The man who was taken into custody after fleeing a neighbourhood of West Houston with a tiger has posted bond and left jail, but the whereabouts of the big cat remain unknown.
Victor Cuevas was set free at around 2.40pm on Wednesday. He was held on a $50,000 bond for an unrelated warrant in connection to a 2017 murder charge originating from an incident near his family home in Richmond, southwest of Houston, KTRK reported.
In the case of the tiger, Mr Cuevas has been charged with evading arrest. In multiple videos posted of the animal, Mr Cuevas can be seen moving the tiger back into his house. Houston Police say he later put the animal into a white truck and took off, with the police losing him after a short pursuit.
Following his arrest, Mr Cuevas’s lawyer Michael Elliott insists that his client is not the owner of the big cat. “I want help finding India,” Mr Elliott said on Tuesday, referring to the male tiger.
He added that they “are both very anxious and looking forward to doing everything we can do to find” the animal.
“[The police] saw my client go out in the yard and retrieve the tiger and they’ve assumed he’s done a whole lot of different things that he necessarily has not done and not guilty of, just like they assumed that the tiger is his. It of course is not,” Mr Elliott told reporters during a press conference.
The attorney claims that the owner of the nine-month-old tiger is a man nicknamed “D” who has texted “death threats” to Mr Cuevas.
Mr Elliott claimed that it’s unlikely that police would have lost Mr Cuevas after giving chase.
“This is Houston, Harris County,” the lawyer said. “They have police in every corner, Motorola radios, Fox [helicopter] in the air. How often do you see people running in an SUV that doesn’t get caught? Something doesn't match up here.”
Mr Cuevas is not charged with anything specifically relating to “India”. While it’s legal to own a tiger in the state of Texas, it’s illegal to do so with the city limits of Houston.
Mr Cuevas’s Instagram feeds earlier depict him snuggling a baby bear, two monkeys, and a tiger. His lawyer said that just because a tiger appeared on his social media, it doesn’t mean he owns one.
Houston Police called Mr Elliott’s version of events “conflicting” but they didn't go further in their comments, KTRK reported.
According to the Fort Bend County Sheriffs Office, Mr Cuevas was booked into the Fort Bend County Jail four other times for violating his bond stemming from the 2017 murder charge.
Wesley Wittig, the executive assistant for the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office, told KPRC: “He is entitled to bond, that’s why he was given one and he’s entitled to make it.”
But Mr Wittig also told the local TV station that his office filed a motion on Tuesday to revoke Mr Cuevas's bond.
“Our office filed a motion to revoke his bond on our case, the murder case, and the judge has not granted that motion yet, but instead, set it for a hearing on Friday,” he said.
Houston resident Jose Ramos saw the tiger outside his home on Sunday. “I had to pinch myself,” he told CNN. “Was this real?” He went outside to get a better look. “It seemed a bit skittish. But he was making full eye contact with me,” he added.
An off-duty officer arrived at the scene after seeing images of the tiger on the neighbourhood email forum, posted by Mr Ramos. The officer had his weapon aimed at the tiger when Mr Cuevas came out of his house, asking the officer to not harm the animal. Mr Ramos said he “sounded very stressed out, very anguished by the mere fact that the deputy was aiming at the tiger and ready to shoot him”.