(HOUSTON) — As the search continued Tuesday for a Bengal tiger that sparked panic in a Houston residential neighborhood, a lawyer for the man arrested in connection with the incident denied that his client is the big cat’s owner and accused police of playing a cat-and-mouse game that has jeopardized his agreement to help locate the animal.
Victor Hugo Cuevas, 28, was taken into custody Monday night on a felony charge of evading police, who alleged he fled in a vehicle with the tiger after it wandered out of his Houston home on Sunday evening and prompted a flood of 911 calls from concerned residents, including an off-duty law enforcement officer who pulled a gun on the tiger.
Cuevas’ attorney, Michael Elliott, told ABC News on Tuesday that Cuevas was about to voluntarily surrender and had agreed to help direct police to the tiger and its real owner but that he was betrayed at the last minute and arrested at his mother’s home in Fort Bend County southeast of Houston.
“We made arrangements to surrender at 8:15 (p.m.) and we were working on everything together,” Elliott said. “We were assisting them by giving them some information about the owner and how we could potentially locate the owner and correspondingly the tiger.”
“Then, behind my back, they just went out and arrested my client 15 minutes before he was to leave the house to go turn himself in,” Elliott said.
Elliott said he plans to visit Cuevas later Tuesday at the Fort Bend County Jail, where he is being held without bail, and decide whether they are still interested in helping police locate the tiger.
“We’re still interested in helping, but when somebody just flat lies to you and plays games, it makes you question whether they’re reliable to even work with,” Elliott said.
Houston Police Department officials have yet to respond to ABC News’ request for comment about Elliott’s allegations of a double cross.
“The tiger does not belong to Mr. Cuevas. It absolutely does not,” Elliott said.
During a news conference on Monday, Houston Police Commander Ron Borza said Cuevas was previously arrested in July 2020 and charged with murder stemming from a 2017 fatal shooting outside a sushi restaurant in Fort Bend County, Texas. He said Cuevas was free on $250,000 bail.
Neighbors of Cuevas began calling 911 about 8 p.m. Sunday, reporting that a Bengal tiger wearing a collar was freely roaming around their neighborhood.
An off-duty Waller County, Texas, sheriff’s deputy responded to the scene after getting an alert on a Nextdoor app.
Video taken by a witness showed a man exiting a house on Ivy Wall Drive and pleading with the deputy not to shoot the tiger. The footage then showed the man grabbing the tiger by its collar and escorting it back into the home. Elliott confirmed the man was Cuevas.
Borza alleged that Cuevas put the tiger in his Jeep Cherokee and drove off as Houston police officers were arriving at the scene. He said a brief pursuit ensued, but Cuevas managed to get away.
Prior to his arrest, Cuevas was charged with felony evading police.
Elliott declined to say why the tiger was at Cuevas’ home if he is not the owner of the animal.
“You saw the video where he’s familiar with the tiger and knows how to handle a tiger but that doesn’t mean the tiger is his,” Elliott said. “It doesn’t mean that he’s the one who took the tiger away from the house. And it doesn’t mean that he knows anything now, except for who the individual is who has the tiger and or the whereabouts of the tiger.”
He cited video showing at least one other person standing in the doorway of Cuevas’ home at the time of the incident.
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