Pennsylvania teen who tortured dying deer avoids prison sentence; case highlights need for mental health evaluations in animal cruelty instances
A Pennsylvania court this week allowed an 18-year-old to avoid prison time for a crime that shocked Americans when a viral video of it surfaced earlier this year: in the video, the young man and his friend were seen torturing a dying deer, kicking him in the head and even ripping off his antler as the frightened animal cried in pain and tried to escape.
The two young men were charged soon after with felony animal cruelty under Libre’s Law, a landmark 2017 Pennsylvania law that increased penalties for egregious animal cruelty. This was a heartening development, because we often find that in most animal cruelty cases the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and the new law finally gave Pennsylvania a strong tool to ensure that those who commit such terrible animal cruelty are held accountable. It also set a precedent in Pennsylvania for future wildlife cruelty cases to be charged under Libre’s Law.
This week, the older teen was sentenced to two years of probation and 200 hours of community service after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals and summary counts of violating state hunting regulations. His hunting license was also revoked for 15 years. The more serious charges, including a felony count of aggravated cruelty to animals that carried a penalty of up to seven years in prison, were withdrawn. (The other teen, who is 17, has been charged as a juvenile).
However one may feel about the outcome, one thing is clear: there is a lot more that remains to be done to ensure that animal cruelty crimes are treated with the seriousness that they deserve.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this case was the apparent apathy of the young men to the pain and suffering of a dying animal: they could be seen laughing as they videotaped themselves on their phones hurting the terrified deer in his final moments.
Research has drawn a clear link time and again between animal cruelty and acts of human violence. It is a link we ourselves have often reported, including in the case of the high school shooter who boasted of killing animals before he shot and killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida. Just last week, we heard of this case in South Carolina where a dog was found shot inside the home of a man facing multiple charges after a domestic violence investigation.
That’s why the Humane Society of the United States is now asking prosecutors in Pennsylvania to consider mental health evaluations and counseling for cases involving such egregious animal cruelty. We are working closely with state organizations, including the State’s Center for Children’s Justice, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, to develop a free seminar for law enforcement and social service professionals centered around the important relationship between animal cruelty and family violence.
We are also supporting a state bill, the Animal Welfare Cooperation Act, HB 1655, which will encourage cross-agency partnerships and collaboration that will be particularly helpful with complicated cases under Libre’s Law or investigations that cover multiple jurisdictions. The bill would, among other provisions, allow the office of the attorney general to provide free training for district attorneys and humane police officers on handling complicated animal abuse investigations. In one year alone there are more than 18,000 animal abuse offenses reported in Pennsylvania, and this law would better equip law enforcement agencies to address them.
We need your support to get this bill passed so if you live in Pennsylvania, please call your state lawmakers and ask them to support H.B. 1655. This case also highlights the importance for each one of us to be vigilant and report animal cruelty when we see it happening, so those who cause such intense animal suffering do not have a chance to repeat it.