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Debate rages over police killing of mountain lion in Santa Monica

May 23, 2012 |  7:55 am

A debate is raging in Santa Monica over the police decision to kill a mountain lion that wandered into the city's bustling downtown area Tuesday.

Some residents said the shooting was unnecessary, but others are coming to the defense of police, who say they had no choice but to fire because the lion was a public safety threat.

Madelyn Tarfman, 70, said she was sad the lion was killed but supported the shooting. The Santa Monica resident said she feared for the young children attending preschool across the street.

"We feel bad," she said. "But when there is a choice between an animal and people, then you have to make a decision."

With news choppers circling overhead, Santa Monica police managed to corner the 3-year-old lion in the courtyard of an office complex. Police said they made several attempts to contain what they described as an aggressive feline using tranquilizing darts, nonlethal bullets and a fire hose. When that failed to stop the lion from trying to escape, a police officer fatally shot him.

Authorities defended the killing, saying the lion would have posed a public threat if it had managed to get back on the street. They noted that besides the children at the preschool, there were shoppers nearby.

"A variety of means were used to try to keep the animal back in the courtyard," said Santa Monica Police Lt. Robert Almada. "The animal continued to charge and attempted to flee. It was euthanized to protect the public safety."

But in a city known for its robust civic discord and love of causes, some were quick to protest.

Bill Dyer, 78, said police are too quick to reach for their weapons when dealing with animals.

"What was the rush?" asked Dyer, a regional director for In Defense of Animals, a nonprofit animal protection organization. "They should have taken their time. This land belongs to the animals too. This is not just our land."

Santa Monica resident Synnove Naess was visibly shaken after learning that the cat was killed in the neighborhood where she attends art class.

"Everybody is so devastated about this," she said. "I'm just so sad. This could happen again. Are they going to shoot animals every time this happens?"

California Department of Fish & Game officials said it was highly unusual for a mountain lion to wander into a largely populated, urban area. In fact, nobody in the department could recall ever before seeing one in Santa Monica.


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-- Angel Jennings