The Los Angeles City Dept. of Animal Regulation late Friday filed a formal request with the District Attorney's office asking that criminal complaints on 18 felony counts of cruelty to animals be brought against six animal trainers for allegedly abusing chimpanzees during the filming of "Project X."
The request followed a three-month investigation by the department into allegations of animal cruelty on the 20th Century Fox film which involved a young pilot's struggle to save chimpanzees from a deadly top-secret military project.
The animal-abuse issue was first raised last May by game show host and animal rights activist Bob Barker. Barker, who obtained affidavits from crew members and other animal trainers who claimed they witnessed the abuse, charged that some or all of the 15 chimpanzees used almost two years ago in the filming of "Project X" at Fox were beaten with blackjacks and were otherwise abused by certain trainers.
Barker's claims were hotly denied by Fox, "Project X" producers Walter Parkes and Lawrence Lasker, the trainers and several animal rights groups, including the American Humane Assn., which monitors the treatment of animals on movie sets.
"On the basis of what I read, there's enough information to warrant filing the charges," Robert Rush, general manager of the animal regulation unit, said Saturday about his department's request. He declined to discuss specific details about the investigation or name the trainers involved.
Animal regulation District Supervisor Kenneth Williams, who took the request to the district attorney's office Friday, called the investigation "the largest and most difficult we've ever done."
Williams explained that part of the difficulty came from the length of time that had passed since the alleged acts took place--in December 1985 and the early months of 1986, when the movie was filming on the Fox lot. Because the statute of limitations had lapsed for filing charges on any misdemeanor offenses, only felony violations were considered.
Deputy District Attorney Jim Ziegler confirmed the filing of the request and said he would meet with Williams and his investigating officers Wednesday after reviewing the case. No request for complaints against Fox and "Project X" producers Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parks was made. However, The Times obtained an interdepartmental memorandum indicating that supervisory procedures used by the American Humane Assn. (AHA) on the film may be scrutinized.
Shortly after Barker made his allegations public, the AHA issued a statement saying that its "in-depth investigation" into the "Project X" allegations revealed "not a single instance of abuse that can be substantiated."
However, according to last Friday's animal regulation memorandum "There was no-in-depth investigation conducted by AHA."
General Manager Rush confirmed the department's concern with the AHA's conduct on "Project X" saying, "We had an agreement with the organization that if they encountered cruelty to animals (on movie sets), we would be instantly notified. Well, I haven't received a complaint from them in 20 years."
AHA Director Carmelita Pope could not be reached for comment.
Hubert Wells, head animal trainer on the movie, denied the charge of abuse and said "we are going to fight it and win."
Producers Lasker and Parks described themselves as "shocked" when the two were reached Sunday. "We thought the investigation would show that all those charges were hearsay," Parks said.