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Dog abuser makes a deal

Published: Fri, January 23, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

Dog abuser makes a deal

Steve Croley got away with murder, in the colloquial sense, not literally. By definition, murder involves purposely killing another human being. Croley’s crime: He allowed 19 dogs that were in his care to go without food, and seven starved.

Nothing went as it should have in Croley’s criminal case.

First, the city prosecutor’s office determined that it could pursue only four cases against Croley because his premises were entered by humane agents without a warrant. Only cases based on evidence of animal cruelty that was clearly visible without entering Croley’s High Caliber K-9 kennel at 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road were filed.

Croley took money from people to care for and train some of the dogs He spent the money in ways unknown, but certainly not in caring for the animals. He faced no criminal charges for what appears to be accepting payment under false pretenses. He was, however, ordered to make some financial restitution.

The charges that Croley did face could have brought him a year in jail, had he been found guilty and the maximum three-month sentences ordered to be served concurrently. But he entered a plea bargain that brought him a total sentence of fourth months in jail, one on each count. He was fined $1,000 in total, rather than $750 on each count.

Lucky to be a Buckeye

Croley was fortunate that he committed his crimes in Ohio, where animal cruelty is a misdemeanor. In 45 other states, he could have faced felony charges.

City Prosecutor Jay Macejko said last month that Ohio should have a felony animal cruelty statute. We would agree. But at the same time, had Croley been prosecuted to the full extent of the law, found guilty and sentenced accordingly, he would have faced three times as much jail time and three times the fine that he managed to get with a plea bargain.

To the extent that he has assets, he could face civil suits from some of the owners of the dogs he starved. To the extent that he doesn’t have assets, it’s equally possible that no lawyer will agree to pursue a civil case.

Certainly the case points up the need for better training for humane agents and better coordination with the city law department. And Ohio should join the vast majority of other states in increasing the legal liability for those who will follow Croley’s path, as some inevitably will. At least a felony charge would make it easier for prosecutors to drive harder plea bargains.

But those improvements will be of little consolation to the people who thought they were doing a good thing for their pets when they turned them over to Steve Croley. They will have to live with their mistakes and content themselves with the assurance from Croley’s lawyer that he is “very, very sorry.” Sorry, indeed.

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