An animal rights group is upping the ante in its battle with SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS).
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on Thursday said it had filed suit against the city of Pasadena, California, and its police chief, accusing the city of failing to comply with the group's Public Records Act request.
Specifically, PETA is looking for records related to Paul McComb, a SeaWorld employee who PETA contends posed as an activist named Thomas Jones in order to infiltrate the group, which has long accused SeaWorld of mistreating killer whales, a claim the Orlando, Florida, theme park operator denies.
PETA claims McComb tried to "incite animal advocates to perform illegal acts," and evidently gave law enforcement advance notice of PETA's plans to sit down in front of a SeaWorld float during the 2014 Rose Parade. PETA says more than a dozen police officers and sheriff's deputies in riot gear showed up to escort the SeaWorld float.
McComb was the only one of 16 adult protesters released with no charges after their arrests, PETA claims.
"We wonder if the Pasadena Police Department is covering up the extent to which it has been used by this particular SeaWorld spy," PETA's general counsel, Jeffrey Kerr, said in a statement.
William Boyer, Pasadena's public information officer, said he was not aware of PETA requesting information from the city.
SeaWorld initially responded to PETA's claim of spying by one of its workers by saying it would not discuss "security operations." It also noted, "this is a responsibility that we take very seriously, especially as animal rights groups have become increasingly extreme in their rhetoric and tactics."
On Wednesday, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby in a statement called PETA allegations "very concerning," while adding the employee in question had been put on paid leave pending a probe conducted by a law firm hired by SeaWorld.
A spokeswoman for SeaWorld said the company would not elaborate further.
PETA also expanded its allegations against the company, saying it believes SeaWorld's efforts went further than the behavior of one employee.
"PETA is currently looking at two more men who we believe were SeaWorld agents hired to infiltrate PETA as 'volunteers,' and expects the list to grow," Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, said in a statement.
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