Animal control investigation concludes, but questions remain as improvements underway

By R. Hans Miller, News Editor
Posted 7/25/21

An investigation into allegations of animal cruelty on the part of Katy Animal Control officers David Brown and Spencer Antinoro has been completed and both officers cleared of most of the …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Animal control investigation concludes, but questions remain as improvements underway

Posted

An investigation into allegations of animal cruelty on the part of Katy Animal Control officers David Brown and Spencer Antinoro has been completed and both officers cleared of most of the allegations against them according to a Katy Police Department investigation file. The Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute either of the two animal control officers.

“I spoke to (Sherry Robinson from the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office) and she said there’s nothing there other than maybe a few procedural errors,” Katy Police Chief Noe Diaz said.

The allegations against Brown and Antinoro were made by the city’s part-time animal control officer, Chelsea Gerber, who filed the complaint that launched the investigation. The allegations have been a controversial topic at multiple Katy City Council meetings.

Investigation results

The investigation, which was completed in March of this year, exonerated both officers of unlawfully dumping euthanized animals in city dumpsters. It also said complaints of burying euthanized animals on city property, improper euthanization of animals and inhumane treatment of animals were not sustained.

Accusations of involvement with the case of Angie Wells, in which Wells is being investigated by Fort Bend County authorities for issues related to animal hoarding in March of 2020, were not investigated by Katy PD, Diaz said. He declined to comment on the Wells case because of the active case by another law enforcement agency.

“I already knew we weren’t going to get involved with the Angie Wells (case) because I was instructed by the (Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office), ‘Don’t get involved in it. We’re looking at it,’” Diaz said.

The only accusation made by Gerber verified during the investigation was improperly handling and falsifying animal control records. Katy PD Lieutenant Lee Hernandez said that not only were Brown and Antinoro found to have mishandled records at the city’s animal shelter, but Gerber had as well.

Gerber had also alleged in her complaint that cats had been set free on Bartlett Road just outside of Katy city limits, west of Cane Island. Hernandez said he was unable to verify those allegations during his investigation. 

She had also accused her fellow officers of dipping kittens in diluted bleach to treat ringworm, which could not be verified. Video evidence provided by Gerber does not show any kittens being treated in this manner, and her voiceover only discusses medications for the condition on a nearby workspace.

Allegations regarding the euthanizing of animals without documenting their capture were also made. The investigation report cleared Brown and Antinoro of that accusation, however during the investigation, Hernandez said he relied on documentation available through Katy Animal Control records. Gerber said there would have been no evidence of wrongdoing because the animals killed in that manner weren’t documented.

Inconsistencies

At least some of the findings from the investigation appear to be inconsistent with videos provided by Gerber and a statement made by Brown to former Katy City Council Member Jennifer Stockdick.

“(Brown) didn’t use the word ‘killing,’” Stockdick said. “He said, ‘I’ve been putting them down on day one,’ and he said, ‘No one in 15 years has ever claimed that that was their pet.’”

Stockdick said Brown made the statement during a tour she had taken of the Katy Animal Control facility located on I-10 between FM 1463 and Pin Oak Road in Katy.

While Diaz and Hernandez both said staff were fully trained to humanely euthanize animals, Gerber’s video footage shows a tabby cat that Antinoro had put to sleep suffering for an extended time after sodium pentobarbital had been administered. According to The Humane Society of the United States, euthanization via pentobarbital should take two minutes or less to kill an animal. Antinoro eventually administered more of the drug and the cat died soon after.

While the investigation indicated that animals euthanized at the shelter using sodium pentobarbital were not improperly disposed of, videos provided by Gerber depict Brown and Antinoro discussing the disposal of animals in city dumpsters without proper processes being followed. Chapter 169 of the Texas Administrative Code requires animals euthanized with the drug to be disposed of in an appropriate landfill. Sanitation workers must also be notified that the animals contain the drug so the landfill can properly bury the carcasses to prevent injury to wildlife who may attempt to consume the animal remains. However, in one video Antinoro indicates that he spoke with the driver of a trash truck and asked about the driver’s route to identify a dumpster to place animal remains in.

In another, Antinoro and Brown explain to Gerber that they plan to use dumpsters to dispose of feline remains.

“I’ve got a bag full of cats back there now,” Antinoro says in the video. “We can take the bag and the box of kittens.”

In the video, Antinoro then explains that he’s talking about the dumpster at the city-owned Woodsland Park Community Center in Katy, while Brown says they can use any city dumpster.

Diaz said he had spoken with representatives of Texas Pride Disposal, the city’s refuse services provider, and confirmed that arrangements had been made by Brown to dispose of the animals in Texas Pride’s landfills. He said the landfills are appropriate facilities for disposal of euthanized animal remains.

“(Gerber) didn’t know,” Diaz said. “She didn’t know because she was just there on the weekends and David had already made all those arrangements.”

However, it was unclear what notification system had been set up to ensure sanitation workers knew remains would be in specific dumpsters to ensure remains were buried appropriately and that an qualified landfill was selected for trucks carrying them.

Gerber said she was frustrated at the lack of action when she had initially brought her concerns to Diaz in June of 2020 and he did not move forward with the investigation at that time.

Diaz initially said during a March 31 interview that he did not move forward with an investigation at the time because Gerber had not filed a complaint in writing. However, when asked where to find the requirement in policy for the complaint to be in writing during a follow-up interview on May 6, he said Gerber did not actually make a complaint in June of 2021 but had just discussed concerns informally.

“Okay, so that wasn’t a formal complaint,” Diaz said. “We visited. We talked about her husband. … It was a very bland meeting of sorts.”

Gerber said during multiple interviews that she had notified Diaz of her concerns regarding practices at Katy Animal Control and had expected him to investigate the issues she’d brought up. However, she also said her main concern now is improvements at the facility and getting her life back in order after a subsequent investigation was opened relating to her actions during the investigation.

Moving Forward

While the KPD Internal Affairs investigation has been closed, allegations against Brown related to him assisting Wells in hiding animals from investigators are associated with an ongoing case with Fort Bend County Court at Law 4. Additionally, another KPD investigation into the euthanizing of a cat named Jasper was still underway, Diaz said during the May interview.

However, the city is moving forward with improvements to the Katy Animal Control program to remedy any shortcomings related to facilities and procedures.

The city adopted Houston Humane Society’s animal control policy manual with some adjustments to fit the city’s needs, Diaz said. Additionally, the city has formed the Katy Animal Control Advisory Committee made up of members appointed by city council members to examine practices at the facility and bring them in line with modern animal control industry best practices.

Diaz said during a March 8 city council meeting presentation that Katy Animal Control has partnered with the Houston Humane Society to ensure animal remains are properly disposed of. Additionally, euthanasia is now overseen by a veterinarian, he said.

Diaz also said that kennel cards, documents recording animals taken into the shelter, are now being done for each animal taken in and are being processed digitally rather than using easily-lost paper cards.

In a recommendations document submitted to Katy City Council members, the Katy Animal Control Advisory Group suggested several changes that would cost the city about $120,000. The majority of the fixes would be relatively inexpensive with a new cat cage, vaccinations, public outreach and pet wellness program costing only about $10,000. However, a proposed shelter modernization would come in at $110,000 to bring the facility up to guidelines set by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians.

A recommendation for a Katy animal outreach coordinator position was also proposed by the advisory group and would not only adjust the job description of an existing part-time position, thus not incurring any additional cost to the city, according to documents provided by a group member. The new position would help establish formal relationships with animal-serving nonprofits, rather than the informal agreements used now.

Council Member Rory Robertson said that, while he is saddened about the overall situation, he feels that the fixes the city is putting in place are important as problems are identified and solutions implemented.

While he could not speak to the closed or ongoing investigation, in a brief conversation, Brown said there is a silver lining to the overall situation.

“One thing about it, it is moving the shelter forward, we've always been shorthanded,” said Brown.

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here