Golden Gate Estates man found guilty after admitting to killing bear cub

Reporter: Jennifer Morejon Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

Witnesses and experts took the stand in the trial of a man who shot and killed a bear cub in Golden Gate Estates in 2020.

Kyle Aaron Stevens admitted in court documents that he shot the bear cub, claiming he did it to protect his dog.

The judge in the case found him guilty of a misdemeanor and sentenced him to six months of probation. Stevens will also need to pay a $500 fine and take a hunter safety course.

On Wednesday he testified that he did not intend to kill the cub, that is why he said he used birdshot.

Under state law, there’s no law allowing you to use deadly force in self-defense against an animal.

It might not be a law because the state prosecutor said a case like this rarely comes across his desk.

“This is certainly the first that we have prosecuted since I have been here,” said State Prosecutor Lawrence Rabe.

The prosecutor said a point was made. The state will not tolerate crimes against animals.

“The federal government has a provision where you’re being mauled or killed by a bear, most states have provisions where you can protect yourself but Florida chose not to do that,” said Stevens’ defense attorney.

Two neighbors, FWC officers that responded, and a bear biologist all took the stand Wednesday.

Evidence presented to the judge included pictures, maps, surveillance video, and even the shotgun used.

Experts say there hasn’t been a black bear killed legally in Collier County by a citizen since 2015 when FWC banned hunting season for black bears.

Five years later, Stevens admitted to investigators that he shot one to protect his dog.

“They were chasing him, trying to get him, running after him all around the yard coming towards me,” said Stevens

“What did you do initially?” asked Stevens’ attorney.

“Tried to yell at him,” said Stevens.

“Did the bear stop?” Stevens’ attorney asked.

“No. I went inside and grabbed the shotgun so I can defend myself and my dog,” Stevens said.

“Is there any particular reason you didn’t grab your deer rifle or handguns?” asked Stevens’ attorney.

“Yeah I didn’t want to kill, I more wanted to scare,” said Stevens.

A neighbor’s testimony contradicted what Stevens told the court. The neighbor said they did not hear any barking or yelling prior to the gunshots.

An expert at the trial says it’s unlikely for bears to be the aggressor in a bear attack on a dog. Experts at the trial also said a black bear has never killed someone in Florida.

Neighbors in the Golden Gate Estates area had named the bear cub Bailey. They even captured the cub on video a few times.

Debra Wagner of Golden Gate Estates shot a video of this mama bear and her two cubs playing in her backyard on June 2, 2020. It was the last time the family would be seen together as one of the cubs was shot and killed shortly after. (Credit: Debra Wagner)

The guilty verdict was a win for Katrina Shadix, the executive director of Bear Warrior United.

“It’s a message that’s being sent out to other people who think that they might think it’s a good idea to kill bears,” said Shadix.

She drove from Seminole County with prayers she would hear a guilty verdict.

Shadix is a bear advocate. She started Bear Warriors United to try and protect them because one bear dead is one too many for her.

“It’s very heartbreaking because if you know, bears you know, they are very family-oriented, especially the mom of the cubs. And if your mother like me and you can imagine having your child killed in front of you you know the fear and the pain that they experience, it’s just something that’s very reprehensible,” said Shadix.

Bear advocates say they plan to continue to fight for a tougher punishment.

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