Atmore mayor says raccoon attacked him, wife
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore Mayor Jim Staff, one of the most avid advocates for positive publicity about the community, accidentally triggered a landslide of negativity when video was shot of Staff using a shovel to fight off an aggressive raccoon that he said chased him and his wife.
“I didn’t attack the raccoon; the raccoon attacked me,” Staff said during an interview with Atmore News outside Atmore City Hall Tuesday morning. “What happened was, my wife (Myrtle) and I were at Canal Park Boat Ramp, launching our boat, and she holds the rope while I launch the boat.
“She gets out of the truck, and I hear her holler ‘look out, raccoon.’ The raccoon had run her back into the truck and was trying to get in with her. Then it ran off a little and looked at me, so I threw a stick at it. I was told by (local animal control officer) Brandon James that any time a nocturnal animal is not scared of people in the daytime, something’s wrong.”
Theresa Palmer Ellis of Bon Secour video-recorded part of the incident, which occurred around 1 p.m. Sunday, June 2, just a few yards from Lulu’s, beneath the Highway 59 Bridge in Gulf Shores. The footage has been shared with hundreds of her Facebook friends, who have in turn shared it with other friends until it has spread far beyond the borders of the Yellowhammer State.
“This is becoming national news,” said Bev Mason in a Facebook post. “I’m from Rhode Island; y’all have a serious problem.”
Individuals, especially animal lovers, from across the country have expressed dismay and outrage at what they say is Staff’s misunderstanding of an animal that is considered the unofficial mascot of the public boat launch.
“That animal has lived there forever,” posted Henry Poirier, who said he lives “in a tiny town just outside New Orleans” and is a frequent visitor to Gulf Shores. “People feed it daily. It’s always docile and has never hurt anyone. I begged him to leave it alone.”
The video shows one violent chop with a round-point shovel before Staff used the tool to sling the writhing and bleeding creature into some nearby weeds.
“The raccoon lives at the boat ramp; locals know it,” agreed the woman who shot the video. “I told (Staff) he wasn’t rabid, that he begs for food, He had no right to do what he did, especially in front of my son, who is 10.”
The mayor said he was only reacting to a combination of the animal’s weird behavior and the rash of rabid-animal bites reported already this year in Baldwin County.
“I couldn’t let it bite me,” he said, explaining that he took a round-point shovel from the bed of his truck and disposed of the raccoon in quick fashion. “They’ve already had four bites from rabid raccoons and foxes down there, and that was the only weapon I had with me.”
Staff agreed that the video has had far-reaching results.
“I’ve already got one call from Colorado,” he said. “It was from an ex-forest ranger who said people are not supposed to feed wildlife. All the folks that have called want to know the other side of the story, but all of the emails and Facebook posts have so far been not favorable.”
In a statement prepared by City Attorney Larry Wettermark and issued mid-morning Tuesday, Staff said he doesn’t appreciate that the video, which only caught the tail end of the action, makes him out to be the bad guy.
“I was convinced that the animal was dying and would not recover,” he said. “In fact, one lady — not the one who posted the Facebook video — asked me to put it out of its misery, which I did with the shovel.
“It was only at this point that the video was taken, and it provides a misleading picture of what actually happened. The video does not show the bizarre behavior of the raccoon which led me to protect both my wife and me.”
The mayor said he loves animals and wouldn’t intentionally hurt one unless it was for protection.
“I am an animal lover and I would never intentionally injure an animal,” he said. “However, when a wild raccoon, which is normally a nocturnal animal, exhibits this unnatural behavior and runs at my wife and then at me, I have every right to be fearful of what may happen.
“The bottom line is that I had every right to fear and act accordingly. The video and the comments posted on Facebook are both misleading and irresponsible because they don’t give the entire picture of what happened.”
Reports from residents and visitors to Gulf Shores are sure that the shovel jabs did not kill the raccoon but injured it badly enough that its future is uncertain. One Facebook post indicated that Wildlife Conservation had picked up the raccoon but Atmore News has not verified that report.