116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Eleven Linn County residents were charged last year in animal abuse and neglect cases, more than the Linn County Attorney’s Office has prosecuted in previous years.
The cases included a 12-week-old puppy that was kicked and thrown against a wall, a cat that was shot with a pellet rifle, a cat that was thrown from a bridge into the Cedar River and a pit bull terrier and her seven puppies that were left starving in filthy conditions.
Several of those charged in those cases face possible prison time, given that Iowa lawmakers last year increased the penalties for animal cruelty charges, making them aggravated misdemeanors, punishable up to two years in prison — if an animal is seriously injured or killed.
The law increased the penalty for those convicted of a second animal abuse offense, making it a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
The law also includes a special sentence for animal torture, an aggravated misdemeanor, of one to three years of probation and counseling for the offender. Iowa is the only state that doesn’t provide felony charges on the first offense of animal torture, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
‘Voice for the animals’
Assistant Linn County Attorney Jennifer Erger asked to prosecute most of the animal abuse cases because she said she’s an animal lover and wants to be the “voice for the animals.”
She acknowledges one big difference in the prosecution of animal abuse cases: Animals can’t speak. But she has found witnesses who can.
“I have had a lot of success with people being cooperative and coming forward, and I think a lot of that is because the animals cannot speak for themselves,” Erger said.
The new law’s heightened penalties for animal abuse have helped, she said. And while she doesn’t always get the results she wants, she said she respects and trusts the judges’ decisions, who have discretion on prison and jail time.
“Sometimes it can be discouraging because the charges and sentences aren’t harsher — for the more serious animal cases,” she said.
Prosecuting 11 animal abuse cases last year, she said, was “a learning curve” for the office because of the increased numbers and the lack of experience in prosecuting animal cruelty charges as criminal cases.
The Johnson County Attorney’s Office reports it filed charges in three animal abuse cases in 2021.
Many cases of animal abuse, Erger noted, warrant only citations and fines after an investigation by Cedar Rapids Animal Care & Control.
Last year, animal control issued 17 animal abuse citations to 11 individuals, according to department data. So far this year, the office has issued nine citations.
In 2020, Cedar Rapids police investigated four cases of animal abuse, referring three cases to animal control. In the fourth case, police were unable to make an arrest.
In 2019, Cedar Rapids police investigated two animal abuse cases and one animal neglect case.
Erger said she has learned most animal abuse cases have underlying issues involving mental health, substance abuse issues and even domestic abuse, where someone takes out anger on their intimate partner’s pet.
Erger said she always recommends counseling and treatment as part of an animal-abuse defendant’s plea or sentencing.
For the more serious offenses, Erger asks the court for the maximum sentence — prison or jail time — as well as supervised probation and/or community service.
Erger sees a correlation between the pandemic and the increased number of animal abuse reports. It’s possible, she said, more people were reporting animal abuse because they were home and noticed it.
Some people, too, felt isolated during the pandemic and adopted a pet for the first time and then became frustrated or angry when the dog or cat misbehaved. Or they abandoned or neglected the animal when they went back to work and didn’t need a pet’s comfort.
Recent animal abuse cases
- Travis Bittner, 22, of Marion, pleaded to animal abuse, an aggravated misdemeanor, for using a pellet rifle to shoot his girlfriend’s cat, killing it in January 2020, which was before state lawmakers increased penalties on the charge. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, with 28 days suspended.
- Jayden Cliff, 23, of Cedar Rapids, pleaded to animal abuse, an aggravated misdemeanor, and sentenced last April to two years in prison. He severely injured 12-week-old Kimble, a golden retriever puppy, by throwing him against a wall and kicking him after the dog defecated on Cliff’s bed.
- Lloyd Baird, 87, of Cedar Rapids, pleaded to animal abuse, an aggravated misdemeanor, and received a deferred judgment for throwing a 7-year-old orange tabby from the Third Avenue Bridge into the Cedar River. The cat, rescued by police officers, survived.
- Micheal J. Constant, 21, of Cedar Rapids, pleaded to animal abuse, an aggravated misdemeanor, and received a deferred judgment last year. He threw his girlfriend’s 6-year-old Yorkie against a wall, causing brain swelling.
- Stephen Boozell II, 41, and Monica Moore-Boozell, 45, each pleaded to eight counts of animal neglect and received deferred judgments. They had five cats, two dogs and one chinchilla in their house that was covered in animal feces and urine. The animals were in poor health and infested with fleas.
- Demetrius Huston-Stewart, 31, of Cedar Rapids, pleaded to possession of marijuana and animal neglect, a simple misdemeanor. His pit bull terrier and seven puppies were starving and living in filthy conditions last year. His sentencing is April 7.
- Rebecca A. Pisarcik, 24, of Marion, pleaded last year to two counts of animal neglect with serious injury or death, aggravated misdemeanors, and one count of animal abuse, a simple misdemeanor. Police found dead cats in her home and another had signs of serious malnourishment. She faces up to two years in prison on each aggravated misdemeanors. Sentencing is set for July 21.
- Craig Ross Jr., 43, of Cedar Rapids, charged last year with animal neglect with serious injury or death, an aggravated misdemeanor. He is accused of tying up a 3-year-old pit bull outside on a hot day without the dog having food, water and shelter. His trial is set for June 6.
- Terry L. Lockamy, 39, of Cedar Rapids, was charged with three counts of animal mistreatment causing injury and one charge of animal neglect. He is accused of kicking and hitting his ex-girlfriend’s Shih Tzu with cardboard, causing a cut to the dog’s eye and brain swelling. He also video recorded the incident. His trial will be reset, though no date has yet been set.
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