August 15, 2012 in City

South Hill seizure nets pot, alligator, piranhas

Officials tipped off by Craigslist post seeking trades
By The Spokesman-Review
 

This American alligator was confiscated under the search warrant served Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

Piranhas offered for trade on Craigslist led state fish and game agents to seize several of the exotic, human-eating fish from an apartment on Spokane’s lower South Hill.

The rare find took another surprising twist when agents also found a small alligator in Christopher Ryan Harper’s apartment at 1206 W. 6th Ave. on Friday, as well as a suspected marijuana-selling operation, police say.

The alligator is being cared for at SpokAnimal; the piranhas were killed and taken as evidence, said Madonna Luers, spokeswoman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Luers said she couldn’t confirm the number of piranhas seized. Police said 20, but Harper said he had only six.

Harper, 31, who has not been arrested, told The Spokesman-Review Tuesday he bought the piranhas in Montana and knows it’s illegal to sell them in Washington.

But he said he believed it was legal to posses them at the apartment he rents with his wife, Aime C. Harper, 22, and pointed to the fact that local pet stores have piranhas on display but not for sale.

“I definitely wasn’t selling them,” Harper said. “I was trading them because I’m trying to move, and I didn’t want to bring them with me and I didn’t want to kill them.”

Harper’s Craigslist advertisement remained online Tuesday afternoon. In it, Harper describes the fish as red-bellied piranhas that “are very dangerous if not properly cared for and handled!”

“Yes they could kill you, and yes they just might take a finger off! If you feed them enough they are wonderful pets and won’t harm you or the other fish in the tank,” Harper wrote.

Harper said he paid between $100 and $250 for eight piranhas ranging from 4 to 10 inches long.

He traded at least one.

“That’s how I got that alligator,” Harper said. Harper said a large boa constrictor he owns was not taken by authorities.

Though state game agents rarely encounter the animals, state law prohibits the possession of piranhas and exotic alligators.

“They’re both exotic, and non-native,” Luers said. “If they’re released into the wild they can be detrimental to native wildlife.”

Spokane police drug detectives accompanied two fish and game agents while searching the apartment Friday.

They reported that they smelled marijuana while there and saw jars of pot, a scale and packing materials after they accessed a locked bedroom. A detective also said he saw a text message indicating an upcoming marijuana sale when he seized Harper’s cellphone.

That led detectives to obtain another search warrant that allowed them to seize the marijuana and paraphernalia as evidence. They also seized $8,000, according to the warrant.

Harper has felony drug convictions. He also has two convictions for felony riot that stem from a fatal stabbing in the West Garland District in 2009. Those convictions prohibit him from possessing firearms, but Harper’s Craigslist ad said he’d accept guns in a trade for the piranhas.

Police said the investigation is ongoing.

Harper’s neighbor, Tony Divin, 21, said Tuesday that he’d seen the animals in Harper’s apartment many times. He described the piranhas as “pretty docile.”

“You wouldn’t know they were aggressive, killer piranhas unless you dove in there, I guess,” Divin said. But, he said, “they were pretty hearty fish. If there were 20 of them, they could definitely eat you.”

Neighbor Alexandra Rosen, 21, described the alligator as “just a little baby.”

“It made cute little croaking noises,” she said.

Harper had a large fish tank for the piranhas and a kid’s pool set up for the gator, including a waterfall and sun lamp, Divin said. He regularly fed the piranhas fish.

“In my opinion, he had everything set up legitimately and safe,” Divin said. “But you know, in this great big, free country of ours, I guess you can’t have fish that eat flesh.”


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