An incident Tuesday involving the apparent shooting of cats in Broadlands subdivision east of Watkinsville stirred strong responses among local animal advocates, a reaction made worse by the county’s unwillingness to release information about the event.
Both Animal Control and the Sheriff’s Office responded to the incident, but only the Sheriff’s Office provided any information about what happened.
Chief Deputy Lee Weems, who was one of those on the scene, said he witnessed an Animal Control officer write a citation for a violation of the county’s animal control ordinance, but that citation was not yet in the county Clerk of Courts Office late this afternoon.
The county refused to release the incident report, the citation itself, or any other information in the Animal Control Department because of a “pending investigation or prosecution of a criminal or unlawful activity.”
According to the Sheriff’s Office incident report, Nicholas Hensley, an animal control officer, called the Sheriff’s Office at 11:42 a.m. on Tuesday from an address on Broadlands Drive asking for assistance.
Hensley had gone to the location after being called by a trash collection company reporting that “several deceased cats had been found in the trash can” at the address, according to the report.
|On Broadlands Drive|
According to the report, Hensley called for assistance from the Sheriff’s Office “because the home owner was agitated” and the owner had taken one of the cats out of the trash can before Hensley “could secure it.”
“It was learned that the cats had been shot earlier in the day, their carcasses placed in bags, and then placed in the trash can for disposal,” the Sheriff’s Office incident report stated. “The home owner advised he killed the cats because they were killing his chickens.”
Lt. J. Wasdin, the reporting officer, wrote that “I asked the home owner where the cat that was taken from the trash can was, and he advised he did not know.
“He stated that he placed it in the rear of his truck, left to feed his horses, and when he arrived at the horse barn the cat was not in the back of the truck,” Wasdin wrote.
The report does not indicate how many cats were in the trash can.
Wasdin wrote the he advised Hensley that he, Wasdin, would write a report for the Sheriff’s Office.
“The animal control officer chose to issue the home owner a citation for the ordinance violation,” Wasdin wrote.
The offense, according to the incident report, was cruelty to animals.
According to Chief Deputy Weems, with whom I spoke by telephone this morning, the Sheriff’s Office and the Animal Control Department have equal authority in terms of writing citations for the county’s animal control ordinance.
Wendy Jackson, special events coordinator for the Oconee County Animal Shelter, posted about the incident on her Facebook page on Wednesday morning and got several quick comments.
“It is completely disheartening to be an animal advocate in a county that does not value the lives of animals, or feel they need to uphold animal cruelty laws,” she said.
Jackson reposted about the event later in the day, again getting several comments.
Jackson also wrote a lengthy email message yesterday to the members of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, saying “I have been sick to my stomach and angry since I heard of this horrific event.”
"I cannot for the life of me understand why this individual was not arrested for animal cruelty," Jackson said.
BOC Chairman Davis responded to Jackson late this evening saying “It is my understanding that a citation has been issued in this case. I am unsure of the court date at this point in time (I have not personally seen the citation).”
Open Records Request
I filed an open records request yesterday asking for “the incident report and related documents for an incident in the Broadlands involving cats. I believe the report number is 2015-11000092. The Animal Control Officer was Nick Hensley. I believe the incident was on Nov. 11, 2015.”
“It has been determined that the requested documents are records of a pending investigation or prosecution of a criminal or unlawful activity by a law enforcement, prosecuting, or regulatory agency and are not required to be released,” County Clerk Jane Greathouse, the open records officer for the county, wrote to me today.
“Once the investigation is complete, the documents determined to be eligible for release in response to this request will be provided to you,” Greathouse wrote.
After I received this response, I asked Greathouse to release the citation and the incident report, and she indicted she would review that request and get back to me on Monday.
Exempt From Disclosure
Certain documents are exempt from disclosure under the state’s Open Records Laws.
Included among the exemptions are “Records of law enforcement, prosecution, or regulatory agencies in any pending investigation or prosecution of criminal or unlawful activity.”
“Initial police arrest reports and initial incident reports” are not included in the exemption, meaning they are open to the public.
Angela Elder-Johnson, clerk of Superior, Magistrate and Juvenile Courts for the county, told me this afternoon that she had not received any citation from Animal Control regarding the incident in the Broadlands, but that there is often a lag between when the citation is written and when she gets it.
She said any citation is open to the public.
The case would be in Magistrate Court.
Name And Address
The report released by the Sheriff’s Office contains the address at which the incident with the cats occurred on Tuesday. Broadlands Drive is off Simonton Bridge Road.
It also provides the name of the resident.
Because I have not seen the citation and cannot be certain that one has been issued, I have not included the name or the address in this post.
I will provide that information when I have been able to see the citation.