Catasauqua Press

Friday, September 22, 2017
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Pursell not guilty

Thursday, August 11, 2016 by bernie o’hare Special to The Press in Local News

Judge sites ‘reasonable doubt’ but still criticizes N. Catty police officer’s actions

At a hearing Monday, Magisterial District Judge Jacqueline Taschner cleared North Catasauqua Police Officer Leighton Pursell of animal cruelty charges lodged against him after he euthanized an injured domestic cat named Sugar Dec. 6, 2015.

Borough Solicitor Steven Goudsouzian confirmed Tuesday that Pursell’s part-time status with the police department remains unchanged.

When Pursell responded to a radio dispatch of an “injured cat” in the backyard of Michael Leinert’s home at 1112 American St., the orange tabby cat appeared to be injured and hissed at him. He reported he saw signs of mange and observed an exaggerated limp and a blood trail leading to a grill area where the feline had moved. There had been no reports of a missing domestic cat, and it wore no collar, he said.

There were reports at the time of cats with rabies, including two cats in North Catasauqua. There are no facilities for stray cats, and the borough police department’s “use of force policy” authorizes police to destroy an animal “as a humanitarian measure when the animal is seriously injured.”

Pursell testified he made a judgment call to humanely end the life of the cat with a single shot from his department-issued .38 caliber revolver, after which he placed the cat in a plastic bag for disposal.

Because Pursell failed to first obtain two written certificates from reputable citizens confirming Sugar was injured beyond recovery, only minor charges were warranted, according to Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli.

Pursell was represented at the hearing by criminal defense attorney Gary Asteak.

“Officer Pursell came upon a snarling, clawing, limping, mangy, bleeding cat with no tags after receiving a call from a homeowner who could not let his dogs out and wanted the cat removed,” Asteak told The Press. “With known cases of rabies in the community and seeing the cat injured, bleeding and unapproachable, and without gloves, a trap or any implement to seize the cat and no animal control officer or shelter to call, he humanely killed it.”

The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Jim Augustine.

Taschner concluded the commonwealth failed to prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt” but minced no words with Pursell, telling him, “What you did is not right.”

Sugar’s owner, Tom Newhart, attended the hearing Monday. He believes Pursell did not have enough evidence of serious bodily injury to Sugar before deciding to euthanize the cat.

“I’m upset that the district attorney did not stress the fact that we have X-rays and pictures showing no serious physical injury [had occurred] to my cat,” he said. “It just seems like the pictures got ignored.”

He said the judge “told Pursell there were plenty of shelters he could have taken the animal to and that his [action was] reprehensible and quite unreasonable.”

A social media firestorm is still going strong. An online petition at Change.org, signed by more than 213,000 people, has called for more serious criminal charges, as well as Pursell’s “immediate termination.”