Billy Stewart, the former Memphis pound worker whom the city repeatedly defended when he was caught hurting shelter pets, has been convicted of animal cruelty:
A jury found Billy Stewart, 29, guilty of four counts of aggravated cruelty and one misdemeanor charge of cruelty.
An undercover officer testified in court this week that Stewart would sometimes choke dogs into unconsciousness as he led them to the room where they would be euthanized.
According to the officer, this happened to at least five dogs between December 2011 and February 2012.
Stewart denied the allegations and claimed that aggressive dogs sometimes choked themselves with the noose of the catch pole as they tried to break free from its hold. He also said he was not given proper training for the job.
And without proper training, Mr. Stewart didn’t know it was wrong to choke dogs until they passed out? Gee, I can’t imagine why it only took a jury 3 hours to find him guilty.
The undercover officer witnessed Mr. Stewart choking dogs in a metal noose on five occasions. Frank Lightfoot, also convicted of animal cruelty in the same undercover operation, witnessed and testified to four of the events. The 5th dog, whom the undercover officer witnessed being tortured by Mr. Stewart, was not given the same justice as the other four and the jury returned a misdemeanor count on the crimes against that pet. Who knew a convicted animal abuser’s testimony carried so much weight in the eyes of the jury?
The Commercial Appeal reported information new to the general public: In addition to MAS providing chokepoles to workers, there is also a squeeze gate on the wall in the kill room, which can be used to restrain large, human-aggressive dogs. Although the use of such devices should be extremely rare in any shelter, we know based on security camera footage and webcam images from other areas of MAS that workers have misused chokepoles on many dogs in the facility. I can only imagine how that squeeze gate has been used and I feel sorry for any dogs who spent their last conscious moments on this earth in that thing at MAS. It is undoubtedly one of the reasons the city refuses to place a camera in the kill room, where at least some of the employees who witnessed pets being tortured and did nothing still work.
The four felony counts each carry up to two years in prison, though Stewart is eligible to ask for diversion or probation when he is sentenced next month by Judge Paula Skahan.
He also was convicted of one count of misdemeanor cruelty that carries up to 11 months and 29 days in jail.
Stewart, who showed no reaction to the verdicts, remains free on bond.
I will post about Mr. Stewart’s sentencing next month. The other two MAS workers caught in the same undercover operation were Archie Elliott and Frank Lightfoot. In October 2012, they pleaded guilty to six counts of aggravated animal cruelty and requested diversion so that they would not have to serve time in prison and could have their records wiped clean in future. The judge denied this request, sentencing Mr. Elliott to 2 years and Mr. Lightfoot to 20 days in prison on the weekends.
(Thanks Clarice for the links.)