Tuesday, January 30 2001

Suspected trapper skips date in court

Judge orders the arrest of James Schmerker Jr. of Lafayette, co-owner of a pest control company


By Andy Jokelson
Times Staff Writer

WALNUT CREEK -- A judge on Monday ordered the arrest of a Layafette pest control company owner accused of trapping animals in violation of his probation.

James Schmerker Jr., 37, did not come to Contra Costa Superior Court to answer the allegations.

Schmerker "has continued the trapping of animals without a license" since Judge Bruce Van Voorhis put him on probation last year, the Probation Office reported.

Schmerker's lawyer, Roni Rotholz, told Van Voorhis that Schmerker had said he might have problems getting transportation to court. Van Voorhis decided to wait and see if Schmerker would show up.

After more than an hour, Van Voorhis revoked Schmerker's probation and ordered the Sheriff's office to look for him.

Van Voorhis in November sentenced Schmerker to 90 days in jail and three years' probation for conducting pest control without a license. Schmerker had subsequently remained free, except for 10 days in jail, and lost bids for electronic home detention. He is a co-owner of Animal Damage Control.

The county Animal Services Dcpartment reported that its representative and Lafayette police found a recently dead raccoon inside Schmerker's garage Jan. 5, along with numerous types of traps.

In a refrigerator-freezer outside the garage, authorities found decomposing raccoon bodies, the report says. The dead raccoons "indicated that Schmerker continues to operate his business without proper licensing as required by state law and as required by his misdemeanor court probation," the report says.

The officers also found five long guns, a handgun, numerous loaded ammunition magazines for rifles, and several hundred rounds of handgun ammunition, the report says.

Lafayette police officer Glen Anderson reported that Schmerker, who lives on Vals Lane, told him Dec. 18 that he was an exterminator specializing in animals and that his license "is currently expired for his employment, but he had just filed for a renewal."

Anderson said he saw in Schmerker's garage "a live raccoon in a trapdoor steel-boxed cage," and about 10 dead raccoons in a pile, including three or four that were in steel snap traps. The raccoons appeared to have died within a few weeks of Anderson's visit, the report says.

The officer said he found 10 to 15 raccoon bodies in a refrigerator-freezer. His report quotes Schmerker as saying he had "frozen them or placed in them into the fridge because he could not constantly go to the dumps to dispose of the raccoon bodies."

Anderson wrote that he had gone to the home after a report that Schmerker had taken a caged raccoon from his driveway.

Last month, Danville and Lafayette families sued neighbors and Schmerker over what they called a body-crushing trap that killed a pair of pet cats in December 1999. The pets' deaths helped inspire a county-wide effort to ban such traps in residential areas.

Schmerker used a Conibear trap, with a spring-loaded bar intended to crush an animal when it steps on a trigger. A state law bans such traps, but a loophole allows animal control businesses to use them for nuisance control or property protection.

Last month, the Pinole City County became the first in the Bay Area to ban Conibear and neck snare traps, beginning in late March.