Florida man accused of beating iguana to death denied 'stand your ground' defense

iguana on grass in Key Biscayne in 2013
Posted at 4:22 PM, Jun 03, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (WPTV) - A South Florida man accused of beating an iguana to death unsuccessfully sought to use Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law to dismiss the case.

PJ Patterson, 43, of Lake Worth Beach, was arrested last fallon a charge of animal cruelty.

According to a Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control report, Patterson was seen on surveillance video beating an iguana outside the Lake Worth Beach water utilities building in September.

ACC Officer Patrick Prentice wrote in the report that the iguana was still breathing when he arrived, but the iguana died on its way to be euthanized.

Staff veterinarian Dr. Virginia Sayre performed a necropsy on the iguana and determined it had a lacerated liver, fractured pelvis, blood in its mouth and abdomen and a lacerated tongue.

According to the report, the video showed Patterson dragging the iguana by its tail, tormenting and stepping on it. After the iguana appeared to bite Patterson, he then kicked and threw it, even as the animal tried to hide underneath a car.

Sayre wrote in her report that the fatal injuries were "painful and terrifying."

Assistant public defender Frank Vasconcelos, who represents Patterson, filed a motion last month seeking to dismiss the animal cruelty charge under Florida's "stand your ground" law, claiming that his client was "viciously attacked by a wild iguana" while sitting at a public park.

"He was enjoying the afternoon in the company of friends when he saw the iguana crossing the street," Vasconcelos wrote. "In fear that the iguana would get run over by the passing vehicles, Patterson went after the iguana and brought it back to safety. He then gently set the iguana on the floor and let it be."

Vasconcelos claimed that others began to gather around the iguana, causing it to become "visibly agitated."

"Patterson tried to calm it down," he continued. "Patterson wanted to remove the iguana from the crowd to a more empty space. At this point, the iguana leaned forward with its mouth wide open and showing its sharp teeth, in a threatening manner, and attempted to bite Patterson."

Vasconcelos said his client tried to distract the iguana so it wouldn't attack others and, while trying to remove the animal, it bit him on his arm.

"Bleeding from one arm, Patterson kicked the iguana as far as he could," Vasconcelos wrote. "An altercation between … Patterson and the wild beast took place."

Vasconcelos concluded that Patterson acted in self-defense and is therefore entitled to immunity from prosecution under the law.

But assistant state attorney Alexandra Dorman countered that the video shows truth -- that the iguana wasn't bothering anyone and only bit Patterson after he began to "taunt and harass the animal."

"At no time was the iguana posing any real threat to (Patterson)," Dorman wrote in the state's response.

Dorman went on to write that Patterson was later seen in the video "sitting with his friends and laughing off the whole situation."

"There is no valid legal argument that the defense could possibly have," Dorman concluded. "The entire incident is objectively captured on surveillance video. The video clearly depicts all events preceding the savage attack on the animal, the actual events of the attack and the events after the attack. In no way, shape or form was this self-defense."

Dorman added that the "only kernel of truth" to Patterson's story was that the iguana "eventually" bit him. She said the 32-minute video "speaks for itself as to what actually happened that day" and shows that Patterson "kicked this defenseless animal at least 17 times," causing it to die.

Palm Beach County Judge Jeffrey Gillen agreed with Dorman, dismissing the motion.

If convicted of the felony charge, Patterson could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison.

This story originally reported by Peter Burke on WPTV.com.