December 17, 2014

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Ridgeville Council members say shooting ‘appalls’ them

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Mirroring the outpouring of public opinion over the shooting of five kittens earlier this week, most members of City Council surveyed about the controversy said the situation should have been handled differently.

Roseanne Johnson, one of the city’s three at-large Republican Council members, voiced strong disagreement with the actions taken by Humane Officer Barry Accorti.

“I don’t agree that the matter was handled appropriately at all,” Johnson said. “(The kittens) might have been euthanized anyway, but they were not euthanized. They were shot.”

Accorti responded Monday to a call for assistance with a feral cat and five kittens living in a woodpile behind a Vista Lake Way home.

After determining the animals were causing problems ranging from fleas inside the home to foul odors, the officer told the female homeowner he would take care of the situation.

Reports said the woman apparently did not realize Accorti intended to shoot the kittens instead of removing them from the property.

Asked whether she felt Accorti should lose his job over the kitten shootings, Johnson said, “I’m reluctant to say whether disciplinary action should be taken, but by no means do I think (the shootings were) appropriate.”

Police Chief Michael Freeman issued a statement a day after the incident in which he concluded no disciplinary steps would be taken against Accorti, whose actions the chief deemed appropriate for the situation.

Freeman supported Accorti’s actions by stating “research and other animal organizations accept shooting as an acceptable means of euthanasia.”

“I’m certainly disheartened the chief would handle it this way,” Johnson said. “There are other ways this could have gone.”

Johnson said that hundreds of emails and phone calls have poured into City Hall and to Council members from people voicing their opinions.

“Nearly all have demanded that Council fire this officer, but that is not our function,” Johnson said. “That’s between the administration and the (Police) Department.”

Referring to emails and phone calls opposing the shootings, Johnson said “I hope everyone knows that’s not what we’re all thinking. This is not representative of what our town is and who we are.”

“It’s been a tough couple of days in North Ridgeville,” Kevin Corcoran, Council’s Republican president said Thursday.

Corcoran said he was initially surprised “at the level of animosity” expressed in the emails.

Corcoran termed some emails as having a threatening tone but said he couldn’t confirm any in detail.

“There is a line here, and some people appear to have crossed it,” Corcoran said.

Council clerk Tara Maine said Council members have received 336 emails on the kitten shootings.

“The mayor’s office has been overwhelmed with phone calls,” Maine said. “There has been a huge outcry.”

Emails have come from other states, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and Iceland, Maine said.

“Ninety-nine percent have been disgusted with it,” Maine said, referring to the shootings. “A lot of people have asked when the next Council meeting is.”

Protesters are expected to be at the Council meeting 7:30 p.m. Monday, Corcoran said.

“We have rules governing how things are supposed to run and it will be a challenge,” according to Corcoran, who said he fully understood people’s anger over the incident. “It could have been handled better. Mistakes were made.

“The police got involved because they were asked to remove cats from the premises, and somehow that was lost in the process. The best thing that could have happened is that the officer removed the kittens.”

Corcoran said he was particularly bothered by the fact the woman’s children were inside the house during the time the kittens were shot.

“If a police officer pulls out a gun and kids had their noses pressed to the windows, I’m horrified by his actions, but if they were inside and didn’t watch, it’s still not right, but at least it isn’t as traumatic for them,” Corcoran said. “The preference would have been to handle it away from the children.”

The multi-term councilman also said Accorti’s actions should have been better communicated to the resident.

“From what I’ve read, the lady did not know what was going to happen,” Corcoran said. “From what I’ve heard, when she saw the gun she initially thought it was a tranquilizer gun.”

Richard Jaenke, the city’s 3rd Ward Republican councilman, expressed general agreement with Accorti’s actions, noting feral cats can harbor disease.

“It’s a problem a lot of people don’t understand,” Jaenke said. “This woman was concerned about the health of her kids.

“It’s like a lot of deer that run around with diseases. That can pose a problem.”

Still, Jaenke acknowledged Accorti may not have properly communicated his intentions.

“None of us were in that backyard to know what they said to each other, but perhaps the officer didn’t communicate correctly with her,” Jaenke said.

Asked whether he felt the shootings were an overreaction, Jaenke reiterated “none of us were there to know how concerned or excited she was.”

As for reports the woman’s children may have seen the shootings, Jaenke said, “if they were looking out the window, the mother should have told them to get away from the window. To me that was poor judgment on the mother’s part.”

Jaenke said he strongly supports the rights of police and humane officers to carry firearms in cases where deer or other animals pose an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Jaenke said he also felt some media, especially television, had over-dramatized the incident.

Dennis Boose, the lone Democrat on Council, who represents the 2nd Ward, said he has requested copies of regulations that spell out what steps the city’s humane officers are allowed to take in situations like that involving the kittens, as well as copies of police policies governing the use of firearms within city limits.

“I don’t know what regulations these individuals are bound by, but I can’t believe the police department has regulations that would allow the discharge of firearms in a residential district when police or others are not in imminent danger,” Boose said.

Until he sees the documentation, Boose added “I have all the trust in the police chief and respect him greatly and all of his officers, so right now I have to go with what he’s saying.”

Like his fellow Council members, Boose said he was stunned upon first hearing of the shootings.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Boose said. “I can see where people are extremely upset.”

Boose said he hopes the story has other as-yet-unknown details that will come out to shed a more understanding light on the situation.

“There’s got to be something we don’t know yet,” Boose said. “In my heart of hearts, I have to feel that if Officer Accorti had to do it over again, he would have done it differently.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.