Julio Mendez, the criminal best known as the man who tried to climb into the Chaffee Zoo lion enclosure, let out a quiet howl Friday in celebration of his release from jail.
Judge David Gottlieb had just sentenced him to three years probation and ordered him to pay $300 in restitution fines in connection with his 2018 plea deal in a second-degree robbery case.
But, there was another catch to his release. Mendez can’t go in or near the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
That strict order from the judge came after Mendez, last September, climbed over a four-foot barrier fence with barb wire into a Chaffee Zoo enclosure that houses lionesses Zamaya and Kiki. One of the lionesses bit Mendez’s left big toe when he attempted to climb a second fence.
Officials weren’t sure which of the lionesses grabbed Mendez’s toe, but he was released once security officers arrived on scene; he had screamed for help. An ambulance took him away.
Lt. Mark Hudson said then that Mendez, 31, ran into the zoo when he was being chased by another man on Sept. 19 just before midnight. Mendez was cited for trespassing but wasn’t jailed that night.
Friday’s probation sentence from the robbery charge carried the condition that Mendez obey all laws and not set foot on or near the zoo grounds. The judge said Mendez is still allowed to entering adjacent Roeding Park.
Knowing he was leaving jail, Mendez let out a soft celebratory whoop, but was hushed by his public defender when she reminded him he could face prison if he violates his probation.
The zoo scare, which gained national attention, happened during Mendez’s conditional release from jail as he faced his robbery charge from summer 2018. He had been booked back into jail on a warrant after the lion bite and after he didn’t show to a court hearing, according to court records.