BCSO Animal Cruelty Task Force pushes for stricter abuse penalties
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Bernalillo County Animal Task Force has been investigating a handful of serious animal abuse cases the past six months.
Just last week, KOB 4 showed you a video of a situation in Cedar Crest. Investigators found nearly 30 animals on the property and, a dozen of them were dead.
But detectives say the hard work isn’t over because our very specific state laws make these cases difficult to prosecute.
KOB 4 spoke to the task force to find out the changes they’re requesting.
“The kind of people who are going to abuse animals are the kind of people who might also be more willing to commit domestic violence or neglect their children,” said Kevin Carhart, a Bernalillo County Animal Cruelty Task Force detective.
BCSO Sheriff John Allen reestablished the task force in June. It has 25 members including field officers, social workers and detectives.
In June, they rescued 55 pitbulls and an elderly woman from a house in the South Valley. Michael Lopez is being charged in that case.
In November, they rescued 60 dogs from a home in Tijeras. They say Douglas Reame is behind that case.
“It was basically a breeding operation that had gotten out of control, it was also a hoarding case,” said Carhart.
Investigators say prosecuting these cases is nearly impossible. They have to prove the suspect intentionally hurt or killed an animal, not just neglected it to the point of death, for it to be considered a felony.
“The statutory language right now is extremely narrow, and it can be hard to prove the intent that would be required to charge as a felony,” Carhart said.
That’s why Carhart wrote a letter to Allen on how our laws need to change to hold people accountable. It includes charging people with extreme cruelty to animals – a felony – if they knew or should have known conditions were neglectful or harmful.
He also wants cockfighting to be a felony upon someone’s first conviction. Right now, it’s not a felony until the third.
“A lot of these cases, they really do shock the conscience. And in this house in Cedar Crest we find at least 10 dead animals inside, proving that the intent was for those animals to be harmed or die is very difficult. Common sense says that the conditions inside the home led to that, but it can be hard to prove that,” said Carhart.
As far as the case in Cedar Crest, court records show the animals’ owner, Debbie Battaglino, is facing 19 charges of cruelty to animals – all misdemeanors.
Carhart says the proposed changes to the law will close loopholes that allow perpetrators of severe offenses to face only minor consequences.
Allen has signed off on the letter. They plan to push for the changes in front of lawmakers next legislative session.