Probe leads to animal-control shakeup

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NAUGATUCK — Borough animal control officer Kristy Sturges has resigned and a part-time officer has been fired based on the results of a state investigation into the mishandling of an animal cruelty case, the Naugatuck Police Department said Tuesday.

Police Chief Christopher Edson said police requested that the state animal control division of the Department of Agriculture investigate the borough’s animal control facility for violations of policy in handling the case of Valerie Machnics, 42, of 100 Hunters Mountain Road, who has been charged three times since March with cruelty to animals.

Police said Tuesday they did not have information on the specific violations, but said the investigation led to Sturges being suspended for three days. In consultation with police, the borough’s human resources department fired part-time animal control officer Adrienne Croce two weeks ago, Mayor Robert A. Mezzo said.

“Other issues at the Naugatuck Animal Control Facility that have come to light have required further investigation, and the state is conducting an ongoing investigation to resolve those,” Edson said.

Ray Connors, the chief state animal control officer, said his office would make a recommendation to the police department, which holds authority over the animal control facility, once the investigation is finished.

“It’s an investigation to see if there were any violations of state statute,” Connors said.

Messages left at the animal control facility were not returned Tuesday.

Sturges, who sent her resignation letter Monday to the borough’s human resources department, was budgeted to make $31,849 next fiscal year. Her resignation takes effect May 31. Croce would have made between $6,500 and $15,000, depending on her hours.

The resignation has left the facility understaffed, requiring the police department to take it over, police said. After the departure of Sturges and Croce, the borough will only have one part-time animal control officer, Marilyn Weid, who is on a four-week vacation, Edson said. The facility also had two vacancies for part-time officers before Sturges sent her resignation letter Monday.

State animal control officials are inventorying animals at the facility, a process that includes trying to find adoptive homes for some of the animals or transferring them to other municipal facilities, police said. The facility might be temporarily closed until new staff can be hired. Police can be contacted with animal complaints.

Sturges and Croce investigated a case earlier this year that led to Machnics being charged with cruelty to animals March 9 after her dog was found starving to death with infected ulcers in her mouth. The dog had to be euthanized.

Machnics surrendered to the Naugatuck Police Department on May 4 and was arraigned May 10 on charges of neglecting a dog named Max and a 12-year-old pony, according to court documents. State animal control officers investigated and obtained a warrant for that case.

The borough hired Sturges, formerly Southbury’s assistant animal control officer, in 2009 after some controversy. The Board of Mayor and Burgesses voted to offer her the job, but was forced to re-vote because the borough did not properly notify the public of the first vote. During the second vote, some burgesses changed their minds and Weid, who has been an assistant officer for 16 years and had the support of local animal-rights activists, was offered the job.

Mezzo named a new hiring committee, which decided to hire Sturges. By that point, the borough had changed its policy to say the mayor must offer a job to the hiring committee’s recommended candidate.