Florida man sues Howard Baskin and Big Cat Rescue over custody of lioness

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Polk County court has become the scene of a lawsuit between a Polk County man and Big Cat Rescue, made famous in recent years by the Netflix show “Tiger King.” Big Cat Rescue is a non-profit organization registered in Citrus Park.

Big Cat Rescue and CEO Howard Baskin are facing a lawsuit over the custody of a 4-year-old lioness, named Juma, or Koda, depending on who’s talking about the lion. Plaintiff Roy Pinson calls the lioness Juma, while Big Cat Rescue renamed her Koda after taking custody of the animal.

At the center of the lawsuit is the property of Juma or Koda. Pinson alleges in his lawsuit that after caring directly and personally for the lioness since 2018, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission removed her from its custody due to bureaucratic process issues and turned the lioness over to the Big Cat Rescue by Carole and Howard Baskin.

Pinson said, via a legal brief, that “due to paperwork issues that FWC and I had, I had to file an appeal”, with FWC taking Juma. “I appealed, but they came in and took Juma.” FWC told Pinson it had not appealed, according to Pinson’s complaint. When he showed them the proof of the deposition on his phone, FWC allegedly told him he was deposed in the wrong court and took the lioness to Big Cat Rescue.

Pinson has filed a lawsuit, allegedly fearing that Juma will not succeed at the nonprofit due to a change in routine and lack of “regular lovemaking” by Pinson, who says he still feeds by hand. “Juma will be deprived of all my physical human contact” while at Baskin Animal Sanctuary.

Pinson also stated in his memoir that he had never abused Juma and that his “worry is that she might become depressed”. Pinson said Juma “hasn’t been eating like she should” since being taken to Big Cat Rescue.

“Juma and his owner were caught in the crosshairs of Carole Baskin’s roadside zoo greed and FWC’s desire for an inequality of power between FWC, the Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court,” according to the lawsuit. of Finch.

On the Big Cat Rescue website, they describe their capture of Koda as an aid to law enforcement during a seizure. According to Big Cat Rescue, Koda is monitored but allowed to explore and “has since recovered nicely and easily” after being transported to the sanctuary under sedation.

Koda’s first update at Big Cat Rescue was released on March 2.

In subsequent posts, the nonprofit shared photos and videos of the lioness at the Sanctuary.

On April 18, Carole Baskin published an article about Pinson’s trial. “Never before has a previous owner been able to get a court to compel the wildlife agency to send a cat to a location of their choosing, after the cat has been sent to us, but this one did it. We have no choice but to comply with the court order and FWC’s request to catch her and deliver her to this establishment. We don’t know yet if we can reveal where she is going.

Big Cat Rescue’s webpage on Koda lists a cluster of health issues they noted during the lioness’ vet exam. According to their site, “We have renamed her Koda to comply with the FWC’s desire not to share any details of their ongoing criminal case online.”

Those criminal charges have reportedly been dropped, according to Big Cat Rescue. As a result, Pinson was able to have Juma, as he calls her, moved to another licensed facility.

The Baskins, on their webpage for Koda, allege Pinson lacks the proper license to possess Koda and fails to provide adequate health care.

“Pinson says he has three veterinarians he uses to treat Koda. In our view, the preventable issues the lioness suffered should be a violation of Florida and USDA rules requiring owners to provide care. proper veterinarians,” Baskins asserts on their Koda page. Their blog states their belief that Pinson’s facility has “no access to water or electricity,” resulting in “acute kidney disease and a burden severe parasite”.

On the site, they allege that Pinson wants to breed the lioness. The blog says there are different types of licenses individuals can obtain to care for big cats in Florida, including one called a “sanctuary license,” authorized by FWC Rule 68A-6.006.

Due to Pinson’s apparent interest in breeding Juma, Big Cat Rescue said online that they are concerned about what type of license to obtain.

“We believe Pinson has expressed an interest in obtaining this type of license,” reads the Big Cat Rescue blog. “But in court documents, Pinson claims that Koda is valuable because of the value of the offspring she could produce, which seems to us to indicate an intent to raise her.”

The legal complaint filed by Pinson states that “to the best of plaintiff’s knowledge, information and belief, the value of the property exceeds $30,000.00 based on an 18 to 20 year lifespan with a production potential of 8 to 18 cubs” each with a market value of around $14,000 to $112,000 or up to $22,000 depending on the litter.

The document, however, also includes claims by Pinson that the Baskins and Big Cat Rescue received the lioness through a “clandestine arrangement” between FWC and Big Cat Rescue to provide a lion to the sanctuary for collection purposes. of funds.

“At some point prior to October 6, 2021, the plaintiff was targeted by co-defendant, Howard Baskin and Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue Corporation to ensure that FWC was assisting her in acquiring an African lion by any means necessary, including by unlawful and unconstitutional means, Pinson’s complaint reads.

Further, Pinson alleges that “evidence shows that the reason Lt. Louis Hinds interfered with and discouraged the USDA licensing inspection is because Lt. Hinds had entered into a clandestine arrangement to ensure” that the Baskins “would be in the front line to select and take possession of an African lioness at no cost to the Baskins.

Pinson also argues in his memoir that the FWC used “unprecedented extraconstitutional powers” ​​against a lawfully operating animal company, and that in doing so, the FWC commissioners had issued “a direct challenge to the founding American principles of governmental checks and balances”. by their conduct in the case of Pinson and Juma.

Plaintiff accuses FWC of “abusing its quasi-judicial powers in a manner that threatens the independence, authority, and primary role of the Florida Supreme Court” and the judicial branch of state government .

Pinson said Big Cat Rescue continues to “exploit” the lioness for fundraising purposes.

Pinson’s complaint also alleges a “nefarious agenda” between the Baskins and Big Cat Rescue, and the FWC, to “falsely conclude that the plaintiff lied to the FWC” while showing the agency evidence of his appeal. Pinson alleges that “FWC abused its police powers to unconstitutionally overwhelm plaintiff with force and executed an armed ambush, unlawful armed raid and violent seizure of Juma at her home establishment”.

Its complaint states that FWC’s actions are a threat to law and order, and a threat to the public, as well as a threat to representative democracy in a constitutional republic.

Pinson seeks damages for loss of valuables, Juma’s boarding fees, and attorney’s fees. Court records show the case is listed in a range of damages sought over $100,000.

WFLA.com has contacted all parties mentioned or involved in the litigation, including Pinson, the Baskins and Big Cat Rescue, and FWC.

“It is our policy not to comment on pending litigation,” Howard Baskin said in response to WFLA.com’s request for comment.

FWC issued a similar statement, telling WFLA.com that “The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will not comment on Mr. Roy Pinson’s personal opinion of the agency or the pending lawsuit. The FWC removed a lion from Mr. Pinson and transferred it for temporary boarding at an approved facility, Big Cat Rescue. The lion was handed over to Mr. Pinson for placement in a licensed facility approved by the Commission.

Representatives for Pinson have not yet responded to request for comment on the litigation.