Accusations Tigger threw punch fill airwaves as teen claims neck injuries

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Monday, January 8, 2007

A family has a video of what they claim to be "Tigger" punching their son. Visiting the Disney-MGM Studios on Saturday, Jerry Monaco Jr. of New Hampshire alleges that Tigger purposely punched him without provocation. The footage was caught on the family's video camera, and the Monacos and their attorney are demanding an apology from the actor.

The costumed character actor at the time was employee Michael J. Fedelem.

The contact between the actor's mitted hand and the teen's face is brief. The video shows the following sequence of events:

  • Monaco Jr.'s left arm is moving behind Tigger, while Tigger's right arm is on Monaco Jr's shoulders.
  • Tigger abruptly moves his right arm down and around, sweeping Monaco Jr.'s left arm off of his back, pinning Monaco Jr.'s arm to his body.
  • Tigger then starts rotating clockwise, wherein Tigger's left arm moves across his body. It appears that Tigger briefly pulls down on his chin, in what looks like a move to possibly prevent the head from flying off.
  • Monaco Jr. stumbles, in combination with his arm being pinned and Tigger's rotation.
  • Tigger's left hand appears to hit Monaco Jr.'s head or face.
  • Monaco Jr. appears to hit Tigger in the head area with his free right hand.

The footage is very brief. It shows little before or after the punch, a total of only four seconds.

Jean Erik Redrupp, General Manager of Park Operations, stated to Local 6 that "I just wanted to follow up with you and let you know that we have spoken to the cast member in question and have reacted very strongly toward him."

Monaco Sr. told the station that "The general manager apologized to me. Everybody will come up and apologize to me but Tigger. He won't be a man about it and get out of the costume and come out and apologize to my son. I didn't want VIP treatment. I didn't want an extra day at Disney. I didn't want any of that. I wanted him to apologize and that is the one thing that they won't do." In the statement, he did not clarify whom "everybody" was.

Both Disney and the Orange County Sheriff's Office launched investigations on Saturday. Fedelem has been suspended by the company until the investigation is complete. Disney commented in a statement to CBS News that: "We received the complaint alleging that a character struck a guest; guest and character altercation is not tolerated. The Orange County sheriff is launching an investigation and we are conducting our own investigation and we have suspended the cast member pending the outcome."

Spoken content icon This article features in a News Brief from Audio Wikinews:

Monaco Sr. took his son to the hospital the night after the altercation. Monaco Jr. claimed that he had neck pains. "I'm a little sore and most of the pain is gone because I have medicine," he told the CBS Early Show today.

In footage, Monaco has no visible bruising.

The videotape was in regular rotation on news stations on Sunday and Monday. As of 4:00 pm ET 8 January 2007, Google News listed over five hundred news outlets filing stories on the incident.

Pooh once subject of similar attention

A 1981 case tried Winnie the Pooh, a character from the same series of cartoons as Tigger, was viciously slapped. The incident, which happened three years prior, was alleged to have resulted in bruising, recurring headaches, and possible brain damage.

Costumed character actor Robert Hill was the first witness in the case. He testified that the costume severely restricted his vision and movement. He recalled that the girl was tugging at his costume from behind. Turning to see who it was, he accidentally struck her ear.

The Disney attorney reentered the courtroom in costume, with Hill in costume. Hill responded to questions while on the witness stand. Pooh was asked "What do you do at Disneyland?" Hill danced down the courtroom aisle, causing the audience to burst into laughter. The judge stated, "Have the record show that he's doing a two-step." The comical procedure demonstrated the arms on the elaborate costume were too low to the ground to slap the girl at her then height.

After 21 minutes, defendant Robert Hill was acquitted on all charges.

Similarly in 1976, a women filed a lawsuit claiming one of the Three Little Pigs ran up to her at the "It's a Small World" attraction, grabbing at and fondling her, it supposedly exclaimed "Mommy! Mommy!" As a result, she claimed to have gained 50 pounds, seeking $150,000 in damages for assault and battery, false imprisonment, and humiliation.

The plaintiff dropped charges after Disney's laywers presented her with a photo of the costume, which had only stubs, not operable arms.

Previous Tigger accused, acquitted

Another Tigger performer, Michael C. Chartrand, was prosecuted on criminal charges. A 13-year-old girl and her mother both claimed he fondled their breast while posing for a photo, while visiting the Magic Kingdom on 21 February 2004. Arrested in April, Chartrand was charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a child and simple battery. Twenty-four more complaints were logged with authorities in the following week, however each lacked sufficient evidence to press charges.

A plea bargain found him not guilty after Mr. Chartrand's attorney, Jeffrey Kaufman, donned a Tigger costume to demonstrate its limited visibility and maneuverability to the jurors. He was allowed to return to his job by August.

The same actor was later suspended after "shoving" a male and a female Kodak photographer in the chest as Goofy. His lawyer from the previous case felt this was just part of the act, and not unnormal. He also stated to his client that as a tall character actor at a Disney Park immediately following the court case, "he would be a walking bull's-eye" for such accusations.