Kathleen Rice has served as the District Attorney for Nassau County, New York since 2006. Prior to becoming the first woman in Long Island’s history to be elected district attorney, Rice served as an Assistant United States Attorney under Attorney General Janet Reno in the United States Department of Justice’s Philadelphia office.
Kathleen created the Animal Crimes Unit and 24-hour hotline in February 2010 to handle cases involving animal cruelty, abuse, and neglect. The unit handles all felony and misdemeanor cases, including animal abandonment, severe physical abuse, domestic violence-related abuse, and criminal neglect, such as food or water deprivation or lack of medical care or shelter. This also includes abuse related to gang-run dogfighting rings. The unit acknowledges that animal abuse can be an indicator of other crimes, such as domestic violence, gang activity, and child abuse. In the first 12 months after the Animal Crimes Unit’s creation, animal cruelty prosecutions more than quadrupled and the tip hotline received more than 700 complaints of suspected abuse.
“The victims in animal abuse cases cannot call for help or testify as a witness, making these cases challenging to prosecute,” Kathleen says. “The abuse often takes place behind closed doors or in someone’s home, making it even more difficult to investigate. Thanks to the dedicated members of my office’s Animal Crimes Unit and our dedicated ‘watchdogs’ in the community, however, we have begun to shine a light on animal abuse and hold the abusers accountable.”
Some major cases prosecuted by the Animal Crimes Unit include:
- In February 2011, Faith Ross pleaded guilty to five felony counts of animal cruelty after an investigation into her home uncovered 17 sick and malnourished dogs, cats, and reptiles, and at least 24 dead animals, some still with muzzles on their heads or locked in cages far too small for them. Ross’s daughter, Francesca Maselli, also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.
- Shomari Ferguson pleaded guilty to felony Aggravated Animal Cruelty in January 2011 after severely abusing his girlfriend’s kitten. Ferguson repeatedly threw the five-month-old animal against the wall, doused it in bleach, and locked it in a closet with severe injuries. The cat was rescued by a neighbor, saved by a veterinarian, and adopted out to a loving family.
- Marlon Bernier pleaded guilty to top count Animal Cruelty charges in June 2010 and was sentenced to a period of incarceration in jail and probation for chaining four pit bulls to trees and then allowing a fifth pit bull to attack them. Police also found weights, tires, muzzles, and other equipment commonly used in training pit bulls to fight.
- Victor Hopson, an assistant principal at a New York City high school, pleaded guilty in June 2010 to animal cruelty charges after abandoning his French bulldog in the bathroom of his home without food, water, or sanitation for a lengthy period of time. When the dog was rescued by an SPCA officer, the dog was emaciated, shaking, and suffering from a bacterial infection. The dog was successfully adopted out after a three-month rehabilitation.