BAYTOWN, Texas – Three animal control officers, who worked at the Baytown Animal Control and Adoption Center, are accused of improperly euthanizing dogs and disposing of the animals by stuffing them into plastic bags, without first checking vital signs to confirm they were dead.
Tod Brooks, 53, Veronica Jimenez, 33, and Christopher Nightingale, 27, are charged with improperly euthanizing dogs, the district attorney’s office announced Thursday.
“Far too often we are discovering that everyday citizens and professionals like these are harming animals for no apparent reason and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is not going to tolerate it,” said Carvana Cloud with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
The investigation by Baytown police was launched after a former employee claimed euthanasia procedures at the facility were being violated in 2015.
The DA’s office said that under Texas law, the animals are required to be sedated prior to being euthanized.
“When people think of their local animal shelter, most are realistic and recognize that animals are being euthanized every day,” Assistant District Attorney and Animal Cruelty Section Chief Jessica Milligan said, “but they don’t want the animals to suffer.”
The DA’s office said there is video from the shelter’s surveillance system that showed the officers were “intentionally, knowingly and recklessly” carrying out euthanasia without prior sedation, according to prosecutors.
The former animal control officers are also accused of disposing the bodies of the dogs into a plastic bag without checking their vitals to make sure the animals were dead.
The investigation took two years because they had to interview former employees, hire euthanasia experts and collect evidence.
“The job of an animal control officer is not an easy job, but it requires compassion and empathy,” Milligan said. “It’s unfortunate that these particular officers didn’t exhibit the compassion towards animals that we as a community expect and Texas laws require.”
The District Attorney’s Office said it did not know how many animals were impacted and that it’s part of the investigation. They also said they believe this happened over a period of time and further details of the timeline will come out with the investigation.
“I’m actually relieved, it’s been a long two years waiting for something to happen,” said Wanda Carter, director of Concerned Citizens for Change at Baytown Animal Center. “It’s not the charges I personally was looking for, but it’s something.”
Carter, along with other members of the group, said they too were made aware of the videos and pictures from inside the animal shelter two years ago as well.
“There have been a lot of sleepless nights and just praying that something would be done. It didn’t have to happen, I went to the city long before these charges were brought up trying to explain what was going on,” explained Carter. “As an animal lover, activists rescuer, it was very disheartening, it was horrific, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Brooks, who retired last month, Jimenez, who resigned in February and Nightingale no longer work at the shelter. They have not been arrested, but they face a Class B misdemeanor including up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Baytown police said the former animal control officers are aware charges have been filed and believe they’ll make arrangements to do what’s called a “non-arrest” bond. Police said that means in other words, make arrangements with a bonding company to post bond before being arrested.
Carter and other members of Concerned Citizens for Change at Baytown Animal Center wanted to see more charges.
“This isn’t what we had hoped for, there were a lot more allegations and I understand the statute of limitations went out, but it’s a start, hopefully we can make some change,” said Shantel Priddy with CCCBAC.
“I can’t really wrap my head around how anyone can do what was done. Anyone that can do that is very, has a lot of issues and was very disgusting and it was just evil,” said Carter.
Carter said many people are trying to move forward and get past what happened. She is glad they have a new manager and staff.
Jay Garrett, founder and executive director of A Life to Live said Thursday’s news is bittersweet. He also sits on the board for the Baytown Animal Control and Adoption Center Advisory Committee.
“A lot of changes have been made from the city perspective as well as partnerships and collaboration with rescue groups like myself, so I think that it’s disappointing that we’re taking a step back and re-living the drastic situation that took place in this disappointing situation, it’s unfortunate in that aspect,” explained Garret.
The city of Baytown released a statement on Thursday saying it’s been working with the DA and overseen two separate reviews of the Animal Control Division.
“The City of Baytown does not condone the inhumane treatment of animals, especially those in our care. Our procedures and policies reflect that,” said Public Affairs Coordinator Patti Jett. “We have and will continue to cooperate with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.”
The statement went on to say that after the city received the complaint in 2015, they conducted two reviews of the division along with a committee review of its Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and policies and a second review by the city of San Antonio’s Animal Control Group.
Baytown said both reviews found the Animal Services operation to be “fully compliant with State regulations and universally accepted operation procedure.”
The city did receive recommendations to improve services, improvements the city said it’s made over the past 19 months.