A Maryland man was found guilty this week by a Florida judge of jumping on top of a federally protected pelican last month in the Florida Keys.
Anne Arundel County resident William Hunter Hardesty, 31, was found guilty on two counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and two counts of cruelty to animals, according to court records for Monroe County, Fla.
Hardesty was remorseful for his actions and referred to himself as a “friggin’ douche” for his behavior, his attorney Jonathan S. Schwartz said Friday.
Hardesty posted in early March a video of the incident with the pelican to his Facebook profile, which later went viral and elicited outrage from many people on the internet. In the footage, Hardesty appears to lean over a harbor’s edge holding out something in his hand. The pelican floats closer, and Hardesty appears to jump into the water on top of the pelican, causing both to dunk beneath the water’s surface.
When the two re-emerge, Hardesty appears to grasp the bird with two hands while others not pictured on camera can be heard laughing. The pelican snaps its beak across the man’s face, causing him to release the bird.
The bird in the video is a brown pelican, a species protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Florida law. People are prohibited from feeding or molesting the bird, Florida Wildlife Commission spokesman Officer Bobby Dube said previously.
Hardesty was sentenced to 90 days in jail, fined $1,000 and given one year of probation, the latter of which his attorney said can be carried out in Maryland. He is scheduled to be released by the end of May.
The Maryland man had tremendous regrets over his actions toward the pelican, and entered an open plea to the judge in hopes of moving on quickly from the incident, Schwartz said.
Hardesty’s family hails from West Virginia and has a strong culture of hunting and outdoorsmanship, according to his attorney. The incident with the pelican, as well as his social media posts after the video went viral, were bad mistakes, Schwartz said.
Before Hardesty was formally charged in Florida, he continued to post about the pelican incident on social media, including a link to a GoFundMe campaign to raise $20,000 for himself. The campaign pledged to donate half of the funds to the Florida Keys wild bird rehabilitation center, but did not specify what the remaining $10,000 would be used for.
On March 10, he posted “I’m so hungry I could eat a pelican!!” on Facebook. And several days later he wrote “Thinking about gettin a pillican tattoo today,” followed by two smiling face emojis with horns.
Florida prosecutors argued in court that Hardesty’s Facebook comments and video were evidence of his lack of remorse and respect for the nature of the law, Monroe County Assistant State Attorney Ryan Maher said in an email Friday.
Hardesty’s comments were childish, Schwartz said, adding that his client lacked a certain amount of emotional education.
However, Schwartz said Hardesty and his family received unwarranted death threats after the video was posted.
“He made some very bad mistakes, there's no question about that,” Schwartz said when asked about the social media backlash. “But he thinks it got completely out of control, especially given that he did not injure the bird. He was just making fun of the people who were responding.”