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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

DA: Justice For Sugar Means Minor Charges Against N Catty Cop


When North Catasauqua police officer Leighton Pursell euthanized an injured domestic shorthair cat named Sugar on December 6, 2015, did he break the law? According to DA John Morganelli, the answer is yes. But after an extensive investigation, he announced on Monday that only summary charges are warranted, and that's only because Officer Pursell failed to first obtain two written certificates from reputable citizens confirming that that Sugar was injured beyond recovery. recovery. Pursell has been charged with the equivalent of a parking ticket. Morganelli cleared him of more serious charges, while lashing out at a "mob mentality" in which public was "unnecessarily enraged" by false information that made its way into social media and even included calls for murder charges.

An online petition at Change.org, signed by over 212,000 people, has called for more serious criminal charges, as well as Officer Pursell's "immediate termination."

According to the DA's investigation, which was conducted by Detective John Casciano, Officer Pursell responded to a radio dispatch of an "injured cat" in the backyard of Michael Leinert's home at 1112 American Street. Leinert noticed that the cat appeared to be injured in its hind quarter. When he approached the cat, it hissed at him. Upon his arrival, Officer Pursell observed signs of mange, saw an exaggerated limp and observed a blood trail leading to a grill area where the feline had moved. There were no reports of a missing cat, and it wore no collar. There were reports at the time of cats with rabies, including two cats in North Catasauqua. There are no facilities for stray cats, and the Borough police department's "use of force policy" specifically authorizes police to destroy an animal "as a humanitarian measure when the animal is seriously injured." Officer Pursell made a judgment call to humanely end the life of the cat with a single shot from his department-issued .38 caliber revolver, after which he placed the cat in a plastic bag for disposal.

Two days later, after owner Thomas Newhart retrieved Sugar's remains from the police department, he took the cat to Stanglein Veterinary Clinic in Northampton. Dr. Nathan Stanglein was unable to perform a full necropsy but was able to determine that there were no rib or pelvic fractures commonly found with a vehicle injury. Because there was no report of a human bite or scratch, he performed no rabies tests. He saw no evidence that the cat had been mauled by another animal, or that there was any bruising or trauma. Dr. Stanglein stated that he had treated Newhart's other pets, but not Sugar.

In deciding whether to file more serious charges of cruelty to animals, Morganelli found no evidence that Officer Pursell acted maliciously. He is a graduate of Northampton Community College, Lock Haven University, the Allentown Police Academy and serves in the National Guard. Past employers told investigators that Pursell was a reliable, honest and hard-working officer. But though Pursell may have felt that Sugar was seriously injured, Dr. Stanglein was unable to confirm that opinion. Moreover, the homeowner who first called police, Michael Leinert, thought that Sugar was not seriously injured, despite the blood and the limp.

Morganelli concluded that Officer Pursell should have made more of an effort to isolate the animal and obtain medical care instead of deciding on his own that the animal should be euthanized.

Morganelli added that Newhart, Sugar's owner, bears some of the responsibility for this tragedy. On three previous occasions, animals owned by Newhart had run off, including Sugar. Morganelli chastised Newhart for his failure to have a collar or other identifying information on Sugar. "His negligence created a situation which helped lead to a tragic event," said the DA.

He also rebuked Attorney Jenna Fliszar for a misleading letter claiming that there were no injuries to Sugar. "This information led thousands of people to form opinions based on false information," he observed.

Fliszar, who was at the announcement, dismissed the admonition that the cat should have been collared because it was an indoor cat.  She added that Officer Pursell should never have discharged his weapon without "getting all the facts."

A Facebook page named Justice For Sugar pledges, "[W]e will not give up. We will continue to seek Justice for Sugar."

Prominent criminal defense attorney Gary Asteak, who represents Officer Pursell, responded that the public outcry "really is motivated by 180,000 signatures on a Petition circulated by a lawyer that loves to sue cops for shooting animals. He added that "Cat Lives Matter" is a "HUGE movement."

Morganelli laments that the real problem is the increasing number of stray cats and dogs. A report commissioned by former NorCo Exec John Stoffa in 2013 determined that stray cats an outnumber stray dogs by as much as four to one, but there are no provisions to deal with sick, injured or stray cats.

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of crazy people out there. Cat lovers are at the top of the list.

Anonymous said...

For many years you rarely heard of many local police even unsecuring their sidearm. We have a new mentality now. John is a very good DA but he has always been a bit soft on the issue of police. He loves their support and tends to go out of his way to not charge them. A list of the guys jobs and training is meaningless, like the mother saying her boy was always "a good boy". Dog or cat it seems to be a thing now were police are quick to pull the gun and shoot the animal. Don't think you can charge the guy with anything major but even with the minor charges John was walking backwards the entire time he announced them.

Harvey said...

Free Max!

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous! the policeman did the right thing

Bernie O'Hare said...

12:21, I don't know where you get the idea that John is being too easy on the officer. There really is no evidence of malice on his part. And think about a police officer on patrol who sees a dog lying on the side of the road, hit by a car and in great. I believe most officers would humanely shoot the animal. It is the right thing to do. But under the law, an officer would be required to get two signed certificates from people agreeing that the dog or cat is beyond help. John charged bc the law requires him to charge. Perhaps this officer should have taken more time to find out what was going on. But he made a judgment call, and it may vey well have been the right decision.

Anonymous said...

John does tend to cut more slack to the police.

Anonymous said...

Much to do about nothing. John, investigate nazerath

Anonymous said...

Why isn't this "catowner" being charged for letting his cat run wild? When you can identify a cats owner and that cat is nor licensed or it has no other means of identification and you can prove that some idiot allowed that pet to run loose, than the pet owner should be fined and cruelty to animals charges should be brought against the owners. Cats kill millions of songbirds and other wildlife every year. They are destructive to neighbors flower beds and carry all kinds of diseases when let to roam the outdoors. Don't blame the cop. Blame the catowner for the cats demise.
Now I pray, please God, let them pick me for this jury.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

What happened to that $25,000? remember the article you wrote ? about the DCED spending $25,000 to see if we needed a new shelter what did that get skimmed to
http://lehighvalleyramblings.blogspot.com/2013/09/norco-who-let-dogs-out.html

Anonymous said...

This whole affair appeals to the guano loco. It's a cat for goodness sake and a wounded one at that.

We have an entire body of people constantly poised to be outraged about something. Anything. I wish that they would use their energy and enthusiasm to do useful things versus whip each other up into a foaming at the mouth frenzy over a cat (one that was destined to die slowly and painfully until the officer took mercy upon it).

It's a cat. I love animals and hate to see them suffer. But they are still animals not humans no matter how much the guano loco wish it so.

Anonymous said...

We need to paws to reflect on this tragedy. It was a catastrophic case of police abuse. Sugar's rights were violated. He/she had a right to roam at will through the neighborhood defecating on people's property, spreading disease in the process. Sugar was denied eight of its nine lives when the officer shot it. The 100,000 deranged individuals who signed the on-line petition to fire the officer had it right. Sugar is a martyr for feral and unleashed cats everywhere.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

Cats don't have to be licensed like dogs, Second, if you put out bird food best believe you are going to attract mice and rats. And cats are no more destructive in the environment than your local developer who believes that trees and bushes are unsightly and are in the way of build out. Oh please, if you going to point the finger at a cat owner, then lets point the finger at the poor homeowner who owns said cat, for trying to protect the food stores, the electric wires in the home (and other damage from rodent infestation and they carry the plague ) from that idiot neighbor who puts bird feeders everywhere and scatters seeds and bread.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

Well I called the DCED and found out they don't know what happened to the money ? So now I have to find a DCED contract number and a contact Account Manager to give to Kelly. So I found an article by Bill white and I called him and left a message, now I am going to call Lyn at the gov's office. This state gets more bizzaro daily

Anonymous said...

Hrmm... a cat call..... a call from the cat house?

A game of cat and mouse? ALL IN "CATTY"

Jamie Kelton said...

I wasn't there to witness Sugar's demise, but it seems that this entire incident is a bit overblown. I love small animals and hate seeing this happen

If the cat was seriously injured, doesn't the police department have access to animal control or a vet to advise the officer how to address the situation? I would hope we have gotten past shooting the police horse for a broken leg.

If the officer made the decision arbitrarily to kill the cat, we should at least hear his reason for doing so. rather than just convict him for animal cruelty.

Anonymous said...

This is indeed a major "cat"astrophe and should be dealt with accordingly. No cat should have to give up all of it's nine lives at one time. The officer should have taken the feline to a "cathouse". Someone may have been willing to pay for a little pussy to keep it going, and maybe even adopt the loveable little ball of fur. It should be checked so it doesn't have any diseases, you know the kind you can get from a little pussy. If her tubes were tied you don't have to worry about reproduction. Yes, I can picture the ad in the newspaper now. "FREE PUSSY TO A GOOD HOME". "Full of affection and loves to lap dance".

Jamie Kelton said...

Reading these comments, it's just a fact that sometimes men can truly be nauseating...

Anonymous said...

Only a real pussy shoots a defenseless cat.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

not all men Jamie not all men, there are some pretty atrocious type women out there doing horrible things as well. I am more concerned about the neighbor who could not take the time to care for the wanton kitty and ask around his neighborhood about a MIA kitty. Instead, this not so neighborly neighbor convinced a cop to shoot the animal under his grill. Now the cop has lost his job. Let's be neighborly is a by gone statement. This situation has caused harm to a family who now mourns a pet named Sugar, harmed a cop who lost his job and has to hire an attorney and has harmed US the tax payers at large by wasted tax dollars using public services like 911, police and a DA's office that could be utilized somewhere else. the neighbor should be called out for starting this

Bernie O'Hare said...

Jame Kelton, In N Catty and many other jurisdictions, there are no "animal control" officers. That role falls to the police. The officer made a judgment. Perhaps he made amistake in handlingthis, but I see no evidence that he acted with malicious intent.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Jamie, No action ws ever taken on the Meyner report and its outline of the problem of stray animals.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

Bernie, I know, no action was done at all, in either Northampton or Lehigh county -- the there seems to be some controversy about the $25,000 too!!! I have heard the state DCED) gave it for a study and then I have heard that it was money coming out of the gaming funds from the casino's. I have the paperwork cause at one point in time DCED was by court room 1 and I remember talking to an office member there with a woman who wanted to start a shelter in the Catty area. I have to go thru the relics of paperwork

Bernie O'Hare said...

I believe the study was funded with table games revenue. That can be spent on anything deemed to be "in the best interests" of the county.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

which explains why there is no tracking in PA.gov

Anonymous said...

We will hear from this officer again, he's dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Jokes? Really? Pathetic! Next time this "cop" will get to someone or something you do love or care about. I can't wait to type the same I don't give a crap comments some of these idiots did. It's a shame the cat wasn't black, then it woulda got some justice and that cop would be in jail.

Anonymous said...

The average Joe citizen would have been charged with reckless endangerment, risking a catastrophe and animal cruelty. I'm not against euthanizing an injured animal but having a badge doesn't grant more rights.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

http://www.northamptoncounty.org/northampton/lib/northampton/depts/administration/sas.pdf

Dave said...

I thought there were specific police rules for officers unholstering their firearm and using deadly force?

Bernie O'Hare said...

JoAnn, Thank you for those links. A reporter I know just asked and I was able to give them to him thanks to your research.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Dave, There are, and the Officer followed those rules precisely.

Dave said...

Also, won't this officer have to go in front of an internal shooting board to determine if he used his firearm properly?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Certainly, there is an internal review. The borough also conducted its own investigation and hired an independent investigator.

Dave said...

Cats roam neighborhoods. They aren't like dogs. They're untrainable, and don't even think of giving one a bath. The officer just should have left it alone. I know, this is hindsight, but I suspect this officer isn't going to pull a gun on a cat again....

Dave said...

Ty also for answering my questions :) Appreciated

JoAnn Kennedy said...

http://www.northamptoncounty.org/northampton/lib/northampton/depts/council/090513W.pdf Bernie here are the minutes, I can't find a mention of the gaming revenue at all. And as for following protocol isn't that a question for the FOP? anytime Bernie anytime -- I was a title searcher too I can find anything (well almost - stupid County Assessment taught me how to research records )

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding he didn't lose his job. I don't think he should lose his job. I disagree with his immediate use of his sidearm. Police now are much too liberal in using their side-arms. My opinion.

Anonymous said...

This officer is a liability.

Anonymous said...

To the citizens of Northampton County: Do not call police anymore for injured, sick or feral cats. The DA has tied their hands. Municipalities are stuck paying vet bills when the owner cannot be located. They don't want to pay and the Center for Animal Health and Welfare won't take them.

Anonymous said...

Animal lovers, domestic feral cats, kill everything that moves hungry or not, if all they did was kill mice and rats they'd be somewhat beneficial, they don't, they are a menace to birds and other wildlife.

Cops .... keep it holstered unless your, or someone else's life, is in danger.

All feral cats and dogs should be euthanized, they are not wildlife they are living litter, the result of irresponsible, uncaring, human scumbags.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

All feral cats and dogs should be euthanized, they are not wildlife they are living litter, the result of irresponsible, uncaring, human scumbags.

I work with feral and stray cats all the time, and I help other great organizations do the same, as there are no animal control officers, and the municipalities talk a good game of being consciously aware of the plight of the community not only dealing with wayward pets, but other animals that abound in nature. Raccoon, possums, skunks,
the occasional bear. The animals are not the problem, it's people that are the problem, all beings have a natural right from the Creator to be on the earthly plane and enjoy the fruits that are endowed. Go read you some John Muir, or pick up a copy of Walden's Pond. It really bothers me that some people think that everything in nature needs to be ordered, and that lawns resemble country clubs, and the animals need to be put in their proper place, when in reality the natural order of nature is about as contrary as a shopping mall or a housing development

Anonymous said...

The Legislature tried to deal with this issue, at present, removing a cat, feral, stray, or otherwise, is a Misdemeanor. The cat lobby came out and the legislation failed. True story. Gary might be on to something.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

I hate to say this but the cat lobby is strong, crazy cat ladies a force to be reckoned with and if you go up against putty cats then you look heartless and inhumane. In short, it does not help the situation and it doesn't help the animals Our idiots in the Commonwealth have a hard time thinking out of the Harrisburg box. They legislature creates a law, and then gives the county the a la carte to pick and choose and then if the county doesn't want to deal with it, it goes to the muni's boro's townships etc.. nothing ever really gets solved

Anonymous said...

JoAnn we agree more than you know. John Muir is a personal favorite of mine. Letting pets go feral is a horrible cruelty to both the pets and the natural wildlife with which they compete, and in some cases of ground nesting birds, destroy.

JoAnn Kennedy said...

I agree, feral is usually a last resort. Man has done some stupid things, introducing evasive species into a habitat where it doesn't belong in the first place. There are no shelters for these unwanted pets. Shelters are full to capacity especially in this Nor Co area. I got a private message this morning from a lady in Emmaus looking for a shelter to foster a kitten -- Mom feral, died. She is bottle feeding it. TNR is the only way, Fix your critter, No more litter Yesterday the college kids at Temple have a TNR program around the campus called Temple Cats they captured 20 cats yesterday and had them fixed. Feral cats last in the elements about 5 years tops but if a community would just embrace the spay and neuter concept an area can begin to eradicate a feral population. Besides I have had cats all my life and you can take a house cat and dump the cat and it turns feral quite fast, on the contrary you can rehabilitate the cat when taking it out of the wild and acclimate it to the inside. Don't blame the cats, blame man and humans -