This story is close to home for us, and it’s heart-breaking. We all need to write legislators and let them know we are serious about animal cruelty, and that it needs to become a felony charge in all states. (In Ohio it currently isn’t.) One of my bloggie friends, Liz, lost a dearly loved dog in this situation, please send your thoughts and purr-rayers to her family. Also, thanks to Liz and Vindy.com for this article.
YOUNGSTOWN — The healthy barks of a police dog served as a backdrop for the sentencing of a kennel operator who allowed dogs to starve to death at High Caliber K-9.
Steve Croley, 38, after appearing 40 minutes late to municipal court Thursday, was sentenced to four months in jail on four counts of animal cruelty. Below Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr.’s third-floor courtroom, the barks of Detective Sgt. Frank Rutherford’s dog rose from the police parking lot as Croley and his lawyer stood in front of the judge. Rutherford was in municipal court on another matter, and the dog waited for him in their cruiser.
In addition to jail, Judge Douglas, who said he found it hard “to understand what happened, why it happened,” ordered that Croley pay restitution of $1,796 and serve three years’ probation, during which time he is not allowed to own or harbor any animal. He was also fined $1,000 and has six months to pay the fine and restitution.
Croley received credit for the 13 days he spent in jail until he posted bail. He will report to the Mahoning County jail at 6 p.m. Friday.
On Oct. 22, seven dead and 12 starving dogs were found at High Caliber K-9, 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road. Croley was arrested that day.
He reached a plea agreement in December and pleaded no contest to the animal-cruelty charges. Two housing violations related to the condition of the High Caliber K-9 property were dismissed.
Croley’s lawyer, Heidi Hanni, told the judge that her client is very sorry and remorseful, noting he lost his business. She said he made poor decisions, adding he had been in the process of a divorce.
For the “terrible atrocities with these animals” she said he is “very, very sorry.”
Croley made no statement to the judge.
In the gallery, a New York couple whose dog, Nitro, starved to death at the kennel, watched the proceeding, as did representatives of Animal Charity, a humane agency on South Avenue. Nitro’s owners left quickly after the sentencing.
Of the restitution Croley must pay, $1,646 is owed to Animal Charity, which rescued emaciated dogs from the property. The other $150 in restitution is payable to the owners of one dog who died.
When taken into custody three months ago, Croley told a representative of Animal Charity that he could not afford to feed the animals. After the arrest, dog owners came forward to say they paid him in advance.
“We feel good about the decision,” Nikole Owen, Animal Charity chief executive officer, said after court. “Initially we thought he would not receive jail time.”
She said her agency will monitor Croley, once he’s out of jail, to make sure he doesn’t own an animal.
Another article from Vindy.com states that multiple things went wrong during Croley’s prosecution:
DOG ABUSER MAKES A DEAL
Steve Croley got away with murder, in the colloquial sense, not literally. By definition, murder involves purposely killing another human being. Croley’s crime: He allowed 19 dogs that were in his care to go without food, and seven starved.
Nothing went as it should have in Croley’s criminal case.
First, the city prosecutor’s office determined that it could pursue only four cases against Croley because his premises were entered by humane agents without a warrant. Only cases based on evidence of animal cruelty that was clearly visible without entering Croley’s High Caliber K-9 kennel at 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road were filed.
Croley took money from people to care for and train some of the dogs He spent the money in ways unknown, but certainly not in caring for the animals. He faced no criminal charges for what appears to be accepting payment under false pretenses. He was, however, ordered to make some financial restitution.
The charges that Croley did face could have brought him a year in jail, had he been found guilty and the maximum three-month sentences ordered to be served concurrently. But he entered a plea bargain that brought him a total sentence of fourth months in jail, one on each count. He was fined $1,000 in total, rather than $750 on each count.
Lucky to be a Buckeye
Croley was fortunate that he committed his crimes in Ohio, where animal cruelty is a misdemeanor. In 45 other states, he could have faced felony charges.
City Prosecutor Jay Macejko said last month that Ohio should have a felony animal cruelty statute. We would agree. But at the same time, had Croley been prosecuted to the full extent of the law, found guilty and sentenced accordingly, he would have faced three times as much jail time and three times the fine that he managed to get with a plea bargain.
To the extent that he has assets, he could face civil suits from some of the owners of the dogs he starved. To the extent that he doesn’t have assets, it’s equally possible that no lawyer will agree to pursue a civil case.
Certainly the case points up the need for better training for humane agents and better coordination with the city law department. And Ohio should join the vast majority of other states in increasing the legal liability for those who will follow Croley’s path, as some inevitably will. At least a felony charge would make it easier for prosecutors to drive harder plea bargains.
But those improvements will be of little consolation to the people who thought they were doing a good thing for their pets when they turned them over to Steve Croley. They will have to live with their mistakes and content themselves with the assurance from Croley’s lawyer that he is “very, very sorry.” Sorry, indeed.