I-Team: Owner Threw Hot Water On Chimp's Face - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Owner Threw Hot Water On Chimp's Face

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LAS VEGAS -- Animal welfare groups across the country are watching to see whether Clark County commissioners approve a use permit Wednesday for a controversial animal trainer.

James "Mike" Casey owns three chimpanzees and a monkey and uses them in television commercials and children's parties. But Casey's history with exotic animals has led animal control officials to recommend a denial, especially on the heels of dramatic episodes involving chimps just a few months ago.

Southern Nevadans are all too familiar with the issues involved with keeping exotic animals as backyard pets. The escape of chimps CJ and Buddy back in July ended tragically when police had to shoot and kill Buddy in the street.

Casey has a much worse record of caring for his animals than in that earlier case. In preparation for Wednesday's county commission meeting, a comprehensive history of Casey and his animals has been compiled by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society -- and it's not pretty.

The motorcyclists who posed for photos with a young chimpanzee at the Laughlin River Run event had no idea what kind of punishment awaited the chimp once no one was looking.

Mark Winer, a professional photographer, has known chimp owner Casey for more than a decade. They not only worked together on photo shoots, but for nearly 10 months Casey and his chimps lived at Winer's home. The chimps were kept in cages inside a darkened, brutally hot recreational vehicle and were rarely allowed out. It's the same RV that has been home to the chimps for the past two years.

"He would absolutely hit them atop the head with his knuckles," Winer said. "(The RV) was horrible. I wouldn't stay in there. I wouldn't let my worst enemy stay in there."

It isn't just Winer's opinion. Inspectors for both the federal Agriculture Department and Clark County Animal Control have found numerous repeated violations in how Casey cares for his chimps -- or rather, how he doesn't. Crummy food, the lack of cleaning, an overwhelming stench from feces and urine inside a trailer with no air conditioning or running water. And when the chimps dare to act like chimps, Casey does not hesitate to use violence.

"He would pound on the cage, yell, take a stick and hit the cage or not feed them until they stop making noise," Winer said. "Mike has a very bad temper. He doesn't show that to the public."

Winer said he thinks it would be a mistake for the county to give a use permit to Casey to house his three chimps and a monkey, even though they have now been moved from the RV into a cage, because of the kind of person Casey is. Winer said Casey cares about the chimps only because they are his meal ticket.

Animal activists around the country are watching this case because of Casey's notorious reputation. One of the chimps he bred and sold ripped the face off a Connecticut woman in 2009, another escaped from his compound in Missouri and was shot and killed, similar to the death of Buddy in July. Another Casey chimp escaped and attacked a 2-year-old girl in his former neighborhood. One of his chimps was used in the movie "Speed Race" and reportedly bit a child actor. And if Casey's nose looks a bit funny, it's because one of his chimps bit it off. It had to be surgically rebuilt. Yet Casey has convinced at least some of his neighbors to support his use permit.

"They're mesmerizing," animal activist Linda Faso said. "People get sucked in. He's a car salesman and they get sucked in. He calls them his kids. All the right buzz words."

Animal groups in Las Vegas and across the country are hoping the county will draw a line in the sand and deny a use permit to house chimps in the neighborhood. Faso said Casey cares about his chimps only so long as they are young and cute and can earn him a paycheck. When chimps become older and harder to handle, they are either dumped or used as breeders. Casey's poor care for his chimps and occasional violence are clues that he should never get legal approval, Faso said, and government inspections back her up.

"They have found that he does hit them and hurt them and throws hot water on them and they live in a converted motor home a good share of the time," Faso said. "It's too small, too dirty, too dismal ... What kind of condition is that for any animal, let alone a chimp?"

Winer, who plans to testify at the county commission meeting, said he personally watched Casey throw hot water that had been boiled for tea into the face of his youngest chimp as punishment for making noise.

Casey refused to speak to 8 News NOW after the last public meeting and tried to block the station's camera. An investigation into alleged animal cruelty is ongoing.

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