San Diego Zoo

Dad Accused of Bringing Toddler Into Elephant Habitat Pleads Not Guilty to Child Endangerment

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A man who allegedly carried his 2-year-old daughter into the San Diego Zoo's elephant habitat pleaded not guilty to charges of child endangerment and unlawfully entering a zoo enclosure Thursday.

Jose Manuel Navarrete, 25, is accused of entering the enclosure about 4:20 p.m. March 19 by climbing through multiple barriers while holding his daughter. The habitat is home to Asian and African elephants, according to a zoo spokesman.

A father took his toddler into an elephant habitat at the San Diego Zoo. NBC 7's Lauren Coronado spoke to a man who watched it all unfold.

Once inside, an elephant noticed the intruders and started moving toward them. As he was trying to climb back out, the father dropped the girl, but picked her up and escaped the enclosure as the elephant was trotting toward them, police said.

Navarrete was arrested and the child, who was uninjured, went home with her mother, police said. Zoo officials said the elephants in the enclosure were also unharmed.

Navarrete faces more than six years in custody if convicted of the felony child endangerment and misdemeanor trespassing counts, according to prosecutors.

He remains out of custody on $100,000 bail and was ordered to have no negative contact with the child. He was also ordered to stay at least 100 yards away from the zoo and comply with any Child Welfare Services requirements and/or family court orders.

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