Lawyer who shoo’ed raccoon off boat was in impossible situation

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What, exactly, was the guy supposed to do?

Thomas Cope has had a bad couple of weeks.

The Clearwater lawyer is under investigation by The Florida Bar and the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and there’s even a public petition gaining traction to strip him of his law license.

Like most runs through the mud, Cope’s started because he decided to post a video of himself ranting at a raccoon stowed away on his boat.

The raccoon eventually fell off the side of the boat with no intervention from Cope, and presumably drowned.

Cope’s decision to post the act on social media went over about as well as that shark-dragging video that made headlines a couple of years ago.

The courts threw the book at the shark draggers. And for good reason. They abused an animal in its natural habitat, laughing all the way.

And for as much as trash pandas could help with the massive garbage patches plaguing our oceans, raccoons aren’t seafaring creatures. They aren’t really supposed to be seen during the day either.

There’s also no reason to believe Cope forced the raccoon onto the boat for the purpose of making him walk the plank.

So what, exactly, was Cope supposed to do?

Write a nautical sequel to “Travels with Charlie”? Toss him a life preserver?

According Cope’s critics, including Animals 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton, he had an abundance of choices.

“Cope and whoever was in the boat with him had a world of options, including radioing to the Florida Wildlife Commission for advice if he needed it — or going on Facebook, sending out text messages, etc., to find other potential advisors,” Clifton told Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times.

Really? Getting on Facebook and sending text messages from the middle of the Gulf?

Assuming Cope was able to get ahold of an FWC official, they likely would have read off a paragraph from their handbook.

According to the commission’s own guidance on nuisance animals — which, as cute as they are from afar, includes raccoons — doing nothing was the right move.

The FWC tells Floridians that they should “never try to handle or corner a raccoon.” It also says that raccoons should be considered a high risk for rabies.

Despite his language in the video, Cope’s description of the raccoon’s behavior falls in line with that of a dangerous animal.

“The animal was running around the boat hissing and growling, making it impossible for me or my friend to drive the boat,” Cope wrote in an apology he posted. “Knowing raccoons can be rabid and unpredictable, the only realistic option we could think of in the moment was to get the raccoon off the boat.”

Additionally, FWC says any trapped raccoon “must be euthanized, released on-site, or released on a property within the same county of capture that is 40 acres or larger with written permission from the landowner.”

No, drowning doesn’t exactly fall under euthanization. And releasing the furball onto 40 acres of ocean doesn’t exactly fit with the spirit of Florida law.

But Cope did neither.

Expletive-filled taunting aside, he didn’t “try to handle” the raccoon.

If he intervened and saved the raccoon from drowning it would have been, for all intents and purposes, “trapped.” Then Cope, per FWC, would have had to euthanize it or release it on-site.

Were Cope’s actions tasteful? Absolutely not.

But expecting Cope to hand the raccoon a miniature captain’s hat and go fishing alongside the animal is bonkers.

After the video was posted, FWC said officials were taking the incident “very seriously.”

“It is still too early to speculate as to what violations took place in this incident,” the agency said in a statement. “However, the FWC would like to state that we believe these vile acts of animal cruelty have no place in our state or anywhere else.”

Talk about prejudicial.

Putting aside the fact that Cope did neither, the agency’s own recommendations state raccoons “must be euthanized” or “released on-site.” And nowhere in the FWC guidance does it mention a “good Samaritan law” for raccoons.

There was no violation. Case closed.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


47 comments

  • DamnTheRaccoons

    May 28, 2019 at 2:48 pm

    It’s absurd that anyone is chastising this guy! ESPECIALLY contending he should lose his law license because he killed a raccoon that had invaded his boat! In Florida, public opinion likely would have preferred it had he shot the damned thing rather than forcing it overboard to drown. (???) Weird Flori-DUH continues!

    • Zander Slade

      May 28, 2019 at 7:33 pm

      Let me guess you voted for tRump too. Look both ways before you go screw yourself.

      • Joe

        May 30, 2019 at 1:47 pm

        Your an idiot.

    • sam dureas

      June 2, 2019 at 12:34 pm

      Your comment is BS. He is an idiot, showed no compassion could have done many other things like head back to shore. He acted like a person afraid of a spider, He is a coward.

    • Dead Cope

      June 6, 2019 at 5:57 pm

      We are for sure going to try and get him disbarred, and of course at least have the crap beat out of him a few times, at least enough to have him shit blood a month or so.
      Promise on that!!

    • Nick Shea

      June 8, 2019 at 1:19 pm

      The Raccoon didn’t fall.. he was shooed into the ocean by this guy.

    • Walter Hames

      June 8, 2019 at 6:53 pm

      Unfortunately this is another situation where there is animal abuse or neglect in which most of the majority do not tolerate this behavior. Who films an animal in the ocean several miles offshore who most likely drowned. There were options available. It will be the public who decide if they choose to use his services as an attorney.

    • Elena Perceleanu

      June 10, 2019 at 9:00 am

      You must be Thomas cope here to defend yourself. No normal human being would find this acceptable bc it downright disgusting. No excuse for it. None. And why say “good riddance” at the end. I’m terrified of raccoons too. I’d also assume it had rabies. But you know what I wouldn’t do? I’d never shoo it off my boat for it to drown. I have a heart. I would’ve turned around and headed back to shore as fast as I could. Or I would’ve tried to trap it with a fish net. I could go on, but u get my drift. So stop creating fake usernames to defend yourself. You’re an awful human being. There’s a reason this story made headlines…. bc you’re gross.

  • J G

    May 28, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    Seems raccoons can swim just fine.

    • Donald Hillebrand

      May 29, 2019 at 12:06 pm

      I’m sure you can swim too, care to be dropped off 20 miles from shore and try to make it back??

      • Elena Perceleanu

        June 10, 2019 at 9:02 am

        Exactly! I’d shoo this guy off my boat in a heartbeat.

    • sherrie morin

      May 29, 2019 at 3:58 pm

      Big difference in a pool vs Gulf of Nexico

    • Jon

      June 8, 2019 at 4:21 pm

      U are dumb as shit..tha dam thing is in a pool..idiots

  • Jim

    May 28, 2019 at 3:23 pm

    For five years I’ve been sending “Florida stories” to friends up north. This may not be the best one yet but it’s definitely in the top three.

    • Ellen Stout

      May 29, 2019 at 8:16 pm

      You could have headed towards land .instead of laughing and getting your 15 minutes of Fame the poor this was scared .if it was a human and he was acting like that you would have headed to shore .there is no excuse .what an ass baby better watch for karma

  • gary

    May 28, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    Finally! With so many of these stories going the wrong way. They finally got one right! The people supporting any action against this guy are simply children. Grow up Florida!

    • Libtard

      May 30, 2019 at 1:02 pm

      Gary shut the fuck up!

  • James

    May 28, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    How about not posting a video of it? While getting the racoon off of the boat may have been necessary, I do not see where posting a video of it was. What did he think the reaction would be? It was going to upset someone.

    • Melissa

      June 9, 2019 at 12:26 pm

      His remarks and his boat mates’ remarks in the video tell you everything you need to know about this ingrate “lawyer.” The real trash pandas are the ones behind the camera. May they rot in hell for eternity.

  • WildlifeFriend

    May 28, 2019 at 9:44 pm

    Mr. Cope did not have to yell at the raccoon which more likely increased the possibility of an attack. He did not have to take a video especiallly when they were supposedly concerned with their safety. He did not have to express a twisted and callous disregard as he sent the poor animal to its death in the water (so long sucker)! And he most certainly did NOT HAVE TO POST THE “HILARIOUS” video that he was obviously so proud of! His actions show a complete lack of compassion and judgment after the raccoon was no longer a threat! That is what made his actions disturbingly wrong and makes your analysis flawed.

    • Kelz

      May 30, 2019 at 2:42 am

      R u serious… those who want this man punished should be forced overboard!

    • Mandy

      May 31, 2019 at 10:23 am

      Exactly!!!

    • Sara

      May 31, 2019 at 5:31 pm

      Agree!

  • Doug Ruggerie

    May 29, 2019 at 1:24 am

    yes the raccoon for no reason magically appeared after 20 miles out and his screaming at it didn’t make the situation worst. He could have attached a life preserver to a rope and the raccoon would have grabbed the life preserved and he could have towed it to shore. it would have held on. I would have at least tried. You are a ridiculous with your cast closed nonsense. You don’t make that decision sweetheart.

    • gary

      May 29, 2019 at 1:17 pm

      20 miles offshore? I would not burn 100 dollars in fuel to save any creatures life except a human or a dog! You are bonkers!

      • Boris

        June 1, 2019 at 8:52 am

        Shut the fuck up gary!!

  • Wes Snapp

    May 29, 2019 at 6:11 am

    Perfectly written, thought out and accurate.

  • Ivy Hitman

    May 29, 2019 at 10:19 am

    He was not acting like the raccoon was dangerous anyways, and he should have taken it back to the wild. He was probably just taking shelter in what he thought was ok to hide in. Animals deserve to live too, so it was very cruel to make the poor raccoon drown, it was probably more afraid of the man attacking it than the man was of him.

  • Donald Hillebrand

    May 29, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    I’m 61 years old what happened to adults behaving like adults. Cope acted like a entitled frat boy and a little school girl at the same time, wuss. And as for the author of this article, everyone has an opinion and you are welcome to yours but your opinion will not change the fact that over 94, 000 people have signed this petition, that is the equivalent of one out of ten people in Pinellas county. https://www.thepetitionsite.com/768/324/993/this-florida-lawyer-pushed-a-raccoon-into-the-sea-and-watched-it-drown/

  • Rocky

    May 29, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    Hey Doug, Just Sign the two petitions against this to show your concern over Copes actions. Lawyer or laymen he showed no remorse for the raccoon on his Fun times video.

      • gary

        May 29, 2019 at 1:21 pm

        Grow up! Give him a ticket! Sanction him if you must… But lose EVERYTHING you worked for over this? Simply unAmerican! How would you like it if someone took everything you worked for away from you kid?

  • Scott Johnston

    May 29, 2019 at 9:09 pm

    This author of this article is either disingenuous or doesn’t know much about wildlife, specifically raccoons. A raccoon on a boat, or anywhere else where there are aggressive people, will do nothing at all except try to hide, or get away. The screaming/aggressive behavior is what caused it to roll off the boat. The idea that Cope had nothing to do with it is absurd…I used to have raccoons living under my house, and, yes, getting away will be their reaction 100 percent of the time

    As far as fishing the raccoon out of the water, it would have been difficult. But, Cope’s attitude showed that that was the furthest thing from his mind. As far as getting rabies, that’s a pretty remote possibility. Seriously, if anyone is that hyper-concerned about personal safety, maybe they should go live in a little bubble where they won’t be exposed to germs or the threat of anything touching them…

  • Nancy

    May 29, 2019 at 10:15 pm

    “The raccoon eventually fell off the side of the boat with no intervention from Cope, and presumably drowned.”

    Are you kidding me? They pushed it off the boat with a large metal stick. They had to keep pushing it because it did not want to jump into the water because quite simply, it did not want to drown. After it fell into the water, it would have no choice but to swim and swim until there was so much pain in its limbs that it would finally let go. Imagine if someone held a gun to your and forced you to run until you died. That animal suffered a long, slow, cruel death. And, Thomas Cope laughed. Why? Because he was lazy and sloppy. And he claims that he was too stupid to figure out any other alternative. The lawyer apparently had very poor problem solving skills. Not to mention a complete lack of empathy. Oh yes, poor Thomas Cope had a bad week because the Mask of Sanity slipped and people saw him for who he truly was, a person who enjoyed the torture of a small animal with very little defense against a group of grown men… even cowardly men.

  • Donald Hillebrand

    May 29, 2019 at 11:58 pm

    Peter Schorsch Write about a different subject. You are on the losing side here. People are more interested in animal life than a lawyers rights, really…all of the ads on tv for ridiculous litigation are a turn off to a human with a brain. Time to step off your legal high horse. Your last sentence in the article “There was no violation. Case closed.” You are an idiot. Go home, drink your Scotch, and ignore your wife.

  • Really?

    May 30, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Why is anyone listening to this writer, I believe I found something about his past which would make this article as bogus as he was(is??) Most Arrests for a Political Operative

    First it was 16 counts of writing worthless checks, a bust he blamed on gambling debts and poor business acumen, which was chronicled in an overblown Times account titled “A wilting of great promise.” But former Republican-turned-Democratic political consultant Peter Schorsch had more courthouse time coming: In late June, he was charged with three counts of scheming to defraud and grand theft in connection with campaigns he ran. On his blog, he wrote, “I don’t believe what I did rises to the level of criminal actions. I intend to mount a defense as vigorous as one of my political campaigns.” He did, however, apologize for letting his former clients down.

    https://www.cltampa.com/home/article/20725232/most-arrests-for-a-political-operative

    • JC

      June 8, 2019 at 12:40 pm

      This opinion piece sure brought out some people of low moral fiber, starting with the author and this includes his tendency toward fraudulent activity. Too bad they can’t be collected up and put on a list. Oh, and shut the fuck up, Gary.

  • Lindsay

    May 30, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    Surprise, surprise. A POS defending a POS.

    “In March, Schorsch pleaded no contest to two counts of grand theft and one count of scheming to defraud two candidates and the Greater Tarpon Springs Democratic Club.

    Sentenced to house arrest, probation, community service and restitution, Schorsch was banned from working in politics while on probation. Soon he was accused of violating that, too.

    But in a deal that wiped out his sentence, Schorsch last month was released from the conditions of his probation.”

  • gayle

    May 30, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    He should be disbarred for animal cruelty. He had options. He apologized because he was caught. Probably a crappy lawyer with no compassion. He pretty much tortured that frightened animal. It obviously did not try to attack him. Major jerk.

  • Ronin 48

    May 30, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    I’d give Mr. Cope the benefit of the doubt if he had A. Taken steps to kill the raccoon outright once it was in the water (shoot it, drown it with a fishing net); and B. Expressed a lot less delight.

    As it stands, that video suggests to me that Mr. Cope is a sadistic freak.

  • Greg

    June 4, 2019 at 5:39 am

    Folks, the simple answer here is obvious if you watched the video. It may have been difficult, be they could have hooked the racoon by the neck on the boat or once it fell in the water. Then you have it under control and they could drive the damn thing back to shore. Video that and post it. This guy deserves what he gets for posting a video like this. What a moron.

  • steve

    June 6, 2019 at 6:33 am

    Yes he did try to handle the raccoon, which can be easily derived from his commands for his friend to get a stick, and the approaching shadow of the friend can be easily be seen.

    Also to say the animal and Cope had “no interaction” is silly. The animal is being yelled at the whole time.

    The truth is the animal existed on the boat for a 20 mile ride just fine. That is one of a number of plain facts this well-written write-up seems to have a blind spot for.

  • Marnel

    June 8, 2019 at 10:11 am

    The raccoon was young and looked healthy. He could of done the right thing by turning around and bring it back to shore. How he dragged those sharks a few years ago to die shows that he has no compassion for life.

  • Melanie Bortles

    June 10, 2019 at 12:25 am

    He’s no doubt a heartless crony of yours. You probably have the “heartless, chicken**** crony club” where you tell each other stories.

  • Lauadi Bob

    June 10, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Since the raccoon had hidden unnoticed for several hours at sea, then it no doubt would have retreated to its hiding place had they just backed off and starting motoring to shore instead of acting like the lazy, selfish, dumb*ss peckerwoods they obviously are. There’s no excuse for his initial bad judgement, and posting to social media just doubles down on it. I wouldn’t hire a lawyer with that lack of intelligent decision making if my life depended on it!

Comments are closed.


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