Sherwin Figueroa and Theresa Schiefer, who both joined the District Attorney’s Office earlier this year, will now be a part of the Animal Abuse Unit.
They will prosecute all cases where animal cruelty is the main charge, regardless of the superior courtroom the case is assigned to, in addition to their regular cases, at no extra cost to the taxpayer, Reynolds said.
“I’m very much in support of this,” Reynolds said. “The last couple of (animal abuse cases) we’ve seen have been pretty brutal, and we want to get out in front of this thing while we can and we want folks to know that when you commit this type of crime here, there’s going to be some consequences for it.”
His office prosecuted five felony aggravated cruelty to animal cases in 2011 and 2012 and, so far in 2013, there have been two cases indicted.
A current case dates back to late June when Marcell Sibley of Smyrna was arrested on charges of aggravated cruelty to animals when he allegedly abused his dog after becoming frustrated with the dog’s behavior.
Sibley reportedly got angry with the dog when it didn’t behave the way Sibley wanted, slapped it, put it in its kennel, threw it off the second story balcony of the All Around Suites hotel in Marietta, and then threw the dog and the kennel into the hotel Dumpster, according to the arrest warrant.
Sibley allegedly told police that he thought the dog was dead when he threw it in the Dumpster, but the dog was alive, had blood in its mouth and suffered broken legs.
He was released the day of his arrest on a $10,000 bond. If convicted, Sibley faces a maximum of one to five years in prison.
Misdemeanor animal cases are prosecuted by the Solicitor General’s Office.
A need for the new unit
Figueroa, an east Cobb native and Walton High graduate, said the idea for the unit presented itself about a month ago after she was asked to speak to an animal rescue group, explaining the role of the prosecutor’s office in animal abuse cases.
“I’m a very big advocate of animal protection,” she said. “I have a rescue … it’s something I do on the side and I volunteer with animal groups.”
She also serves as the vice president of the State Bar of Georgia’s Animal Law Section.
Schiefer, 34, was asked to serve on the unit while working two active aggravated cruelty cases, including Sibley’s.
Together, Figueroa and Schiefer hope to streamline the process once a case is reported and eventually, the unit will have a list of veterinarians, investigators or officers whose expertise they can access in these types of cases.
“Having go-to staff that we can get special care from is important,” Figueroa said. “I think everyone is on the same page, the Legislature and the laws that have been passed, but we just want to be better prepared to follow the law and enforce the law.”
The pair will continue training through the statewide Continuing Legal Education conferences, which are required of all prosecutors bi-annually to maintain their certification.
Connections with domestic violence?
Schiefer and Figueroa said they were also interested in prosecuting these types of cases because they have learned that there is a correlation between animal abuse and greater crimes like domestic violence or elderly abuse.
Last week, the National District Attorney’s Association released new information regarding the link, Figueroa said.
“The type of people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit acts of violence … three times more likely to commit property crimes,” Figueroa said, adding that this connection is something the Federal Bureau of Investigation has tracked since the 1970s.
“When I started doing work in domestic violence in law school 10-plus years ago, we saw all the time situations where children were scared of the abuser because he was threatening to kill (their pet),” Schiefer said. “It’s not necessarily that the child would go to school with a black eye but the child was intimidated.”