who was fighting for her life on the ground.  Suddenly, the out-of-control chimp jerked open the driver’s side door.  Officer Chiafari said he was “face to face with the 220 pound monster, who brushed up against him showing fangs and a blood soaked face after he had effectively eaten or ripped off 55-year-old Charla Nash’s hands, nose, lips and eye lids!  The chimp appeared to taunt the policeman as if to say, “You’re next.” 

Chiafari told legislators that, “the thing touched me”, was in a frenzied state banging on his patrol car and knocking the rear view mirror off “like butter.”  The officer was able to remove his gun from his holster and shoot four times.  Travis the chimp backed off and would eventually die on the property.

Reportedly this officer developed post traumatic stress disorder, manifested by depression, flashbacks and nightmares. He purposefully kept a very low profile… not sharing the details prior to his legislative testimony,

Frank Chiafari“To come to a scene and you see a fellow human being ripped apart, I feel for that.”  I see this person scalped.  I don’t want to get into the gory things. There were fingers ripped off and everything. Yeah, it’s going to get to you.  I’ve been a cop for 25 years. I’ve had little kids killed, but I’ve dealt with it. I’m pretty sensitive… probably more than most cops. But I deal with it when I’ve had stressful calls.”  {LJ: BUT… this CLEARLY was “over the top “and very unusual for anyone!]

Legally Speaking

Senate Bill 168 was narrowly focused in that it would provide for worker’s compensation only in the event of serious physical injury or death from an animal, due to the already anticipated risk and danger of one’s chosen occupation. The dilemma concerning eligibility for worker’s compensation appeared to be the question of whether killing a chimpanzee versus a human qualified Officer Chiafari for benefits.

Testimony from Dr. J. Mark Hall, Ph.D.:

I have been a psychologist with a specialty in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for 22 years. I understand that a central question in the deliberation over Officer Chiafari’s diagnosis of PTSD is whether or not his having killed a chimpanzee, as opposed to a human, would qualify as a sufficiently traumatic event to justify the diagnosis. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association in listing the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, considers a traumatic situation one in which the person has “experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others”, and that the person’s response “involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror”. Common sense tells me that this is a highly unusual/unanticipated situation of horrific violence that would likely be considered shocking by most people.”

Long story short, there was a great deal of empathy among legislators. SB 168 did make it up the “legislative chain of command” as far as the Senate, where it was passed. However, ultimately, it was not discussed in the House of Representatives (whether for lack of time or whether it would have failed because of opposition as another “unfunded mandate on cities and towns.”

In the aftermath, Frank Chiafari did avail himself of mental health counseling…and the City of Stamford “eventually agreed to pay thousands of dollars for his medical expenses, despite the rejection by the worker’s compensation board. Chiafari was not seeking a large settlement, as his bills were paid.  He returned to work three weeks later.

In 2003, the State Department of Environmental Protection strengthened its regulations to prohibit the possession of potentially dangerous/exotic animals in four separate categories… everything from a cheetah, to a tree kangaroo to a ruby throated hummingbird…

[CONN. GEN. STAT. §26-40A - Possession of potentially dangerous animals.]

 As well as requiring permits for importing any one of the following:

• [CONN. GEN. STAT. §26-55 - Permit for importing, possessing or liberating fish, wild birds, wild quadrupeds, reptiles or amphibians.]

In 2009, Charla Nish’s family initiated a 150 million dollar lawsuit against the State of Connecticut. The lawsuit alleges that, among other things, Sandra Herold’s action of giving Travis (who had Lyme disease) tea with the anti-anxiety medication Xanax, contributed to his violent behavior.

Fast Forward to 2012

Attorneys for Charla Nash recently hired a ‘well connected lobbyist –lawyer” for $60,000 to assist with political angles, once the suit goes to court, according to Courant governmental affairs reporter Jon Lender.  Lobbyist Kevin Reynolds is an attorney for the State Democratic Party. The suit also alleges that the State failed to restrict the ownership of dangerous exotic animals “treated as pets” and failed to protect the citizenry.

*** The crux of the matter is that people who attempt to sue the State of Connecticut have to ask permission of the Claims Commissioner! Why? The State enjoys what’s called, “sovereign immunity” – meaning any damage or injury lawsuits must be approved by the Commissioner,) The Commissioner has the option to approve, deny or set a monetary limitation.  In addition, this determination has to then pass muster by the Judiciary Committee followed by the full legislature.

The Claims Commissioner is a politically appointed position by the Governor.  Therein lays the value of the lobbyist… to attempt to change any negative rulings.  In fact, the Nash’s are concerned about political influence and sought legal counsel for that reason.

Another Law Suit 

A civil law suit was filed in Waterbury Superior Court in March 2009, a month after the horrendous attack against the estate of the now deceased Sandra Herold.  The suit request 50 million dollars in damages, extreme emotional distress and for the extraordinary medical expenses incurred with face and hand transplants etc.

Sandra and Charla

Sandra and Charla met and became friends in the 1970’s after riding horses in Loretta Lynn’s traveling rodeo; At some point in the relationship, Charla became an employee of the Herold’s business and was a neighbor as well; Following he attack, Charla was a patient at the Cleveland (Ohio) Clinic (Family Health and Surgery Center…and renowned research hospital) for the extensive type of transplants required from 2009 to May 2010; Charla appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in November, 2009, her first public appearance and continues o wear a veil in order to prevent scaring others with her appearance.  At the time of the interview, Charla stated, “I don’t remember anything and the paramedics told the doctor I don’t want to remember.”

 As of December 2009, it was determined that no charges would be filed against Sandra Herold as per the Stamford District Attorney’s Office.

Reasons for the attack have been varied. Of those not already mentioned, it has been stated that Travis did not recognize her when she tried to assist due to wearing sunglasses or having a different hairstyle.

Why??

Upon her death, Sandra Herold’s attorney wrote   “… She marched to the beat of her own drum and was proud of it.” [LJ –She was proud to own a 220pound chimp whom she slept with and bathed with and whom she could not control??]  Why did Sandra call on Charla and not summon the police to assist in corralling her primate when he was taking an anti-anxiety drug?

The Final Straw….   (Edited version of Jon Lender report):

The state environmental agency “was more than merely aware of the existence of this animal [Travis].” The agency “had received specific reports and complaints concerning the chimpanzee, was advised in no uncertain terms of the gravity which the possession of such a large primate entailed, … and had been warned by its own staff some four months prior to the attack that some form of prophylactic action had to be taken by DEP to safeguard against the dangers posed by this animal,” they wrote.

On October 28, 2008, DEP Official, Elaine Hinch, wrote a memo to two high-ranking officials issuing a warning — marked with “high importance.” It said in part:

“The animal has reached adult maturity, is very large and tremendously strong. I am concerned that if he feels threatened or if someone enters his territory, he could seriously hurt someone. … [State law] prohibits the possession of a primate weighing more than fifty pounds. … This exemption was supported by those persons who own primates but recognized that a primate over 50 lbs. has the size and strength to potentially [inflict] harm and damage. … Every day the animal stays on site, [there is] … the likelihood of a problem occurring. … I would like to address the urgency of this issue. It is an accident waiting to happen.”

In their 2010 letter, Charla Nash’s attorneys wrote, “In spite of this awareness, the DEP took absolutely no action, not even to investigate the conditions under which this animal was being held. The DEP did nothing.”

They said the argument by the attorney general’s office that the “private duty doctrine” protects the state is “without merit.”

“The failure of the DEP to act resulted in precisely the harm that was foreseeable, a harm that would not have occurred if the DEP had taken action as mandated by statute. The DEP’s failure to act was an actual cause in the resulting harm to Charla Nash.”

Charla Quoted on Oprah

“These exotic animals are very dangerous and shouldn’t be around. There’s a place for them that does not include residential areas.”

 


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