Will officers be penalized for cruelty complaint? King County mulls its options

Wendy Keller

Wendy Keller

King County officials are still trying to decide whether they’ll be doling out reprimands to an animal-control officer and the officer’s sergeant after the two officers filed an animal-cruelty complaint last October against managers of the county-run Kent Animal Shelter.

“It’s still under review,” said Nancy McKenney, communications specialist for King County Animal Care and Control, in a phone interview last Wednesday.

Animal Control Officer Mike Cronin filed a complaint Oct. 11 that alleged inhumane conditions for cats that were housed in temperatures in the 30s at a temporary outdoor, covered shelter at the facility. Sgt. Steve Couvion, Cronin’s supervisor, signed off on the complaint.

Snohomish County Animal Services, called in to investigate the complaint, found no evidence of cruelty.

“There is no evidence to suggest or support there was intent to harm any of the animals in the custody of the shelter,” Lt. Gordon R. Abbott, supervisor of Snohomish County Animal Services, wrote Nov. 14 to Sgt. David Morris of King County Animal Care and Control.

Morris, who oversees cruelty complaints, asked Snohomish County officials to review the complaint as an outside entity.

The temporary shelter is no more.

Shelter staff tore it down in December, moving the cats in shortly afterward to a new modular building next to the existing shelter.

“All of the adoptive cats are in the modular,” McKenney said.

In Cronin’s Oct. 11 complaint, the officer claimed that because of the cold weather forecasted for the following day that something more needed to be done to protect the cats in the outdoor shelter.

McKenney said the main thing King County officials are reviewing is whether Cronin and his supervisor used the correct procedure in the complaint they filed.

Cronin did not return a Kent Reporter staffwriter’s voicemail for comment. Couvion also could not be reached for comment.

“Any reprimand will be based not about their concerns about animal care, but the process or protocol and how they wrote the reports,” McKenney said.

Two other animal-control officers signed the initial complaint, but later recanted, McKenney said. Those two officers will not be subject to any action.

Temperatures dropped to 37 degrees on Oct. 11, when Cronin filed his complaint, but temperatures were never lower than that from Oct. 5-17, McKenney said.

McKenney stressed the county’s point of view on the matter.

“The animals were never in danger,” McKenney said. “And the report was not based on how cruelty laws are written. No laws were broken or animals endangered.”

Shelter officials said Cronin had other options to voice his concerns about the cats, rather than filing an animal-cruelty complaint.

“It was unfortunate the officer went that route instead of the usual protocol,” McKenney said. “He could have asked questions up the chain-of-command or at staff meetings. Instead, he filed a complaint against his own agency.”

Abbott, the Snohomish County supervisor of animal services, stated in his letter to King County that the complaint by the officer failed to provide “photos or other physical evidence to show the conditions of the animals at the time of the complaint.”

McKenney said plans were in place before the complaint to protect the cats in the outdoor shelter with tarps, heaters and extra blankets.

The county’s Human Resources Division will issue any reprimand for the two employees. That division is still reviewing files and options.

Reprimands, if warranted, could range from a write-up to verbal counseling to a suspension, McKenney said.

John Diel, president of the Animal Control Officers Guild, the union representing the officers, said he wasn’t aware of any reprimands against the officers.

“We haven’t seen anything come across our desk for any type of discipline,” Diel said. “We have no comment until we see anything.”

Over the last two years, the King County animal shelters in Kent and Bellevue have turned into a political battleground between County Executive Ron Sims and the County Council.

County officials are taking steps to improve the shelters after a critical report by a citizens advisory committee in 2007 called shelter conditions “deplorable.” Another report in March 2008 by consultant Nathan Winograd said that “the county has failed for more than a decade to take the necessary steps to reform the shelters.”

Four County Council members have gone on the record stating they are in favor of bringing in another organization to run the shelter program. Julia Patterson, Dow Constantine, Reagan Dunn and Larry Phillips stated at a Council meeting in October that they favored getting the county out of the business.

The Council has directed staff to study what it would take to bring another organization, such as the Seattle Humane Society, to the table as an operator. There’s no time line yet for when the Council would vote on such a proposal.

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