Florida Keys

Man tells judge: I was sleeping in the car while my friend hog-tied three Key deer

This is one of the Key deer found in the car when the suspects were pulled over in the Lower Keys.
This is one of the Key deer found in the car when the suspects were pulled over in the Lower Keys. FWC

A South Florida man who says he was asleep in the car while his friend hog-tied three endangered Key deer in the Lower Keys last month pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court Friday in Key West.

Tumani Anthony Younge, 23, wearing a black button-down shirt and black pants, wore a look of confusion and anxiety prior to his arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow.

Younge, from Tamarac, agreed to a $20,000 personal surety bond and was released after entering his plea to three counts of violating the federal Endangered Species Act for knowingly and unlawfully taking the protected Key deer. There are only about 875 deer in the herd, they grow to about the size of a large dog and are found only in the Lower Keys.

Each count Younge’s charged with carries a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison.

Younge and Erik Damas Acosta, 18, of Miami Gardens, were arrested July 2 on Little Torch Key after a Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputy pulled them over for a traffic violation and found the deer in Damas Acosta’s four-door Hyundai Sonata, two in the back seat and one in the trunk. The endangered Key deer found in the trunk, a buck, had to be euthanized days later due to a broken leg.

Younge’s Port St. Lucie-based attorney Tracy Davis told the Keynoter in the weeks following the incident that Younge told her and police he was asleep the whole time Damas Acosta was capturing the deer. Davis said Younge was confused and upset when he found out what had happened.

“Tumani wishes he never would have come down here with the young man. He wants this whole Key West thing to be over,” Davis said Friday after the arraignment. “He has never had a problem or gotten into trouble.”

The case itself is assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez.

Damas Acosta and Younge were federally charged Aug. 9 in an information charging sheet signed by Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Watts-FitzGerald from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

The “information” means federal prosecutors charged them, not a grand jury. Younge, through Davis, and Damas Acosta, through his attorney Joseph Nascimento, requested a grand jury investigate the case.

Subsequent federal court dates have not been scheduled, according to the clerk’s office.

A pretrial conference for charges previously filed by the state also happened Friday in Key West. Davis said she would be asking for a continuance. Nascimento could not be reached for comment.

The men pleaded not guilty to the state counts on July 19 through private attorneys. Both are facing six third-degree felonies each through the state: Three counts for taking the deer and three counts for aggravated animal cruelty.

State third-degree felonies are punishable by five years in prison each though that would be unlikely in this case.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219

This article originally appeared on flkeysnews.com.