An Arizona Game and Fish Department employee has been put on administrative leave as a result of an internal department investigation into last year's capture and death of the jaguar Macho B, the department said Tuesday.
The department didn't name the employee in its press release because of the continuing state and federal investigations into the jaguar's capture and death and because of "Arizona personnel rules," said Tom Cadden, a department spokesman. For the same reasons, the department isn't providing specific details of the circumstances that led to the employee's leave, Cadden said.
He said the agency felt it was important to release information about the employee being placed on leave, but "what we have to say is limited."
"As the situation evolves, we intend to provide additional information," Cadden said.
He said he doesn't know how long the employee will be placed on leave. The employee will continue drawing pay, the press release said.
But the department has no legal right to withhold the employee's name or details of why the person was put on leave, said an attorney active in First Amendment issues in Arizona.
"There's no personnel exemption under Arizona law" allowing the state to withhold such information, said Phoenix attorney Dan Barr, president of the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, an advocacy group.
"Given that they just announced one employee is placed on administrative leave, they don't have much of a leg to stand on," Barr said. "They've issued a press release saying they've done this. The state doesn't get to pick and choose what details it provides. People need to know not only the name but why this person was put on leave."
The state's announcement came more than a year after the country's last known wild jaguar was first trapped in a desert canyon southwest of Tucson between Arivaca and the Arizona-Mexico border, then radio-collared and released six hours later. On March 2, 2009, 12 days after his initial capture, Macho B was recaptured and euthanized, after he slowed down dramatically in the wild and authorities diagnosed him with having unrecoverable kidney failure.
The agency's press release said, "The department took this action based on statements made by the employee during the course of the internal investigation."
The employee's statements "were related to the employee's actions taken several weeks after the capture, recapture and euthanization of Macho B," the press release said.
Since last April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been conducting a criminal investigation into the events surrounding Macho B's capture and death. The investigation is in the hands of the U.S. Attorney's Office, a federal criminal investigator said.
The investigation that led to this leave was a separate, internal probe by Arizona Game and Fish.
The investigations were triggered in part by allegations by Janay Brun, a former research technician for a non-profit jaguar detection group, that a biologist for the group, Emil McCain, ordered her to place female jaguar scat at the site where Macho B was eventually trapped - two weeks before that capture occurred. McCain of the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project has denied Brun's allegations.