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Torture of dogs in Oakland County prompts prosecutors to call for tougher animal abuse laws

Lawmakers hope Governor will sign two bills to protect animals
Posted: 6:20 PM, Dec 19, 2018
Updated: 2018-12-21 12:01:32-05

LATHRUP VILLAGE, Mich. (WXYZ) — For years, both animal advocates and prosecutors have been calling for tougher laws for animal abusers. Now, change is on the way with two new bills that could be sent to the Governor for signature within days.

Right now, in even the worse cases of animal abuse and torture, the most someone can get is four years in prison. Usually defendants get far less time than that. But with the new bills, some forms of animal abuse will become a 10-year felony.

Even when the alleged abuse is caught on video, these crimes are not always easy to prosecute.

When there is a conviction, prosecutors say the sentencing laws don’t go far enough to allow them to keep known predators behind bars.

“Bottom line- are the laws tough enough,” 7 Investigator Heather Catallo asked Oakland County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton.
“No, they are not,” said Walton.

Under the current law, Walton says killing or torturing animals is a 4-year felony. That may sound like a long time behind bars, but because animals are treated as property under the law, sentencing guidelines limit both prosecutors and judges.

In some cases, such as what happened to the puppy known as Rumble in Clarkston, the crime ends up only being a misdemeanor.

“The ultimate penalty for that is only 93 days, said Walton. “In that sense, it is frustrating… Our concern is always public safety. Often, we see people that are this brutal to an innocent animal, can also be this brutal to a child, can be this brutal to a spouse, can be this brutal to a girlfriend or to a stranger on the street.”

The sentencing rules frustrated Oakland County assistant prosecutors in the case of Timothy Crow as well.

“This is the worst act of cruelty I have seen. It’s a deliberate hanging of the family pet. And the cruelty – it’s one of those cases, I’m not going to be able to forget the images I saw,” said Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor John Pietrofesa.

Crow pleaded guilty to hanging and beating to death his mother’s dog, Bella. Police say the 23-year-old from Lathrup Village videotaped the whole crime, sent the video to a friend, and then left the dog in her crate so his mother would find her.

“And the defendant thought this was entertainment,” said Pietrofesa during Crow’s sentencing Tuesday.

Police reports show Crow admitted to harming every pet his family had ever owned.

“He also has said he has experienced feelings and desires to hurt people,” said Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman. “I’m not a psychologist but I appreciate that that’s going to be a precursor to more serious conduct.”

Prosecutors asked for a year in jail with five years of probation. In the end, Judge Leo Bowman gave Crow six months in jail and four years of supervision, with a promise that with one misstep, Crow will be sent to prison. The judge also ordered mental health treatment.

“This is your one opportunity to address whatever is going on with you,” said Judge Bowman.

“I’d like to apologize to my family and the community. And to the court and to all the dog lovers. I’m very remorseful for what I did,” said Crow.

House Bills 4332 and 4333, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Kent) have passed both the Michigan House and the Senate.

House Bill 4332 would:

  • establish first, second, and third degrees of killing or torturing an animal;
  • increase the maximum prison term for a first or second degree offense to 10 years;
  • establish a felony penalty for animal neglect or cruelty for a pet shop operator or breeder who had five or more previous convictions under the Public Act that regulates pet shops.

House Bill 4333 would:

  • revise the sentencing guidelines for animal neglect or cruelty.

The 7 Investigators will keep an eye on the bills this week to see if the Governor signs them.

If you have a story for Heather, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com or call 248-827-4473.