Charges dropped against N.J. man who killed rat

August 10, 1994|By New York Times News Service

HILLSIDE, N.J. -- Frank Balun lived a quiet life -- except for a stint as a B-25 gunner in World War II -- until the day last month when he trapped and killed the rat that was the prime suspect in raiding his little tomato patch here.

For that crime, he was told, he could be sent to jail for six months and fined up to $1,250.

Outrageous, public opinion said. Outrageous, public officials said as they rallied around the quiet 69-year-old grandfather.

Yesterday the chief law-enforcement officer of Union County, Prosecutor Andrew K. Ruotolo Jr., told Hillside municipal prosecutor Christopher M. Howard to drop all charges against Mr. Balun, in effect absolving him of any wrongdoing.

But Mr. Balun doesn't want the charges dropped.

He wants vindication and maybe a little vengeance. His target: Lee Bernstein, executive director of the Associated Humane Society in Newark and the animal rights enforcement officer who wrote Mr. Balun's two tickets Aug. 2 on charges of "needlessly abusing" and killing a rat caught in a cage designed for trapping squirrels.

"I want to have my day in court," Mr. Balun said yesterday.

Mr. Bernstein seemed a bit in retreat yesterday.

"I think it's time we laid the matter to rest," he said by phone. "It's gotten out of proportion. They're making him the hero and me the bad guy.

"The key is not what he did but how he did it," Mr. Bernstein said. "The issue is very simple. It was not the fact that the animal was killed, it was a matter of how a trapped animal that could not escape was mutilated and died a horrible death."

Mr. Balun hit the rat on the head several times with a broomstick, then called Mr. Bernstein's office to have the carcass carted away, cage and all. He was ticketed when he went to retrieve the cage.

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