Breckenridge Texan

Former animal control officer pleads guilty to misdemeanor charges in animal shelter neglect case

Former animal control officer pleads guilty to misdemeanor charges in animal shelter neglect case
October 14
16:13 2022

By Tony Pilkington and Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

A former City of Breckenridge Animal Control Officer has pleaded guilty to the charge of Cruelty to Non-Livestock Animal, a class A misdemeanor, according to a press release from the Eastland County Criminal District Attorney who investigated and prosecuted the case.

Brad Stephenson, the DA in Eastland County, was appointed to the position of County Attorney Pro Tem on the case in May. The investigation came about after several dogs at the City facility were discovered in early January 2022 to have been malnourished and neglected, with one dog allegedly having died.

The charge that the former animal control officer pleaded guilty to carries a potential penalty of up to one year in the county jail and a possible fine not to exceed $4,000. However, according to Stephenson’s statement, the defendant qualified for a pre-trial diversion program and will be on probation for one year while paying restitution to the Stephens County Humane Society. If he successfully completes all the terms and conditions of the probation, the cases will be dismissed. If not, the guilty plea has been entered and the court will have the ability to assess the full range of punishment stated above, Stephenson said.

In a follow-up phone call this afternoon with the Breckenridge Texan, Stephenson said he has not divulged the defendant’s name “because it’s not a final conviction. And it’s treated like it’s still an ongoing case, until such time as it’s disposed of, either by dismissal or by a final conviction.”

In a statement release this afternoon, Oct. 14, Kathy O’Shields, president of the Stephens County Humane Society, said: “As a Humane Society, we have seen all forms of animal cruelty. Animal cruelty should be non-existent in this day and age, but it seems to be on the rise. The starvation of animals by a City employee ACO is in no way acceptable to us as a Humane Society. We appreciate the DA Brad Stephenson’s diligent effort to resolve this case and bring it to a close. All the dogs involved in this case have been rehabilitated and have found their forever homes.”

When the neglect came to the attention of local officials and members of the Stephens County Humane Society in January, the City of Breckenridge animal facility was housing several dogs that had been picked up in the city by the police department, as well as two stray dogs that had been in the shelter since Nov. 3, 2021, and six dogs that had been surrendered by a local resident on Nov. 26, 2021, and were part of an investigation by the the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office.

In a letter to the City of Breckenridge on Jan. 6, O’Shields said that the dogs “were emaciated and the veterinarian stated they are not being properly fed and are starving.” Additionally, the letter states that one puppy was in such poor condition that it had to be hospitalized and another dog was not located at the shelter.

When contacted by the Breckenridge Texan in January about the situation, Breckenridge Police Chief Bacel Cantrell said the animal control officer who was in charge of the facility had resigned from the position and that the department was treating the complaint about the conditions at the facility as a criminal complaint.

After the BPD’s initial investigation, Stephenson took over when Stephens County Attorney Gary Trammel recused himself from the case. According to his press release, Stephenson “made several trips to Stephens County, placed countless phone calls and as a result, have received a large amount of input from the community, either in person or in writing. Frankly, as of current, I have spent more time on this case than any misdemeanor case in my career, either as an Assistant Criminal District Attorney or as the Criminal District Attorney.”

Stephenson said the defendant must pay a $500 fee to be admitted to the Pre-Trial Diversion program, as well as $60 per month in probation fees and about $800 in restitution to the Humane Society. He must report to his probation officer once a month and may be required to take a drug test, although Stephenson said there is no indication that drugs or alcohol were involved in the case.

Eastland County has had a Pre-Trial Diversion program for more than 10 years. Stephens County also has a similar program but uses it less often, Stephenson said.

Stephenson said in his statement that his investigation revealed problems at the Breckenridge animal facility that occurred after the City cut funding for the shelter and switched the animal control duties from the fire department to the police department.

“With those budgetary cuts, the staff at the Breckenridge Animal Shelter was reduced from four full-time positions to one,” he said in the statement. “Simply stated, one person is not capable of covering all requirements and duties of this type of operation, a twenty-four hour, seven days a week, three hundred sixty­-five days a year (24/7/365)! Unfortunately, the Breckenridge Police Department did not have the adequate policies and procedures in place needed at the Breckenridge Animal Shelter, and eventually the inevitable happened and the animals suffered.”

In the weeks and months following the problems at the animal facility, the City of Breckenridge hired a new animal control officer and a part-time employee to help at the shelter. Additionally, after a request by O’Shields and other Humane Society members, the City agreed to hire another full-time animal control officer and is currently accepting applications for that position.

Click the following link to read Stephenson’s complete statement to the citizens of Stephens County: Stephens County Press Release

For more background details on the situation, click the following links to the Breckenridge Texan’s previous articles:

Criminal investigation underway after malnourished dogs removed from city’s animal facility and one death

Our Perspective: The Breckenridge Texan, City of Breckenridge at odds over request for complaint about animal shelter

Letter to the Editor: Reader commends Breckenridge Texan coverage of animal shelter situation

Animal shelter dog neglect case sent back to Police Department for additional information

Police chief addresses questions about Animal Shelter investigation

City of Breckenridge hires new animal control officer, makes changes at animal shelter

Breckenridge animal shelter dog neglect case under review by Eastland County Criminal District Attorney

 

 


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