STEVE CROLEY ACCUSED OF VIOLATING PROBATION
By John W. Goodwin Jr.
The man whose animal-cruelty conviction gave birth to a call for change in state law is free on his own recognizance after spending Monday night in jail on a parole violation.
Steven Croley, 41, former owner of High Caliber K-9 Kennel on Coitsville-Hubbard Road where seven dogs starved to death in 2008, appeared Tuesday before Judge Robert Douglas of Youngstown Municipal Court via video for arraignment for violating terms of his probation by having three dogs on his Austintown property.
The judge released Croley and ordered him to return to court at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 11.
Liza Raab, owner of Nitro, one of the dogs that died in Croley’s care, said it is an outrage that Croley could ignore the parameters of his probation and be released from jail without bond.
“He is a convicted animal-abuser,” she said, “and I don’t understand how Judge Douglas could cut him loose until the animals and people in that house are safe.”
Croley sat before Judge Douglas three years ago for sentencing on four misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. Croley pleaded no-contest to the four counts in a plea agreement with prosecutors. The judge found him guilty.
The judge sentenced Croley to 30 days in jail, $1,746 in restitution and three years on probation. Croley was ordered not to own or harbor any animals during the term of his probation.
The initial case against Croley was the impetus for a movement to change state law on animal cruelty called House Bill 108 or “Nitro’s Law” after one of the dogs found dead on the kennel property. The law would make certain acts of neglect by kennel owners a felony.
Animal Charity humane agents in 2008 found seven dead and eight malnourished dogs in the backyard kennel area of Croley’s business. They also found four dogs in the house. The 12 live dogs were taken to Animal Charity on South Avenue.
Croley told a humane agent he couldn’t afford to feed the dogs. He claimed ownership of 16 dogs, telling police the other three were boarded.
Croley’s period of probation was to end Jan. 21, 2012, but probation officers and the dog warden’s office say Croley violated the terms of his probation by again having dogs on his property.
George Denney, municipal-court administrator, said probation officers last week began receiving complaints about Croley keeping dogs at his Austintown property, prompting humane agents and the dog warden’s office to investigate. He said dogs were observed on the property and arrest warrants were issued.
Dave Nelson, deputy dog warden, said three dogs were observed on the property. He said Croley claims the dogs belong to his wife, and he is therefore allowed to live with the animals.
Nelson said the dogs appeared to be cared for and appear to be kept inside the home, but he is investigating the animals’ well-being.
None of the three dogs are properly registered with the county, Nelson said.
It is unclear how long Croley had been allegedly living with the three dogs. Nelson said Croley could be sentenced to 90 days in jail on each of the three counts of failure to comply.
Denney said the court did order Croley not to own or harbor any animals for the period of his probation, but city probation officers do not routinely make home visits to check on those in their charge.
“Our staff does not go out in the field. Our probationers come into the court and report,” Denney said. “Our folks don’t go out into the neighborhoods. We just don’t have the manpower for that.”
Denney said violations of parole most often are discovered when someone on probation is charged with an additional crime or there are complaints that are investigated, as in the case of Croley.
Judge Douglas said those on probation are expected to comply with the terms of probation and report regularly. He said if they are in violation of the terms of their probation, the matter will be handled appropriately when they are found to have committed a crime or, as with Croley, the matter is brought to the attention of the probation department and court.
Raab said Croley has demonstrated he has no respect for the law, and she is shocked no one bothered to check and see if Croley was following the terms of his probation.