Archive for Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Baldwin police officer fired for shooting cat

October 9, 2002

An officer with the Baldwin City Police Department was fired last week for shooting an injured cat in downtown Baldwin.

Charles Woolsoncroft was fired Thursday after shooting a cat with his .40-caliber service revolver Monday night at Eighth and High streets.

City Administrator Larry Paine said a special Baldwin City Council meeting had just adjourned and council members were leaving city hall when Woolsoncroft shot the cat, which had been mauled by a dog.

"Woolsoncroft said 'Hold your ears. I've got to destroy this animal,'" Paine said.

City council members witnessed the shooting, but Paine said he was unsure if anyone else was present.

He said BCPD supervisors Sgt. Colleen Larson and Cpl. Bill Dempsey were called and they immediately placed Woolsoncroft on paid administrative leave.

"That is a normal course of action when there's a discharge of a firearm," Paine said of the administrative leave decision.

Larson referred all questions to Paine.

Paine said the decision to fire Woolsoncroft was made after it was discovered the three-year BCPD officer hadn't followed proper procedure outlined in the police department policy manual regarding the discharge of firearms pertaining to animals.

In the case of an injured animal, Paine said policy states the supervisor must be contacted, the animal must be taken to a veterinarian and, if necessary, the veterinarian will put the animal down.

He wouldn't say if Woolsoncroft followed any of the policy's steps, but he did say the animal control truck was parked across the street and it was never used.

He said he expects Woolsoncroft will appeal the termination. He has seven days from his termination to notify Paine in writing of the appeal, which will then go before the city council.

He would not comment on whether Woolsoncroft had received other disciplinary action during his tenure with the BCPD or whether anything else led to the termination, but Woolsoncroft is part of a complaint filed against the city earlier this year by four BCPD officers as a result of the treatment they faced regarding disciplinary action taken against them.

Woolsoncroft declined to comment but said he will appeal the termination. He referred all questions to his attorney, Dennis Hawver.

Hawver said Woolsoncroft's termination was not about shooting the cat. Instead, he said it stems from last year's termination of former Baldwin officer G.H. Rhea that eventually led to an investigation of the entire police department.

He said Woolsoncroft did receive a suspension earlier this year as part of the disciplinary action taken against BCPD officers.

"This has been a long, tedious, heartbreaking process where the city administrator, the mayor and the city council decided they were going to terminate Chuck," Hawver said. "Chuck is a good officer. I'm very angry with the way they've treated him."

He said Woolsoncroft acted properly when he shot the cat.

"Chuck didn't do anything wrong. He didn't take out his nightstick and beat it to death," he said. "He had to make an on-the-spot decision, which I think is a humane and reasonable decision. "

Hawver said there is no written procedure to follow and Woolsoncroft felt he was making the best decision.

"He faces circumstances that most of us don't have to face," he said.

Paine said there is written procedure outline in the BCPD policy manual under the section regarding discharge of a firearm at an animal.

In section 10.021 of the department's manual it states: "In cases of seriously injured livestock, dogs and cats; all reasonable efforts should be made to locate the animal's owner. If the owner cannot be located, arrangements should be made to have a veterinarian examine the animal and advise the appropriate action. Should an injured animal need to be destroyed, such action should be taken by a veterinarian whenever possible. Seriously injured wildlife may be destroyed if no other reasonable alternatives exist and a supervisor has authorized such action."

Hawver said Woolsoncroft did nothing that would require his termination.

"I don't think Chuck did anything wrong," he said. "I do see that the city administrator did something wrong. I'm sure a jury will see it too."

Mayor Ken Hayes said he thought Woolsoncroft's termination was the correct decision.

"Discharging a fire arm into a planter box in downtown is unacceptable behavior from anyone, badge or no badge," Hayes said. "The animal control vehicle and equipment was less than 150 feet away. The issue should have been dealt with in a more humane manner."

Paine said Woolsoncroft's termination does not leave the police department short handed. Tara Craig, who had been sent to the police academy earlier this year, will be able to help with rotations.

"For the moment, we're able to fill the vacancy of the patrol officer without having the department have a lack of coverage," he said. "The fact is, we've got all the shifts covered."

He said it's too soon to know if another officer will be hired.

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