A Florida high school teacher who, with the help of his students, killed two raccoons and a possum by drowning them in a tub of water will not face criminal charges, the state’s prosecutors announced.
Dewie Brewton III, a former agricultural teacher at Forest High School in Ocala, Fla., “did not intend to torture or torment these nuisance animals,” and the killings are legal under state law, according to a four-page memo released Friday by Brad King, state attorney for Florida’s Fifth Judicial Circuit.
Criminal charges against Brewton, who took early retirement amid a public outcry and an investigation by state officials, wouldn’t hold up in court because Florida law allows the killing of nuisance animals, and there’s no evidence that he tormented them with no justifiable reason, the memo said.
“The decision to decline to file charges is not made in a vacuum,” according to the memo, adding that Brewton “was simply attempting to protect his class’s school project in an appropriate manner.”
Brewton told investigators that raccoons were likely killing farm animals that his students were raising as part of their agricultural class. The students cared about the chickens, even naming some of them. But after a few weeks, eight chickens were found dead. Brewton then decided to trap the likely culprits “to stop the incessant and unnecessary killing” of the chickens, the memo said. Even the students expressed their desire to kill the nuisance animals.
The memo went on to explain how Brewton and his class settled on drowning the animals.
Some students suggested shooting them, but Brewton explained that bringing a gun to the school violates policy. Bludgeoning them to death was too brutal. The most humane way, he told investigators, was to drown the animals.
“When he decided to employ this option, he told students that any student that did not want to witness or be involved with this removal of these nuisance animals could stay in the classroom with a paraprofessional,” the memo states. “Some students stayed behind in the classroom, and others went to assist in the removal of the nuisance animals.”
A 14-second video published by WKMG showed a group of Brewton’s students filling a tub with water and later keeping a trapped raccoon submerged. The video was reportedly taken by a student who was upset over what happened to the animals, the student’s mother told WKMG. The raccoons and the opossum were killed May 14, according to the mother, whom the station did not identify.
“It made me sick to my stomach. It’s terrible. It still does make me sick to my stomach,” the mother told the station.
According to the state attorney’s office, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began an investigation after receiving an anonymous complaint from a mother of a student.
The incident brought scrutiny on Brewton, who had been with Marion County Public Schools for more than 30 years. The school district launched an investigation, and placed him on paid administrative leave. Brewton later decided to take an early retirement, effectively ending the district’s investigation, school officials said.
Heidi Maier, the district’s superintendent who had recommended that Brewton be fired, said in an earlier statement that school officials are “appalled” by the teacher’s actions.
“Marion County’s education standards — in fact, Florida’s education standards — do not include activities for the destruction of live animals, nuisance or not,” the statement states. “While law enforcement determines whether this teacher’s actions were legal or not, his actions before students are entirely unacceptable and cause us great concern.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s 102-page guideline states that drowning “is not a means of euthanasia and is inhumane.” But according to the state attorney’s memo, the guideline also says that drowning is not an acceptable primary means of euthanasia and does not explicitly say whether the method should be considered appropriate under certain circumstances.
Other forms of euthanasia that the AVMA considers unacceptable: burning, rapid freezing, use of cyanide, smothering, hypothermia and drowning.
In Brewton’s case, that he considered other alternatives but found them to be inhumane “casts further doubt” on prosecutors’ ability to prove a crime had occurred beyond a reasonable doubt, the memo states.
And while videos of the incident have been made public, students — not Brewton — were largely seen in the footage. For prosecutors to use the videos as evidence in court would require them to question the students — something to which most parents have objected.
Brewton’s early retirement and the intense media scrutiny to which he has been subjected are a “fitting resolution,” the memo states, noting a public reaction for and against Brewton.
Brewton was nominated in 2010 for Teacher of the Year. He also was an adviser for the school’s National FFA Organization club.
The club’s alumni group expressed its support for Brewton, describing the teacher as someone who had spent late nights and weekends to help his students.
A number of states, including Florida, allow the killing of nuisance animals as long as doing so complies with local and state ordinances.
A raccoon-drowning case in Pennsylvania had a different resolution. A man accused of doing that pleaded guilty in December to two counts of animal cruelty after a judge issued an opinion saying that raccoons deserve protection and that drowning them is prohibited by state law.