December 22, 2014

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Ohio SPCA threatens lawsuit against North Ridgeville

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — The Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is formally asking the city to immediately stop the shooting of animals and to fire or suspend the humane officer involved in the recent shooting of five kittens or risk a lawsuit to force the city to halt the practice.

“This letter is to inform your offices that unless Officer (Barry) Accorti is immediately removed from his position and subjected to disciplinary actions and charges filed in criminal court,” the OSPCA will file a lawsuit seeking the changes, according to John A. Bell, an attorney in the Columbus suburb of Bexley, who represents the state organization.

The letter, dated Tuesday, was sent to Mayor David Gillock, Police Chief Michael Freeman and City Law Director Andrew Crites.

Bell said in the letter that while the state SPCA has no legal authority to conduct a criminal prosecution, the Ohio Court of Appeals “has recently held … that OSPCA has standing to sue to stop illegal killings of companion animals” by the city and its employees.

Police Chief Michael Freeman declined comment Wednesday, saying he had not yet received or read the letter.

In a recorded message left in response to calls for comment, Crites, who also had not yet received the letter, said “by no means will any threats or allegations contained in that letter alter the city’s decision on how to handle this matter and evaluate procedures at all.”

Crites went on to say that “the city is going to continue to do what we said we would do, which is talk with the county’s Friendship Animal Protective League to evaluate the city’s animal complaint procedures and potentially develop new policy, and we’ll let everyone know once that process is over.”

Bell, who could not be reached for comment, maintains Accorti violated several state criminal statutes relating to “injuring animals,” “cruelty to animals” and “discharge of firearms on or near prohibited premises.”

Bell quoted a state law that relates to “injuring animals” and states “no person shall maliciously, or willfully, and without the consent of the owner, kill or injure” a wide array of animals including horses, sheep, dogs and cats.

Most accounts of the shooting of five kittens by Accorti on June 10 after a homeowner asked for help in getting rid of them did not indicate the woman owned the animals. But Bell said another section of Ohio law deems it illegal to needlessly mutilate or kill an animal.

Bell also maintained Accorti violated state law covering discharge of a firearm “on or near prohibited premises” when he fired five shots in the backyard of the woman’s home.

The OSPCA asked that the city provide written confirmation by June 28 of acting on the demands made by the organization.

The letter states Accorti shot and killed the kittens with a rifle, but police have stated the humane officer used a .22-caliber pistol.

“Given the public outcry, it is hard to believe that any of your offices would want OSPCA to have to publicly lay out all of that evidence (which it claimed to have obtained) in a public courtroom,” Bell said.

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