Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty and SPCA Serving Erie County Join Forces to End Animal Abuse
July 22, 2016
Erie County District Attorney's Office
Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty, Jr. (pictured here at podium, with, from left, SPCA Animal Cruelty Investigator Deanna Furry with Diamond, SPCA Executive Director Gary Willoughby, and at right, Chief Justin T. Wallens) announces recent successes from his new Animal Cruelty Unit, where the office is aggressively prosecuting anyone accused of killing or injuring an animal in our community.
This comes after 54-year-old Santiago Morales of Buffalo was ordered to spend six months in jail by Buffalo City Court Judge Debra L. Givens after he pleaded guilty to animal cruelty for beating a 20-month-old Chihuahua, Susie (see story and photos here). The judge also issued an order that Morales may not own or possess another animal for the next five years. Susie was adopted July 21, 2016 into a new, loving home.
"For decades, animal welfare professionals throughout the country have expressed frustration over animal cruelty not being taken seriously, or seriously enough, by their local prosecutors and judges," says SPCA Serving Erie County Executive Director Gary Willoughby. "While that may have been true at one time in Erie County, NY, it is true no longer. Representatives here are keenly aware of the significance of violence towards animals and its relationship to violence towards people. We are fortunate to represent a county in which the district attorney and his representatives recognize the importance of this link and why zero tolerance for animal cruelty is a position that needs to be maintained; it's another way of protecting not just the animals but the people of our county."
Acting DA Flaherty created the office’s first Animal Cruelty Unit when he took the helm in January. The unit focuses on cases solely involving animal abuse and has one dedicated prosecutor, Chief Justin T. Wallens.
“My office was serious about these crimes before, but the time is right to have a prosecutor committed to aggressively prosecuting these cases,” says acting DA Flaherty. “We find that many animal abuse perpetrators are prone to other violent behaviors.”
In this unit, Assistant District Attorney Wallens works closely with Erie County SPCA peace officers, city and town animal control officers, forensically trained veterinarians and experts in the study of animal fighting employed by the ASPCA, a national organization.
In March, the District Attorney’s Office convicted Amy Backert and Martinez Johnson of Buffalo of animal cruelty for the severe malnourishment of Diamond, a Doberman Pinscher (see story and photos here; above, Diamond is joined by Director of Animal Cruelty Investigations Aaron Kandefer, SPCA Animal Cruelty Investigator Christina Vitello, Furry, Willoughby, Wallens, and DA Flaherty).
When SPCA officials found the dog last year, Diamond was emaciated, with protruding ribs and hip bones; pressure sores; and infected, open wounds.
Diamond was surrendered to the SPCA Serving Erie County and immediately received extensive medical care. The Buffalo couple is now subject to home searches and can’t own a pet for the next three years. Diamond is thriving in her new home.
“Every animal in our community deserves to be raised in a loving, safe environment,” says acting DA Flaherty. “We will go after whoever abuses any defenseless creature in our community.”
See this story:
Those who witness a situation that might constitute
cruelty and/or violence toward animals in Erie County,
including animals left outdoors with inappropriate
shelter in yards, are encouraged to report the
circumstances to the SPCA Serving Erie County: