'Justice for Sugar' movement keeps growing after DA declines to prosecute cop who killed cat
More than 200,000 signatures on petition calling for police officer to be fired for shooting missing and possibly injured pet.
A Pennsylvania man, whose missing cat was slain by a police officer, believes the cop should be punished for not trying to help save his pet.
Officer Leighton Pursell shot and killed Sugar with his department-issued .38-caliber revolver after responding to reports of an "injured cat" in a North Catasauquaresident's backyard,Northampton County DA John Morganelli said at a press conference Monday.
"It was not known to the police officer ... that a domestic cat was missing in the jurisdiction," Morganelli said. "The owner of the cat, Mr. Thomas Newhart, did not report that his cat Sugar was missing."
Pursell killed the cat after arriving at the scene on Dec. 6 to end its suffering, according to Morganelli -- not knowing that Newhart was just a few houses away.
Morganelli issued a citation or summary violation to Pursell for failing to seek veterinary care for Sugar’s injuries, but declined to charge him with an animal cruelty misdemeanor — finding his actions had "no malice."
But Newhart’s lawyer, Jenna Fliszar, responded that she will continue pursuing complaints with the police department and said “nothing is off the table” in terms of other possible remedies, including a lawsuit.
“We want him fired,” she said of Pursell. “If community opinion is any indication, the community doesn’t trust him. They don’t want him protecting and serving them.”
Fliszar also said there’s no proof Sugar was even injured at the time of the shooting.
She provided a copy of a post-mortem exam of Sugar that found no trauma other than fragments of the bullet that killed the cat. She added that the neighbor who called police about Sugar initially said the cat was uninjured, then apparently changed his story.
She called Morganelli’s statements at his press conference that Sugar had hair loss and mange “absolutely not true.”
Morganelli, who just lost the primary race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, said at his press conference that Newhart had previously been warned by police for letting his pets out of the house. He also said a letter by Fliszar released about the case contained misinformation, including that Pursell had killed a healthy cat, that contributed to a “mob mentality” around the case.
“It’s beyond my comprehension that he can say that we were putting out misinformation related to there not being any injuries when the veterinary report backs up what we’re saying,” she said. “He [Pursell] is saying the cat was so injured he was dragging his back leg, and couldn’t walk and was leaving a trail of blood. There’d be something significant on the veterinary exam and there wasn’t anything – other than a bullet hole.”
Pursell encountered Sugar on Dec. 6 after he was called by a neighbor who spotted the cat in his backyard.
After Pursell observed what Morganelli described as "mange, hair loss, bleeding from injury on the cat's back area... a blood trail," and the fact that "the hind legs of cat were not working properly," he decided to kill it, Morganelli said.
"Officer Pursell made a decision to in his judgment to humanely end the cat's life and suffering," Morganelli said. "Officer Pursell fired a single shot ... instantly killing the cat."
Morganelli said officers can kill feral animals if they are seriouslyinjured, and that the county has a significant population of stray animals — some of whom have been found to have rabies.
Newhart, who couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, is disappointed by the DA’s decision, Fliszar said.
“He feels like there's no justice here,” Fliszar said. “He feels like they put all the blame on him."
"Sugar was more than just a cat," Newhart wrote in a statement posted on Facebook. "My pets are like my kids. I just want this officer disciplined for what he did to Sugar."
The Pennsylvania SPCA, headquartered in Philadelphia, declined to comment on whether the charge against Pursell is approriate or not, saying they lacked first-hand information. However, they confirmed that in Pennsylvania, police officers have the right to euthanize animals found to be wounded or in pain.
"The reason for this is that not all municipalities in the Commonwealth are located within a reasonable distance of a veterinary clinic which could euthanize an animal," said PSPCA spokeswoman Gillian Kocher in an email. "This is in an effort to prevent suffering, not cause it. We cannot determine whether this animal's condition would warrant this type of action as we do not know what injuries it may have had prior to its shooting."