Judge rules raid on Collins zoo was unconstitutional

COLLINS — A judge has ruled that a January raid on a zoo in Collins and the seizure of animals there was unconstitutional.

The Hattiesburg American reports Circuit Judge William Barnett ruled the seizure of the animals without notice to the owners or an opportunity for a hearing violated due process clauses.

Barnett said Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ regulations regarding the seizure of inherently dangerous animals requires three days’ notice before officials obtain an order of seizure from justice court. Barnett said the department rules were violated because officials gave the three days’ notice after the seizure order was already entered, thus denying zoo owners Gus and Betty White a hearing.

Barnett sent the case back to Forrest County Justice Court.

The return of the currently displaced tigers, wolf hybrids, leopards, cougars and a Rhesus macaque to the zoo is pending a full hearing in justice court.

“We’ll all have our day in court. We expect to prevail,” said Jim Walker, MDWFP spokesman.

Betty White said judges in the past have ruled in her favor.

“But it didn’t do us any good because (MDWFP) didn’t listen to the judge’s orders,” she said.

The Whites and the department have been battling in courts of law for 25 years over seizures of various animals throughout the years and returns of seized animals by court order.

The zoo, situated behind a pink wall on U.S. Highway 49, has been targeted before. The first seizure in 1988 netted 43 alligators, eight bobcats, two skunks, four raccoons, snakes, an otter and other native animals. Other raids occurred in 2001 and 2010.

After the raid in January, the Humane Society of the United States said the animals would be split up between the Carolina Tiger Rescue of Pittsboro, N. C., and two facilities in Texas; Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation of Kendalia and Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary of Dilley.

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