In the hallowed halls of the U.S. District Court yesterday, it became known as the "Bambi Caper."
The alleged culprit was Washington realtor Mark Stephen Strasburg. His offense? Feeding a saltine to a deer at the Okefenokee Swamp State Park in south Georgia a year ago while he was on vacation with his wife. The site where the incident occurred happens to be in a national wildlife refuge, which makes it a federal case.
The part-time federal magistrate whose turf is the swamp issued a warrant for Strasburg's arrest last month, and Georgia officials insisted that the U.S. Marshal's office get Strasburg to court.
But, in the more softhearted style of Okefenokee's best-known inhabitant, the comic strip oppossum Pogo, Deputy U.S. Marshal William Colquitt telephoned Strasburg instead of arresting him and asked if he would please come down to the courthouse and answer the warrant.
"He was nice as pie," a visibly shaken Strasburg said yesterday as he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Jean F. Dwyer.
Strasburg said the incident occurred in a parking lot where three well-known deer "hustle tourists" for food. Strasburg said "two Georgia boys," apparently federal park rangers, watched him feed a deer a saltine "and then they busted me."
"And they were rude to me, darn it," Strasburg said in an interview.
Strasburg said the officers told him they would only draw up an "incident report." Attorney Arthur Marc Levin, who volunteered to represent Strasburg yesterday "out of a sense of moral outrage," said his client told him the sign that said don't feed the animals was 17 miles away from the spot where the deer do their hustling.
Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Herbie DiFonzo, admitting that it was a "bizarre case," said he had been told by the Georgia prosecutors that Strasburg had failed to pay a $25 fine owed for the offense, so they had issued a warrant for his arrest last month.
DiFonzo told Dwyer that "despite serious lobbying efforts on our part," the Washington prosecutors could not persuade Georgia to drop the case.
So, Dwyer released Strasburg on personal recognizance and asked him to return to court March 17 for another hearing.