The U.S. government says a Pocatello area boy and his family are to blame for any injuries he received after he was doused with cyanide by a predator-killing device that a federal worker mistakenly placed near the family’s home.
Any injuries were caused by the negligence of the parents and child, the U.S. Department of Justice said in documents filed this week in U.S. District Court. The Justice Department also asked for the family’s lawsuit against the U.S. government over the incident to be dismissed.
Mark and Theresa Mansfield, who live on Buckskin Road just outside of Pocatello, filed the lawsuit in June seeking more than $75,000 in damages and more than $75,000 for pain and suffering after their son Canyon accidentally detonated the device, commonly referred to as an M-44 or “cyanide bomb.” The device had mistakenly been placed near their home by the U.S. Division of Wildlife Services. The blast seriously injured Canyon and killed his Labrador retriever.
Theresa Mansfield told the Journal on Wednesday that the state of Idaho investigated the cyanide bomb incident, found Wildlife Services to be at fault, and levied a $6,000 fine against the agency.
“If Wildlife Services had to pay a $6,000 fine to the state of Idaho, how are they not liable for what they did to my family?” Theresa Mansfield said. “How are they not responsible for killing my dog, injuring my son and all the heartache and suffering that was a repercussion of their direct actions?”
Mark and Theresa Mansfield said their son Canyon, age 14 at the time, was playing with his dog in March 2017 when the boy triggered the device that Wildlife Services had placed to kill coyotes. The dog died and Canyon still has headaches from the poison, the Mansfields’ lawsuit states.
In its response to the lawsuit, the government “expressly denied” any “alleged negligence by defendant or its agencies or employees.”
The Bannock County Sheriff’s Office responded to the cyanide bomb incident and provided a description of what happened that mirrors the Mansfields’ account. The Justice Department, however, said it cannot trust the account of what happened that was provided by the local law enforcement officers.
”Defendant lacks sufficient knowledge to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations concerning the activities and observations of the local law enforcement and therefore denies the same,” the Justice Department said in its response to the lawsuit.
The cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, are embedded in the ground and look like lawn sprinklers but spray cyanide when they are set off. They are meant to protect livestock from predators such as coyotes, wolves, bears and mountain lions, but sometimes the devices kill pets and injure people.
The devices drew increased scrutiny after The Associated Press reported that Canyon was injured months after the government decided to stop using the devices on federal lands in Idaho.
The Mansfields’ lawsuit contends that a Wildlife Services worker acknowledged to local law enforcement officials that he placed the device in error on federal land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management near the Mansfields’ home. The court document filed by the Justice Department does not acknowledge such an error.
The Justice Department responded to an emailed inquiry from The Associated Press on Wednesday by asking for an outline of questions but didn’t respond to those questions after they were provided.
The Justice Department said in court documents that the “defendant admits that two M-44 devices placed by (a federal) employee were discharged in the incident involving (Canyon) and his dog.”
But the Mansfields’ lawsuit mentions only one M-44 detonating, and law enforcement officers who responded last year didn’t mention additional devices discharging.
The reason for the discrepancy is not clear. The Justice Department didn’t respond to that question.
The Mansfields’ lawsuit describes Canyon encountering the M-44 device and saying he thought it looked like a sprinkler head.
”When he reached down and touched the pipe, it exploded with a loud bang, knocking (Canyon) to the ground and spewing an orange powdery substance,” the family’s lawsuit says.
The Justice Department throughout its response disputes that there was an explosion, noting that M-44s are spring-activated and contain no explosive material. The department also takes issue with the use of the term “cyanide bomb” to describe the devices.
In a separate but related lawsuit by environmental and animal welfare groups, U.S. officials in March agreed to complete a study on how two predator-killing poisons could be affecting federally protected species.
A settlement requires Wildlife Services to complete consultations with the Environmental Protection Agency by the end of 2021 on the poisons that federal workers use to protect livestock on rural lands. One of the poisons is the cyanide used in M-44s.
Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, which is involved in the settlement and ultimately hopes to get M-44s banned entirely, said the federal government’s response to the Mansfield lawsuit was disappointing.
”Rather than apologize for having a poisonous device on public lands that injured a young boy and killed his dog, the government instead is using a tactic to blame the boy,” she said.