Officials review assessment of animal cruelty cases

By Ed Brock

Two recent cases of dogs found starving or dead of starvation in the back yards of Clayton County residents has led prosecutors and law enforcement to review the way they assess animal cruelty cases.

Clayton County Solicitor General Keith Martin, the county's Animal Control Capt. Toni Tidwell and others met Monday to discuss how to prosecute those two cases, both of which occurred in late May, and similar cases in the future.

"What we want to make sure we do is make an assessment up front on whether a case should be a misdemeanor or a county ordinance violation," Martin said.

In one case on May 25 Terrence Parks of Timberlake Court in Riverdale was charged with misdemeanor cruelty to animals and a violation of the county ordinance requiring that animals have proper food and shelter after three dogs, one of which was dead, were found in her back yard. Parks told police the dogs belonged to her minor son and, because she is afraid of dogs, she had nothing to do with them.

"One of them was in really bad shape," Tidwell said. "(The veterinarian treating that dog) called us today and told us we could pick her up."

The other case occurred on May 27 and Amelia C. Roguemore, 47, of Greenwood Drive in Jonesboro was also cited under the ordinance and charged with cruelty to animals after two dead dogs were found in her back yard. The dogs appeared to have died recently and suffered from malnutrition, according to a Clayton County police report. Roguemore also said the dogs belonged to her son and she thought he had taken them with him when she kicked him out of the house three weeks before.

Previously it was the general rule that animal control officers would cite animal abuse suspects for violating the county ordinance, Martin said, while police officers would charge them with misdemeanor offenses.

Violations of the county ordinance are prosecuted in Clayton County Magistrate Court and the misdemeanor cases are prosecuted by Martin's office in State Court.

More than likely in the future animal control officers will give some legal notice to violators that they are seeking to have them charged with a misdemeanor, Martin said, and misdemeanor charges will be sought in all but the "most benign" cases.

Animal rights activists like Robin Rawls, vice president of the Clayton County Humane Society, want to see those kind of changes.

"I would like to see them all sent to State or Superior Court," Rawls said. "And if that was to happen I'd like to see assurances from the prosecutors that they would take these cases seriously."

The misdemeanor charge allows for stiffer penalties, Rawls said. Animal rights laws are not adequately or uniformly applied, Rawls said, particularly the felony animal cruelty law that was passed in 2000.

"The animal rights community is not at all satisfied with the law we got in 2000," Rawls said. "There are so many holes, it's hard to prosecute anybody."

That law, Section 16-12-4 of the Georgia Code, states in part "a person commits the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals when he or she knowingly and maliciously causes death or physical harm to an animal?"

It's in the details of the definition where cases like Parks' and Roguemore's must be prosecuted as misdemeanors only, Tidwell said.

"The dog died of starvation (in Parks' case) n they didn't feed it," Tidwell said. "But it's not a felony because we can't prove malice."

Animal cruelty cases should be given the same consideration as cruelty to children cases, Rawls said.

"They're just as dependent as children," Rawls said. "A living creature is a living creature, whether they're a child or an animal."

Martin said he agrees with Rawls but said he is still working on getting legislation to improve his ability to prosecute cruelty to children cases as well.

Another goal of his office is to find a way to prohibit the raising of animals for dog fighting, Martin said. On July 23 members of his office will go for training on recognizing the signs of such training, such as treadmills, ropes hanging from trees and forcing the dog to pull heavy blocks.

Tidwell said she didn't know the names of the two dogs taken from Parks, but Animal Control Officer Gina Caufman said they've decided to call the one that had been in the worst condition, a light-brown American Pit Bull mix, by the name of "Lady."

"We just started calling her that today," Caufman said.