A Columbus man charged with trespassing after he posted a video of himself climbing a barrier at the Columbus Zoo and petting two cougars pleaded “no contest” in Delaware Municipal Court on Wednesday and was sentenced to two days in jail and fined.
Joshua Newell, 35, then held a light-hearted and impromptu press conference after his court appearance.
Newell said he didn’t want the attention that has come after he posted an online video of himself climbing over a barrier at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell and petting two cougars.
In court, Newell solemnly told Delaware Municipal Court officials that he did something wrong and the attention has turned his life around.
Magistrate Kevin Pelanda ordered Newell to pay fines and court costs in the amount of $354 and sentenced him to four days in jail, with two days suspended. Newell must report to the Delaware County Jail on Aug. 24 and pay his fine by Oct. 6.
City Prosecutor Mark Corroto said Newell and his friends like to pull pranks and practical jokes.
Newell defended himself and said he simply thought it would be a “cool” video to get with his camera. He added that he hopes no one else tries to have a similar encounter with the zoo’s cougars.
Newell said he hoped the zoo would drop the charges and allow him to make a donation or do unpaid work to make up for touching the cougars.
However, when Newell exited the courthouse to speak to news reporters, his demeanor and clothes had changed.
Newell and a friend, Thomas Hall, wore pink shirts with “Cougar Love” and “Make a wild thing purr” on the front of the shirts. Newell had worn a black shirt while in the courtroom.
Newell answered questions from reporters — holding the same GoPro camera he had used at the zoo — and said he didn’t make the video to get attention.
Newell said that when he posted the video of him petting the cougars on YouTube, it was viewed by just his friends. But when the Columbus Zoo pressed charges, the number of views dramatically increased.
“I’m not doing this for the attention,” Newell said. “But I’m trying to embrace it.”
Newell said he has done several interviews since the charges were filed.
“It’s changed my life with the media,” Newell said.
Newell, who reportedly works as a bartender in Columbus, added that he isn’t sure if he will still have a job as the result of the charges, but said the exposure might open up more opportunities for him.
Newell and Hall said they weren’t sure what the future held for “the cougar whisperer” — as Newell called himself — but added they might sell the T-shirts and donate the money to the Columbus Zoo.
The video — titled “cougar” — had more than 300,000 views on YouTube Wednesday afternoon.
After zoo officials saw the video, originally posted July 21, they contacted the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office and charged Newell with criminal trespass.
A spokeswoman from the Columbus Zoo said its safety standards will not be changed as the result of the incident.