The number of felony animal cruelty cases is on the increase as a result of a task force designed to bring uniformity among Maricopa County’s police agencies in fighting the crime.
Tony Church, the deputy Maricopa County attorney who specializes in prosecuting animal cruelty cases, said one of the greatest benefits of Law Enforcement for Animal Protection has been a newly forged communication among police, the prosecutor’s office and animal advocacy organizations.
“I’ve gotten quite a few cases which would have otherwise been misdemeanor and became felony,” Church said. “We make sure the charges are actually what they should be.”
The 20-member task force, which includes Gilbert, Mesa and Scottsdale police, will be a year old in May and last week issued its Animal Cruelty and Neglect Protocol manual.
Diane Brady, supervisor of Mesa Animal Control, said Law Enforcement for Animal Protection meets every month or two to inform prosecutors and detectives.
Before the task force was formed, many cases came to a dead end after the initial patrol officer’s report because of a lack of understanding of animal cruelty laws, Brady said.
Lawmakers made certain kinds of animal cruelty felony offenses in 1999, but many animal cruelty cases still ended up in misdemeanor court, Church said.
The county attorney’s office prosecuted three felony animal cases in 2003, nine in 2004 and 29 last year.
The office has filed charges in nine cases so far this year.
The cases Church has prosecuted have included a man who poisoned neighborhood dogs, cockfighting, dogs left to starve to death, and a man accused of sexually abusing a dog with a mallet.
The mallet case ended in a hung jury, 6-2 in favor of acquittal, according to court documents.
Church said one of the most disturbing cases involved a Mesa man, Salvador Rodriguez, 24, who went to jail for four months after admitting to stabbing and hanging a dog.