'Horrifying' and 'inhumane': Harris County ADA describes investigation of Baytown animal control workers

BAYTOWN, Texas (KTRK) -- Three former animal control officers at the Baytown animal shelter are accused of violating euthanasia procedures, making the final moments of two dogs' lives "horrifying," according to a Harris County prosecutor.

According to the document prepared against them, they're alleged to have injected the animals directly in the heart with a lethal injection, failing to sedate the animals to avoid pain and suffering. The probable cause document goes on to state that the workers failed to confirm that the animals were dead before disposing of their bodies.

The incidents, according to the Harris County District Attorney's office, happened in May 2015.

For several years, animal rescue groups have heard stories of animal mistreatment at the city-operated shelter. Two years ago, an employee documented incidents on video. The video was turned over to rescuers, who took them to the police department and city council.

"We had given up hope that anything would ever be done," said Wanda Carter, a longtime animal advocate in Baytown. "We can't believe this day came."

The investigation took more than a year to complete before it was turned over to the DA's office. In that time, several of the incidents that were documented on video exceeded the time limit imposed by the statute of limitations.

The case which resulted in charges involved the euthanasia of a black dog and a blonde terrier.

Accused of violating euthanasia protocol are Christopher Isla Nightingale, Veronica Jimenez and Tod Brooks. One was terminated and another resigned in February. Brooks is said to be using sick time before his planned retirement. We were unable to reach the defendants, either by phone or at their homes Thursday.

Shantel Priddy is one of the rescue advocates who pressed for a criminal investigation. She believes the video evidence brought the charges.

"I don't want to say (the animals were) euthanized because that's not the best word to use. They were tortured before they were killed," she said.

Conceding that euthanasia is an "issue" for shelters, Assistant District Attorney Carvana Cloud said Thursday, "It doesn't exclude shelters from properly and humanely taking into consideration the animals' pain and emotions before being put down."

Baytown spokesperson Patti Jett issued a statement saying that the city doesn't condone the inhumane treatment of animals and said the city will cooperate with the DA's office, stressing that the three accused are no longer employees at the shelter. She also said the Baytown shelter has added operating hours and a volunteer coordinator and complies with state standards and universally held operating practices.

The shelter has a new director and several new staff members. Rescue groups said the director is open to working with rescues that can pull animals from the shelter and place them in foster homes while they await new owners.

More changes are needed to satisfy Wanda Clark.

"We have a rescue group that wants to get the shelter out from under the health department, which I think would be great because the city has not done a very good job over the years," she said.

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