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.