ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The family of a St. Petersburg woman said they cannot understand why deputies arrested her, especially at her work. Ana Guiterriez admitted she didn't know that touching manatees in Florida is illegal.
Authorities said they had no choice but to charge her.
Family members of Guiteriez said the 53-year-old is so distraught and embarrassed, she doesn't want to come home. This weekend during her shift as a cleaner at a St. Petersburg Sears, a Pinellas County patrol deputy walked in to arrest her. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said it was by the book.
"We get thousands of warrants. This deputy was doing his job," said Sheriff Gualtieri.
Upset over seeing her riding a manatee, someone contacted the Sheriff's office and a photo was released to the media.
But loved ones of Guiterriez, who only speak Spanish, said Guiterriez turned herself in to authorities back in October. They question if authorities went too far since it's only a misdemeanor.
"The deputy went into the store's Human Resources officer. He did not handcuff her in the store. He walked her outside to confirm her identity and then arrested her. He was very low key," said Gualtieri.
Guiterriez family said they are from Cuba. She recently moved here and is used to an environment of close contact with animals. She had no idea she was breaking the law.
Still, Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Barry Martin says that is no excuse. "Unfortunately, ignorance is no excuse to break the law," said Martin.
Both Guaultieri and Martin said they have never seen anyone prosecuted under the rarely-used law, "The Florida Manatee Sancutary Act." But they say it's because it's difficult to catch the culprits. The photos make a clear-cut case.
"it's unusual in the sense, not that this happened, because it does occur. But because there are pictures of it. Often times we are called out, but by the time we get there, the person is gone. I can say since I have been here, we have not had a case like this," said Gualtieri.
Martin agreed, "It is very rare that we actually have pictures of someone breaking this law. But, it is nice to see the public taking such an active interest in protecting our manatees," said Martin.