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DA’s Office ANIMAL CRUELTY TASKFORCE Announces Findings on Coeymans Rabid Raccoon Incident*

Albany County District Attorney David Soares

 

 

Press Release

  April 5, 2018

 

 

 

 

ALBANY, NY –District Attorney P. David Soares, joined by members of the “ACT” Animal Cruelty Taskforce led by his office, today announced findings of an incident that occurred on March 12, 2018 in the Town of Coeymans.

On March 12, 2018, at approximately 8:47 a.m., Coeymans Police Department was dispatched to the area of 2480 Route 9W in the Village of Ravena due to a complaint made by a resident of an injured raccoon in the rear loading dock of a commercial building. The resident reported he was concerned that the raccoon might “go after” someone based on its erratic behavior. An officer responded to the scene and found the raccoon in an area under the stairs of the loading dock. The officer described the animal as being curled in a ball, breathing heavily, and shaking uncontrollably. The officer attempted to stir the animal by making loud noises, but the animal was unresponsive. Based on the raccoon’s location, the officer determined he was unable to gain access to the animal and decided to routinely check back to see if the animal moved from that location. Individuals in the area were advised to contact Coeymans Police if the raccoon emerged.

At 12:55 p.m., a complainant called 911 to report that a sick raccoon was behaving erratically in front of Southtown Optical in Faith Plaza, Ravena, New York. Faith Plaza is a busy, open-air shopping center containing a number of local businesses, including a pharmacy, a bank, and a supermarket. The caller reported that she was working at said location when she saw the raccoon come from the woods across the street and walk into the parking lot in front of the business. A UPS truck pulled up and the raccoon began to approach the driver. The driver, concerned about being attacked by the raccoon, ran into the business and shut the door. It was at this point that the complainant called the police. The raccoon proceeded to wander around the parking lot moving toward the bank and looked “not healthy” to the complainant. She also stated that the animal appeared injured or “bewildered.”

Another civilian witness to the raccoon’s behavior told investigators that around midday he was leaving CVS pharmacy, also in Faith Plaza, and was walking to his car in the parking lot when he noticed a raccoon coming toward him. He immediately got into his vehicle because the animal appeared rabid. The witness stated that based on the way it was acting, there was no question in his mind that the raccoon was rabid. The raccoon walked past his vehicle toward CVS and appeared to be attempting to gain entry to CVS. The raccoon paced down the sidewalk. Multiple elderly people were exiting CVS at this time. Concerned, the witness got out of his vehicle and encouraged them to move away from the raccoon. At that point, the raccoon was behind a garbage can and not easily visible. A woman approached with a box of cereal to feed the animal, and the witness implored her not to feed the seemingly rabid raccoon.

The same officer that had responded to the earlier call for service arrived on scene at Faith Plaza at approximately 1:05 p.m. to find a large group of people in the area of CVS and the raccoon he encountered earlier in the day on the sidewalk. The animal appeared lethargic, was limping, and had visible saliva or foam near its mouth. The animal continued to approach individuals and store fronts in the area. The officer attempted to shout and scare the animal from the area without success. When the animal walked toward individuals who were present, the officer attempted to throw snow at the animal to encourage it to change its course, without success.

An investigator from Coeymans then joined the officer on scene. Many attempts were made to encourage the animal to vacate the area without avail. Despite their repeated efforts, the animal continued to circle back to where the public was located.


By that time, police on scene needed to make a decision about removing the animal that was now an obvious threat to public safety. The standard method of dispatching a rabid animal is by utilizing a firearm. But based on their training and experience, the officers did not feel it was safe to shoot the animal in a highly populated area with a concrete ground. They feared the bullet would ricochet and injure a civilian. They attempted to coax the animal to a more open area of the parking lot in an effort to alleviate any threat to bystanders. When all other options to lure the animal away from the Plaza failed, they ran over the animal with their vehicles until it was deceased.

The investigator contacted the State Department of Environmental Conservation to request assistance for removal of the animal but was advised that a DEC officer would not be available to respond for at least two hours.  The Highway Department arrived on scene and packaged the animal. They then proceeded to sterilize the lot in the area where the animal was located. The officer transported the packaged animal to Five Rivers Lab in Delmar, New York. The New York State Department of Health conducted a Rabies test on the animal and reported a positive result.

The Director of the Environmental Conservation Department has confirmed that the DEC does not plan to proceed with an investigation into this matter because they have determined there was no criminal action. The Director also confirmed that the wait time of two hours for a DEC officer to arrive on scene to collect the animal in Coeymans was likely, as they only have 300 officers in the entire state and potentially only one officer in a very wide radius that encompasses Ravena on a given day.

Based upon the circumstances surrounding the death of the raccoon, criminal action against the officers would not be appropriate. Laws about animal cruelty are found in the New York State Agriculture and Markets Sections 353 and 353A. The animal cruelty statutes require an element that a killing take place without a justifiable purpose; here, the officers possessed a justifiable purpose for their actions. The felony animal cruelty statute (AGM 353A) requires intent, but the misdemeanor statute (AGM 353) does not. The felony applies only to companion animals, whereas the misdemeanor applies to all animals.

Based on facts of the event, the conclusion is that the officers did not act with malice or contempt, and acted with the public’s well-being in mind. Although the manner in which the raccoon was dispatched was not ideal, the resources provided, coupled with the need to protect the public from a deadly disease, left the officers with no other viable options at the time.

This situation has highlighted a need for education and resources for officers who encounter a wild animal in public in the future, especially one that appears sick or injured and has become an obvious public health threat. The Coeymans officers did not have access to a catch pole, a net, or a tranquilizer gun. Their department-issued firearm would have been dangerous to discharge in that location, and their efforts to lure the animal away were unsuccessful. All of these issues can be addressed by further training and equipment.

Our investigation also included review of Social Media posts and multiple media interviews of people feeding a raccoon in that area in the time period preceding the incident. We remind the public that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation does not encourage this behavior in residential areas. Information about rabies and the treatment of wildlife animals that are behaving erratically can be found on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website here.

The Animal Cruelty Task Force is working with the DEC, the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, and the Animal Protection Federation, to organize a training to address the issues highlighted by this incident and to hopefully prevent another occurrence like this in the future. The Coeymans Police Department has been cooperative in the investigation and is agreeable to participating in training. Details about the training will be made available to the public once they are finalized.

More information about the “ACT” Animal Cruelty Taskforce can be found on the District Attorney’s Office website, www.albanycountyda.com. By clicking on the paw logo on the main page of the website, visitors can find resources about animal cruelty prevention, view a list of local cases, and learn about partners in the community who “ACT” alongside the DA’s Office in the mission of eradicating animal cruelty.

Also from the NYSDEC Website:
Here are some ways to prevent raccoons from becoming a nuisance:
• Do not leave pet food outside. Feed pets only as much as they will eat at once, and remove all leftovers. If necessary, place pet feeders in an enclosed area such as a porch, garage, or barn.
• Keep garbage bags in an entry-way or garage, and in a metal can. Run a rubber strap, rope, or soft wire through the lid and attach to the can handles. To make it hard for raccoons to remove lids, hang the can one foot above the ground or use a rack and secure the cans upright.
• Surround gardens with an electric fence made up of two wires attached to an insulated post: one wire four inches and the other eight inches above the ground. Install the fence before vegetables ripen.
• Block the openings raccoons are using to get into your attic, porch, or other location. Place a temporary cover when the raccoons leave on their nightly search for food, and make a permanent seal later. To check if the raccoons have really left, sprinkle twigs, grass, or flour in the opening and watch for tracks. Caution: do not permanently seal entrances without first verifying that all animals are out of the den. Especially in the spring, look and listen for animal noises.
• Nuisance wildlife control persons licensed by New York State can be hired to deal with problem raccoons. Injured and "orphaned" raccoons should be left alone. Animals actually in need of assistance may be cared for by licensed wildlife rehabilitators. The DEC regional office can refer you to these individuals.



*Please note that a previous version of this report contained an incorrect timeline of events for when the NYS DEC and Albany County Sheriff's Department were contacted by Officers on the scene.   This inadvertent discrepancy does not effect the legal conclusion of this investigation.

 

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