Editorial: Westport's animals deserved better than half-hearted prosecution

Posted 10/1/20

You can almost hear the giant sigh of relief from up in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office now that it has contrived a way to put that tiresome Westport animal cruelty mess in its rear …

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Editorial: Westport's animals deserved better than half-hearted prosecution

Posted

You can almost hear the giant sigh of relief from up in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office now that it has contrived a way to put that tiresome Westport animal cruelty mess in its rear view mirror.

The credibility of Westport’s lead detective in the case, said AG Maura Healey, was tarnished in another subsequent case so it would be fruitless and pointless for us to chase the Route 177 “farm” culprits any further.

Lest anyone wonder, “We reached this conclusion reluctantly,” she wrote. “It has been our priority from the beginning of this case to ensure that justice is served for the Westport community and the animals that were mistreated.”

If that was the priority, then the state and its animal laws have failed miserably two times running (the 2016 case was the second at this same property).

The remaining alleged perpetrators get off with neither prison time nor fine, a few settled earlier and got probation, and the alleged ringleader died before the slow-motion case against him could get anywhere.

Everyone talked a good game but in reality this amounted to a three-partner (defense, prosecution, judges) dance of continuance upon delay upon postponement until, four years later, it mostly just went away. 

AG Healey said, “This investigation by the Attorney General’s Office was the largest animal cruelty investigation in New England’s history.”

It was indeed an immense investigation which is part of what makes it so hard to swallow that the loss of a single detective, even Westport’s lead detective, from the AG’s witness list could possibly sink this case.

The prosecution must have been prepared to usher a long and impressive list of witnesses into that courtroom and should have pushed to do so promptly before memories blurred, public indignation waned and the accused disappeared or died. And it ought to have been able to do so with or without that detective.

Other Westport detectives were involved as were veterinarians and the Animal Rescue League of Boston. The ASPCA, which, with crews and equipment dispatched from around North America, essentially took over the rescue operation, also provided legal guidance to help prepare for court. Those ASPCA experts knew every inch of that 70-plus acre “animal house of horrors” and its nearly 1,400 animals, they had photos, knew which defendant rented each lot, and would surely have made compelling witnesses.

And since the Attorney General’s office touts its own probe as “the largest animal cruelty investigation in New England’s history,” certainly it must be capable of soldiering on with or without one discredited detective. Have some faith in your investigative and prosecutorial talents — let a judge decide.

In the end, this case demonstrates yet again that the well-being of animals doesn’t much matter in our courts. Laws are weak (it would have been gratifying to see Westport’s State House delegation step up in some meaningful way), enforcers like Westport’s previous Board of Health looked away, and prosecutors and judges let the years slip past.

The lone bright side to all of that Westport suffering would have been to see the Commonwealth’s lawmakers and justice system jolted to action, for the state to show that it will longer tolerate such barbarity.

Instead, Massachusetts threw in the towel. 

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.