Marion County Citizen Charged with Animal Cruelty after Neighbor’s Pets are Poisoned

January 9, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Animal cruelty is no small offense, likely to come with harsh consequences if convicted in the state of Florida. In one recent case, a Marion County man has been arrested for allegedly poisoning the pets in his neighborhood.

This article will provide information from the case, along with charges for animal cruelty in Florida, and the importance of expert witnesses.

What was the Case?

Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) arrested Jeremy Gordon Stromwall, 36, for allegedly poisoning his neighbor’s pets. According to the report, several cats and one dog in his Dunnellon neighborhood died suddenly, all with similar symptoms since October.

One of the neighbors informed police in December of his pet, “Mr. Cat” dying unexpectedly. The cat started to get extremely sick and had seizures the night before he passed. Unfortunately, even though the man took his pet to Dunnellon Animal Hospital, Mr. Cat still died after undergoing surgery.

MCSO’s Facebook post read, “Veterinarians determined the cat likely had been poisoned.”

The same neighbor told authorities that his dog Bella died in October from similar symptoms, both dying unexpectedly. Then another neighbor came forward, telling police that five of her cats all died from similar symptoms since October.

Police announced that the agricultural deputy who performed a forensic necropsy on Mr. Cat determined that the cause of death was ethylene glycol intoxication—likely caused by ingesting antifreeze.

The arrest affidavit stated that MCSO brought an expert from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine to provide necropsies on the other dead pets. They were able to exhume the remains from three of the pets—all of who had traces of ethylene glycol poisoning.

Upon further inspection of the neighborhood, investigators found a bowl of mixed tuna with antifreeze outside of Stromwall’s house. The Sheriff’s Office noted that the suspect had made previous statements about harming the cats in his neighborhood.

One of Stromwall’s neighbors told deputies he noticed the cats had been “dropping like flies” and that Stromwall was attempting to get rid of the cats before they attacked his chickens. After obtaining a search warrant for his residence, police found three containers of antifreeze and several cans of fish and tuna-flavored rat poison.

Stromwall has been arrested and charged with four counts of animal cruelty.

The following is a statement from Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods:

“As Sheriff, I am committed to investigating allegations of cruelty towards animals, including pets, livestock, and working animals. I am proud of the work that my deputies did in this case and am happy we have gotten some justice for Mr. Cat, Bella, Lil’ Peanut, Tiger, and their owners.”

Animal Cruelty Charges in Florida

In the state of Florida, animal cruelty can result in a misdemeanor or felony charge depending on the case details. Florida Statute section 828.12 explains that it is unlawful for any person to torment or deprive an animal of its necessary food or shelter.

An individual who neglects, torments, or otherwise harms an animal in a cruel manner can be charged with first-degree misdemeanor animal cruelty. The penalties for a first-degree misdemeanor include up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Aggravated animal cruelty is considered when an individual intentionally commits an act to any animal which results in the cruel death or excessively repeated infliction of pain and suffering. A person accused of aggravated animal cruelty can be charged with a third-degree felony in Florida. A third-degree felony has penalties of up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

An individual accused of multiple aggravated animal cruelty offenses may be charged with separate offenses for each act of aggravated animal cruelty.

If the accused person violates the above laws and intentionally torments an animal that injures, mutilates, or kills the animal will be required to pay a mandatory minimum fine of $2,500 and undergo psychological counseling or an anger management program.

If the defendant is accused of a second or subsequent animal cruelty violation, they will be required to pay a mandatory minimum fine of $5,000 and imprisonment of six months. In addition, the defendant will not be eligible for parole or any form of early release.

Charges for Exposing Poison

It is unlawful for an individual to leave out any type of poison that another person or animal can get into.

Florida Statute section 828.08 explains that any person who deposits or leaves any poison or substance containing poison, in any common street, alley, lane, or thoroughfare of any kind, or in any yard or enclosure other than the yard or enclosure occupied by that person, can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. A first-degree misdemeanor has a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Animal Cruelty Expert Witness

In criminal cases involving animal cruelty, veterinarians and veterinarian technicians may be called into court to be expert witnesses and provide testimony in the case. Animal cruelty expert witnesses play an important role in a case, helping to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of animal cruelty.

The veterinarian who was associated with the case—for example, the vet that attempted to treat the sick or injured animal—would be considered an expert witness in the case. Other veterinarians, police officers, or cruelty investigators may also be considered expert witnesses.

Expert witnesses are important to the defense team in a criminal case. Just as the prosecution hires experts to review all of the evidence and case information, an expert witness can work with the defense to complete a cross-review of evidence.

An expert witness in an animal cruelty case can include any of the following:

  • Veterinarians
  • Veterinarian technicians
  • Cruelty investigators
  • Animal control officers
  • Animal behavioralists
  • Animal trainers
  • Breeders
  • Groomers

In addition to providing testimony on the basic practice of veterinary medicine, an expert witness may also be requested to testify on: an analysis of bite marks, toxicological or serological evidence, issues of animal behavior, or even dog training. The topic of testimony can vary depending on the details and evidence from the animal cruelty case.

Defenses to Animal Cruelty

Animals are often considered defenseless since they cannot speak for themselves. That means a person accused of animal cruelty may feel that there is no possible defense, even if they are innocent. However, there are still defenses that can be used in an animal case.

“Justifiable Force” is considered a viable defense against animal cruelty. Florida courts will have to consider whether the accused person acted out in a justified manner during the alleged abuse. For example, a person who reported someone hitting a dog may not have been aware that the same dog had just been attacking another person.

Another possible defense is the prosecution not having sufficient evidence. In a case like the one mentioned above, the prosecution would likely need to find valid evidence of poison in the defendant’s possession or some type of proof to connect the accused person to the crime.

The best way to figure out what defenses work best for your specific case, reach out to a defense attorney in your area.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Getting accused of animal cruelty has harsh consequences in Florida. Along with the legal consequences like expensive fines and imprisonment, there is also the social stigma of having an animal abuse charge on your record. Florida also has Ponce’s Law, which prevents individuals convicted of animal abuse from obtaining pets in the future.

If you or someone you know has been accused of an animal cruelty offense, it is highly advisable to speak with a skilled defense attorney. Don Pumphrey and his team have worked with Florida citizens across the state for many different criminal charges. Receive a free consultation on your case today by contacting Pumphrey Law Firm at (850) 681-7777 or leaving an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key


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