State police to conduct investigation of shelter

January 21, 2009|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

The Maryland State Police said yesterday that it will investigate allegations of misconduct by the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, making it the third state agency to look into charges against the Chesapeake City animal shelter.

More than 20 witnesses, including four former employees and four ex-volunteers, have submitted written accusations against the CCSPCA, ranging from animal cruelty and neglect to financial malfeasance.

The state police are to investigate, along with the Maryland attorney general's office, which has assigned an attorney to look into the case, and the Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, a division of the state Department of Agriculture, officials said.

"The people of Cecil County pay good money to this shelter to take care of animals and treat them humanely," said Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., whose office has been taking written testimony from witnesses.

"I look into it and find out it's a slaughterhouse."

Nancy Schwerzler, president of the facility's board of directors, said the shelter, which received $674,000 in county funds last year, is innocent of any wrongdoing. Schwerzler said she welcomes independent investigations "so long as they're fact-based and emotion-free."

She said she has invited the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - a national organization with no ties to CCSPCA - to investigate as well.

Allegations against CCSPCA date back as far as 10 years, when an employee told the county sheriff that animal control officers physically abused dogs in their charge, among other accusations.

An investigation at that time found no wrongdoing.

The current controversy began when Smigiel, a Cecil County Republican, received enough complaints against the shelter that he began asking those making allegations to sign written affidavits.

The complaints have ranged from allegations that animal control officers have killed dogs with handguns and thrown others alive into incinerators to charges that the shelter's executive director, Jeanne Deeming, automatically euthanizes dogs of certain breeds, operates an off-the-books breeding operation on the site and asks unlicensed employees to perform euthanasia.

Deeming, who still runs the facility, declined to comment for this article.

Smigiel has started a weblog on his official Web site documenting allegations against the shelter.

He expected it to get a few hundred hits, he says, but more than 5,000 people have visited the site.

"It's gotten to the point where I almost don't have time to do anything else," he said.

"The allegations just keep pouring in."

He encouraged anyone with complaints to attend a recent meeting of the county commissioners, where the next fiscal year's budget was to be discussed.

More than 20 people testified, some in tears, that the facility was so poorly run the county should defund it.

County Administrator Alfred C. Wein has said the county will look carefully at the outcome of the investigations.

Craig Eastridge, state's attorney for Cecil County, said that even though his office would normally conduct a criminal investigation, it did not object to investigations originating outside the county.

An assistant state's attorney, Keith Baynes, is a member of CCSPA's board, and Cecil County Sheriff Barry Janney is an ex officio member.

Eastridge said last week that he planned to contact the state police over the weekend to request the investigation.

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