• New Jersey presses charges against woman who saved abandoned baby squirrels.
• State agency admits it routinely monitors social media to ferret out “criminals.”
By Dave Gahary —
In one of the most nonsensical stories to come out of one the most heavily regulated states in the union, comes the story of a New Jersey mother-of-three who rescued some baby squirrels that had been abandoned from their mother after she suffered an injury and was issued a summons and fined for doing so.
The story is a cautionary tale for those who are flippant about choosing the state they wish to reside in and for those who believe Internet postings on social media such as Facebook are harmless ways to share news and photos with their friends.
This past Halloween, as Maria R. Vaccarella and her 9-year-old son were heading out for some free treats, she was paid a visit by two officers from New Jersey’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, who knocked on her door and demanded the squirrels, after pictures of the critters she posted on Facebook were viewed by them.
Vaccarella, a hard-working, honest American who works part time in a nursing home, happily handed them over, and even included the cage she used to nurse them back to life over four months, and the officers then handed the rodents over to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
Thinking the affair was settled, she was a bit surprised to find a summons in her mail for “unauthorized possession of wildlife,” a civil charge that carries a fine of up to $500.
Mrs. Vaccarella hired an attorney, and rejected a plea deal where she would plead guilty to unauthorized possession of wildlife and receive a suspended fine and $35 in court costs.
“I can’t plead guilty to saving a life. It’s ludicrous,” Vaccarella told the Gannett-owned Asbury Park Press.
Her saga began when her husband found the squirrels’ mother after the July Fourth weekend, which appeared “sluggish,” perhaps injured in some way from the barrage of fireworks that lit the sky and ground. Shortly after she gave birth to the two squirrels, she abandoned them.
Doing the best she could to keep them alive, Mrs. Vaccarella called several wildlife rehabilitators, but was unsuccessful in placing the babies. She felt she was left no choice but to care for them, feeding them every two hours and keeping them warm.
AMERICAN FREE PRESS reached out to the Division’s Bureau of Law Enforcement seeking more detail on the case, specifically how it relates to the monitoring of social media.
AFP asked if the Division monitors Facebook.
“Of course all of us do have access, and we use that as a tool to monitor all the social media websites,” said an investigator from the Bureau, who declined to give his name.
Seeking further clarification, AFP asked if it was accurate to say that the Division actively monitors the Internet.
“Correct,” he said. “As would any law enforcement agency.”
AFP asked if that was Division policy.
“I wouldn’t say it’s policy, I’d say it’s practice,” he answered.
Mrs. Vaccarella’s case went to trial on February 10. Luckily, her lawyer got her off on a technicality. Judge James Newman dismissed the one charge against Mrs. Vaccarella after her attorney, Doris Lin of Freehold Township, argued that the statute under which her client was charged did not match the written description of the offense on the summons issued by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife. But had the charges matched, would New Jersey have thrown Mrs. Vaccarella in jail for—of all things—nursing two baby squirrels back to health?
Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s ‘Underground Interview’ series. He prevailed in a suit brought by the New York Stock Exchange in an attempt to silence him.