Tiger King breezes over one of the weirdest parts of the Joe Exotic story: Joe Exotic was a cop.
Joe Exotic, who is back in the news thanks to countless new Tiger King projects that attempt to more fully explain his origins, was born Joe Schreibvogel before he became Joseph Maldonado-Passage. In an excellent profile last year, Texas Monthly noted that when he graduated high school near Dallas in 1982, he became a police officer in nearby Eastvale.
“At age nineteen, he was promoted to chief of police,” Texas Monthly reported. “It was a small department. Only a few officers worked under him, and serious crimes were rare.”
No, no one called him Chief Exotic at the time. He was still Joe Schreibvogel then.
The irony of Joe Exotic/Schreibvogel/Maldonado-Passage’s law enforcement past is obvious to anyone who has watched the extremely addictive Tiger King: The docuseries is focused on the feud between Exotic, who ran a big-cat park in Oklahoma, and Carole Baskin, who continues to run a big-cat operation in Florida.
The Netflix docuseries quickly discloses that Joe Exotic is now behind bars. For those who haven’t yet seen Tiger King on Netflix, please skip the next paragraph ahead to avoid any spoilers.
Joe Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in prison in January after a federal jury convicted him of two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records, and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act. He was accused of putting out a hit on Baskin. Exotic argues, however, that he was framed for the killing.
In an interview posted by Netflix post-Tiger King, Exotic said that his time in captivity has made him “ashamed of myself” for keeping animals in cages.
He also volunteered: “I’m done with the Carole Baskin saga. It’s now time to turn the tables and Joe get out of jail a free man and exonerated from all these charges.”
Joe Exotic was interviewed from prison on March 22.
Here's what he told us pic.twitter.com/ueqTeWfKxh
— Netflix (@netflix) April 3, 2020
Anyone who’s seen Tiger King knows that Exotic’s stint in law-enforcement was just the beginning of a fascinating but often-tragic life.
When Joe’s father learned he was gay, he made Joe shake his hand and promise not to come to his funeral. Once, driving in his police cruiser, Joe decided he wanted to die. He careened into a barrier, and needed months of physical therapy that left him with the limp apparent throughout Tiger King. But his recuperation also introduced him to exotic animals: A neighbor who worked at an animal park brought Joe baby lions and monkeys to bottle feed during his recovery.
Then came another tragedy: His brother, Garold, was killed by a drunk driver in 1997. With the help of $140,000 in money that his family received in a lawsuit over Garold’s death, Joe Exotic opened his exotic animal park near Oklahoma City. As Tiger King recounts, Joe Exotic hoped the park would be a tribute to Garold’s memory.
Tiger King catalogues the emotional and physical carnage that followed, from Joe Exotic’s attempt at reality TV stardom to his rivalry with Baskin to his multiple marriages and complicated business relationships.
It’s the last kind of life you would imagine for a one-time teenage chief of police, but that’s the twisted wonder of Tiger King.
You can read the full Texas Monthly profile here and stream Tiger King on Netflix.