Whistleblower alleges misconduct by Katy Animal Control Staff

Inappropriate euthanizing, false reporting and other misconduct alleged

By R. Hans Miller | News Editor
Posted 2/25/21

Part-time Katy Animal Control Officer Chelsea Gerber has come forward with allegations against her coworkers, Animal Control Supervisor David Brown and fellow officer Spencer Antinoro. Gerber alleges …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Whistleblower alleges misconduct by Katy Animal Control Staff

Inappropriate euthanizing, false reporting and other misconduct alleged

Posted

Part-time Katy Animal Control Officer Chelsea Gerber has come forward with allegations against her coworkers, Animal Control Supervisor David Brown and fellow officer Spencer Antinoro. Gerber alleges Brown’s leadership has Katy Animal Control violating multiple policies and laws, including improperly euthanizing and disposing of animals.

“In general, I started to see things such as animals without kennel cards, not documented in (our system),” Gerber said. “The call would come straight into Katy Animal Control and never be reported to a dispatcher. Just a whole bunch of scenarios like that – other red flags – cats being euthanized on the truck (or) after hours in the building, left in their cages overnight.”

Gerber agreed to speak with the Katy Times despite an order from the city of Katy that she should not speak to anyone about the issue.

Gerber said she brought her concerns to Katy Police Chief Noe Diaz in June of 2020. She met with Diaz June 23, 2020, and discussed concerns including possible falsified records, possible collusion with Angie Wells – a Fort Bend County woman who had more than 200 animals removed from her home March 8, 2020 – the inappropriate disposal of euthanized animals and Brown not correctly administering pentobarbital when euthanizing animals. Gerber told Diaz Brown had made a statement about Wells owing him $50,000, insinuating Wells had offered to buy Katy Animal Control a new truck in exchange for Brown’s assistance. That assistance, Gerber felt, might have interfered with the investigation into Wells’ animal hoarding and included possible falsification of animal control calls and other records.

Katy Times reached out to Fort Bend County animal cruelty investigator Howard Kreusel regarding the allegations of collaboration between Brown and Wells, but Kreusel said he was not authorized to speak with the press and would ask for a manager to return our call. No return call was received in time for publication.

Gerber said she met with Kreusel in September of 2020 and provided as much information as she could to assist him with his investigation of Wells’ and Brown’s possible collaboration.

Gerber has nearly 50 gigabytes of evidence she shared with Katy Times, including videos, photos, recordings, digital journals and other items supporting her claims. That information was also provided to Katy PD investigators, she said.

Gerber said she was not provided with follow-up information regarding an investigation as required by Katy Police Department internal policy.

Gerber said she followed up on her complaint in December 2020 and added more allegations of inappropriate behavior by Brown. After speaking with Antinoro, she had discovered Brown had directed Antinoro to dispose of animal remains in city dumpsters, a violation of Texas regulations which require animals to be buried deep enough scavenging animals will not consume them and get poisoned by the pentobarbital in the remains. She also had concerns regarding a long-haired tabby cat whose euthanasia had been botched, she said.

“That euthanization prompted me,” she said. “That was kind of my final straw, witnessing that cat struggle for hours. I reached out to both the mayor and the chief of police and requested them at a meeting as soon as possible.”

Mayor Bill Hastings did not attend the meeting, Gerber said.

Hastings posted a public statement on Jan. 18 regarding the Animal Control Department situation which had been leaked to social media by then, causing an uproar in the community.

“We understand there are some concerns circulating through the community regarding our Animal Control Department. We have begun addressing some of the concerns,” Hastings said.

Hastings said the city would apprise residents of progress as staff addressed the concerns in more detail. The issue has since been the subject of a Katy City Council workshop and an investigation into the matter is ongoing.

After both meetings, Gerber said Diaz offered to transfer her to Katy PD’s dispatch services. She declined and after speaking with her husband, requested a leave of absence during the investigation out of concern for her safety. She also expressed concern the city may not have followed whistleblower laws applicable to government employees.

“My impression of what was supposed to happen is, first, my complaint be taken seriously. Second, my identity and my actual information that I’m complaining about be kept confidential,” Gerber said of her situation and the nondisclosure agreement she was asked to sign by a Katy PD investigator. “I feel like my First Amendment rights were severely violated. I shouldn’t have to keep quiet about criminal or inhumane activity.”

According to Houston law firm Feldman & Feldman, “Under (The Texas Whistleblower Act), public employees are protected from various forms of retaliation by employers, including suspension, termination or any adverse actions against the employee.”

Gerber said no solid answer authorizing a leave of absence was officially given after she requested one, but Katy Times has verified with Katy Human Resources Director Angelina Tredway that Gerber is on a leave of absence.

City Council Member Rory Robertson said he was concerned about Katy Animal Control prior to Gerber’s complaint and had already seen signs things were not right in the department before videos were leaked to a Facebook account under the name “Mark Huff” which was later proven to be an alias for an unknown individual. He had requested data from the city and while a higher than he liked euthanasia rate showed in the data, it seemed like everything was in line with his expectations, though he wanted some improvements as he came into office.

“Then, about a month later, a city employee contacted me and showed me the videos,” Robertson said. “I was horrified and I knew that those videos – in their context – … were not in line with the report that I saw.”

Gerber denied being “Mark Huff” and said she believed someone she’d confided in prior to signing the nondisclosure form with Katy PD had created the alias.

The videos show multiple animals being mistreated while in the care of Katy Animal Control. One depicts a black cat that had been put down by Brown overnight and left in its cage for Gerber to find when she came into work the next morning, the injection stick he’d allegedly used to administer a lethal injection to the cat left lying around with pentobarbital still in the syringe. Another with cats in an outdoor birdcage panting with insufficient water or shade to keep cool, and footage of a Katy Animal Control staff member moving frozen animal remains to a vehicle for dumping, as well as a conversation between Gerber and Antinoro wherein Antinoro describes following a directive from Brown to scout which city dumpsters would be serviced by the city’s trash company soon to ensure animals were not seen in them.

Diaz said he could not comment specifically on an ongoing investigation; however, at a Feb. 2 Katy City Council workshop he discussed multiple animal control policy changes.

Generally, he said, the city would maintain its current training practices and place additional training requirements for Katy Animal Control staff, including training offered by Harris County Animal Control.

“(Brown) and (Antinoro) will actually go to the Harris County facility and cross-train so they can just learn different techniques from a giant facility and come back and bring what is applicable to us,” Diaz said.

During the presentation, Diaz said 80% of animals taken into the shelter in 2019 were returned to owners or transferred to rehoming rescues and reported that number increased to 88% in 2020. Katy Animal Control does not offer direct adoptions. Diaz said the city partners with about 20 rescue agencies, including Houston Chow Chow Connection. He said the city donates $25 to these agencies for each pet they take in.

However, Ellen Schutz a volunteer with Houston Chow Chow Connection said she knows the organization does not partner with Katy.

Information provided by David Brown regarding the shelter’s partnership with Houston Chow Chow Connection shows that the nonprofit and Katy Animal Control have partnered at least once in April of 2020 and were willing to work with the shelter again to help another stray Chow in February of this year. The partnership does not appear to be a formal agreement, but rather, informal cooperation.

Locally, Katy Animal Control is known to work with Special Pals Shelter and Citizens for Animal Protection to facilitate pet adoptions.

In his Feb. 18 statement, Hastings said he was extending hold times for animals at the shelter from 72 hours to seven days.

Diaz said multiple policy changes are also set to take place at Katy Animal Control. Rather than only following Texas’ minimum guidelines for shelter operations, the city will be adopting procedures mirroring Harris County’s; a contracted company will be identified to properly dispose of animal remains, and euthanizing animals will be overseen by a veterinarian moving forward. A residential advisory board has also been created to allow residents, city officials and animal control experts to provide input on shelter operations.

Robertson said he was not satisfied with the presentation at the Feb. 2 workshop and wanted more to be done but understood there was a lot of research and time needed to bring Katy Animal Control up to the standard expected by its citizens.

Robertson was concerned processes were not being followed by Katy Animal Control. He was especially concerned about a cat named Jasper which had been killed in less than 72 hours and had not been scanned for a chip that would have helped return Jasper to his owner. Robertson had also researched how Katy could become a no-kill shelter and humanely dispose of animals and set up adoptions at the facility. Still, he said he understands investigation is a process, and he has faith Diaz will take care of the situation in time after a properly-conducted investigation.

Katy Times reached out to David Brown for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication in the print edition of the paper. However, shortly after press time Wednesday, Brown responded.

Brown said he cannot speak to the allegations, which he claimed were false, due to the ongoing investigation at this time. However, he is happy that the attention to the department is bringing resources to bear which will help provide better services to the city in the long run.

“There’s a lot of false stuff that has been put out there,” Brown said. “Really, one thing about it is, it is moving the shelter forward – we’ve always been short-handed. And, not too many people have known what’s gone around with the shelter – how many animals we’ve picked up, how many animals we’ve returned home, how many animals go out to nonprofits … for adoption.”

Brown said he was glad the city’s new animal control website is online and data is being shown to the public that shows the work his department does.

Meanwhile, Gerber says she just wants some accountability for what she says she saw happen at Katy Animal Control.

“The only thing that I see happening is reform – which is great,” Gerber said. “I am not knocking the reform. I’m glad they’re taking a really good, hard look at it and that they’re considering making some big changes. One thing I haven’t seen happen is the accountability for the actions that spurred that reform.”