Ex-animal control officer feels resignation was forced

NAUGATUCK — Former Animal Control Officer Kristy Sturges said Thursday that she felt the borough police department and the state Animal Control Division pushed her to resign after their investigation into the mishandling of an animal cruelty case.

“I would admit that particular case was not handled properly, but the resulting investigation was far from being unbiased,” Sturges said.

Sturges resigned last month after a state investigation concluded she ignored the condition of a dying dog that belonged to Valerie Machnics, 42, of 100 Hunters Mountain Road. After Assistant Animal Control Officer Adrienne Croce got the dog euthanized while off duty, the state concluded that Sturges had failed to adequately supervise her subordinates and lied about the incident to a state investigator. The borough human resources department subsequently fired Croce and suspended Sturges for three days.

While Croce was at the veterinarian with the dog, Sturges told her to contact the state animal control division for help investigating the case. Sturges later contacted the assistant animal control officer on duty at the time, Jen Pacelli, who said Sturges insisted the two of them not involve themselves in the case. Sturges later told a state investigator that she did not contact Pacelli, although Pacelli produced phone records that showed a 31-minute conversation between them.

In her six years as an animal control officer in Southbury and the borough, Sturges said, she never participated in a cruelty to animals investigation, which is why she told Croce to call the state. Sturges claimed that when she was interviewed by the state investigator, she forgot she’d spoken to Pacelli that day.

The borough and the supervisors’ union agreed earlier this month that the borough is not obligated to fill Sturges’ position until June 30, 2012, the end of next fiscal year. No funding has been budgeted until then, Mayor Robert A. Mezzo said.

“We will analyze our options to see what the best approach might be moving forward for animal control, which has unfortunately occupied a significant amount of time of our command staff at the police department,” Mezzo said.

The police department, which has always supervised the animal control office, is now directly responsible for it. The department is hiring four new part-time animal control officers, spokesman Lt. Robert Harrison said. In the meantime, police officers are handling animal-related calls and Capt. Jeremiah J. Scully is manning the facility at 508 Cherry St. Extension, Harrison said.

The state is conducting a second, broader investigation into how the animal control facility was run under Sturges, Harrison said. Police declined to release further information on the current investigation.