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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Bittersweet Justice for Sugar the Cat

Monday was International Cat Day. But that made no difference to Magisterial District Judge Jacqueline Taschner. She cleared North Catasauqua police officer Leighton Pursell of minor animal cruelty charges lodged against him after he euthanized an injured domestic shorthair cat named Sugar on December 6, 2015. Pursell, who had been suspended following this felinicide, returned to work on Tuesday.

When Officer Pursell responded to a radio dispatch of an "injured cat" in the backyard of Michael Leinert's home at 1112 American Street, he noticed that the cat appeared to be injured and hissed at him. He saw signs of mange, an exaggerated limp and 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.

Because Officer Pursell failed to first obtain two written certificates from reputable citizens confirming that that Sugar was injured beyond recovery, only minor charges were warranted, according to DA John Morganelli.

Officer Pursell was represented by prominent criminal defense attorney Gary Asteak. He argued that "Officer Pursell came upon a snarling, clawing, limping, mangy, bleeding cat with no tags after receiving a call from a homeowner who could not let his dogs out and wanted the cat removed. With known cases of rabies in the community and seeing the cat injured, bleeding, and unapproachable and without gloves, a trap or any implement to seize the cat and no Animal Control Officer or Shelter to call, he humanely killed it. The Veterinarian at the hearing confirmed that under those circumstances, it was the humane thing to do."

The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Jim Augustine, who was in court all day on Monday and unavailable for comment.

Judge Taschner concluded that the Commonwealth failed to prove its case "beyond a reasonable doubt," but minced no words with Officer Pursell, telling him, "What you did is not right."

So ends the criminal case, but a social media firestorm is still going strong. Morganelli has previously blasted a "mob mentality" on Facebook's "Justice for Sugar" page. He said the 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 213,000 people, has called for more serious criminal charges, as well as Officer Pursell's "immediate termination."

Morganelli had previously claimed that Sugar's owner, Thomas Newhart, bears some of the responsibility for what happened.  On three prior 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 Newhart's 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.

 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.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Next time Mr. Police delay your response for 45 minutes and the problem will solve itself.

Anonymous said...

Stoffa also commissioned a report that showed humans eat to survive. Now I know where they got the "Captain Obvious" character from.

Anonymous said...

I can not believe that our Northampton County tax dollars went to prosecute such a trivial case. When Police Lives Matter this is what we do?? Someone should have got the facts out there and made the decision right out of the gate that this case was baseless and there would be no prosecution. To throw it in front of a District Justice is shameful. For a District Justice to throw out a District Attorney's summary case goes to show that there was nothing there to begin with!

Anonymous said...

This is just another example of the national insanity that has gripped the nation. Why anyone would want to be a police officer in this country is amazing.

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous waste of county resources and time to prosecute this. If anything he should have received some minor disciplinary action within the department. I can't remember the last time I met a cop that I liked as an individual, but cases like this just fuel the public's anger against police as a whole.

Cue the comments on LVL, "He should be killed himself!" "Unfit for duty!" "Police out of control." Come on. I like cats and have one myself (who is spoiled rotten), but at the end of the day, it's a cat, and this one was apparently injured and roaming like a stray due to an irresponsible owner. I don't want aggressive unattended-to cats roaming in my neighborhood either. If this were a pit bull that was roaming and acted aggressive towards a neighbor, and the cop shot it, I doubt there would be the same outroar as we are now seeing from the cat lady crowd.

Anonymous said...

Cats Lives Matter!
They help relieve the over population of all the transient vermin relocation issues?!

Anonymous said...

Because Officer Pursell failed to first obtain two written certificates from reputable citizens confirming that that Sugar was injured beyond recovery, only minor charges were warranted, according to DA John Morganelli.

Call police. Police arrive. To protect himself, officer's should now call DA to send someone to sign written certficate before taking any action.

Anonymous said...

The person who owned the cat should be fined $500.00 for allowing his cat to roam. In my neighborhood, my wife and I have trapped numerous cats in our yard and under our shed. We took them to the SPCA where they are neutered or Spayed and their ears docked for identification purposes. One cat had 5 kittens inside of her. The SPCA then told us to take the cats and return them to where we found them. They charged us $25.00 per cat. We found a kitten roaming wild that was abandoned and we took that to the Vet. That one cost us $300.00. We later found it a good home. The last kitty we had hanging around cost us $90.00 at the vet, was chipped and spayed by the owner, but they relinquished ownership because the kitty wouldn't stay in the yard. We found that one a home. People who let their pets roam wild should be fined and they should be spayed or neutered so they can't pass their genes on to the next generation. They don't deserve a second chance with pet ownership. Oh yes, we are cat lovers and own several cats ourselves. All of them Chipped and properly taken care of so they can't breed.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:40 AM FYI It is against the law to let a dog roam. Like it or not, it is not against the law to let a cat roam so different subject entirely. I'm sure we would have have the Pit Bull brigade crying as well since "It's not the dog's fault, it's the owner's."

Anonymous said...

is @8:49 the infamous cat wrangler of West Easton, also founder of SmartChildToys.com?

Anonymous said...

Cat lives matter > Black lives it would seem. What a state of affairs

Anonymous said...

"At the end of the day, it's a cat" Really??? I hope you come back in your next life as a cat and suffer terribly for a long long time. And if you own a cat, I fear for it, it should be taken from you, you're not fit. Humans are the most vile creatures, and it's a shame you weren't holding the cat when it was murdered! You should share a cell with that scumbag cop or better yet, a hole in the ground with the cat.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
In that particular town they seem to take in all the trash and protect them too?!
RE:publican redd no party affilliation

Anonymous said...

I have solved the problem of all stray animals. I have recently purchased a pet Hyena, and I let it out at night, you would be amazed at what it brings home.

Anonymous said...

Where in the world would anyone find 2 reputable people?

Anonymous said...

So much outrage over a cat???? Where is this outrage when unarmed black lives are taken??? 213,000 signatures??? Where WAS THE the support for petition "Say No To Ed"???
#BLACKLIVESMATTER

TheObersalzburg said...

This story makes me wonder what happened to truth. There were pictures posted of the kitty showing it to be a well cared for, beautiful, healthy cat. Then there are statements that the cat looked injured or diseased and ran loose. Maybe the cat had been attacked by another animal, and was terrified. This is a lot like the police in Rio and the swimmers who said they were robbed. Multiple views of the same event. No convincing answers, at least for me, in either case.