Activists Vow to Continue Fight for Criminal Charges in Centralia Cat’s Death

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

586423286a1e1-imageAnimal activists are not ready to give up their quest for justice for a Centralia house cat, despite receiving a blow to their efforts in Lewis County District Court Tuesday.

Nearly two dozen advocates for Jay, a cat killed after being dropped from a balcony and stabbed in Centralia in April, packed the courtroom Tuesday afternoon to support the efforts of plaintiff Erika Johnson and animal rights attorney Adam Karp.

Karp asked District Court Judge R.W. Buzzard Tuesday to find probable cause and file charges of criminal misdemeanor animal cruelty, malicious mischief and animal theft charges against three adults allegedly involved in the case.

The Chronicle is not identifying the three adults because they have not been charged with a crime.

Buzzard ruled against the motion.

Johnson, an animal cruelty investigator with Joint Animal Services in Thurston County and the plaintiff in the case, said she was disappointed with the judge’s ruling, but said she wasn’t done.

“To me, it’s another hiccup. We’re going to keep moving forward,” she said. “We’re not giving up on Baby Jay.”

Immediately following the hearing, Karp, hired by animal advocates after an online crowdfunding effort, filed a request with Lewis County Superior Court to convene a grand jury for possible felony charges in the case.

On April 28, the Centralia Police Department arrested a man on suspicion of killing the cat in the 100 block of Virginia Drive in Centralia.

However, the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office determined soon after reviewing the case that there was not enough evidence against the man to charge him, but that it seemed a group of children were involved.

The Prosecutor’s Office noted at the time that it appeared the man was attempting to put the cat out of its misery by killing it.

The cat was “squeezed,” had been thrown or dropped from a second-story balcony at least twice and had a stone thrown or dropped on its head, according to the Prosecutor’s Office. The cat was also stabbed in the head at some point.

During the hearing Tuesday, Karp described the role he believes the three adults played in the cat’s death, which he called “gruesome.”

One adult allegedly dropped the cat twice from a nine-foot balcony, while a second stabbed it, he said.

A necropsy showed the cat suffered multiple injuries and severe brain damage, Karp said.

In mid-May, the Centralia Police Department acknowledged it made some errors in the investigation, including that officers did not initially collect the cat’s body as evidence after the incident, and stated that it was working to update its policies. The body of the cat was recovered and officers, working with the Prosecutor’s Office, continued their investigation.

Since then, the Prosecutor’s Office has taken action against one suspect, an 11-year-old Centralia girl. The girl was referred to a juvenile diversion program.

“This was the state’s best case, against the 11-year-old,” said Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher in court Tuesday.

The Prosecutor’s Office declined to file further charges in the matter.

Meagher said at the District Court hearing Tuesday that decision was made partially because a necropsy could not determine which wound, and therefore which assailant, conclusively caused the cat’s death.

“Who killed the cat? Nobody can answer that,” Meagher said. “That’s reasonable doubt.”

Karp didn’t buy that argument.

“That’s irrelevant,” Karp said, saying that the prosecution does not need to prove which person inflicted the fatal wound to prove the wounds were inflicted, and that it was cruel to the animal.

Karp further argued that the state could convict the three adults on second-degree animal cruelty with the evidence at hand.

“We have that here,” he said. “We have that over and over again.”

Karp further argued against the prosecution’s assertion that the cat was stabbed as an act of euthanasia, saying stabbing fits no veterinarian-accepted definition of euthanasia.

“There is no basis at all to claim that this was justified or excused by law,” Karp said.

Meagher also argued that the intent of the law allowing Karp to file a civil motion for charges in the case was not to circumvent county prosecutors. He said the Prosecutor’s Office already seriously considered the case and felt that it was not feasible to charge.

“They don’t like our charging decision so they want to do an end-run around,” he said.

Meagher further argued that the case could present a constitutional issue if Buzzard, an elected official, ordered the prosecutor’s office, run by another elected official, to file charges in a case.

“I think this is an abuse of this particular statute,” he said.

Buzzard told the court the statute at hand requires him to find sufficient admissible evidence for the prosecution to prove the case, rather than the lower standard of probable cause to file charges.

Buzzard, before denying Karp’s request, said the prosecution adequately considered the case, and said the cat’s death was investigated “to the extent that I’ve never seen this type of a complaint be investigated.”

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