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Prosecutor cuts back on prosecutions

Island County Animal Control Officer Carol Barnes says she will continue to fulfill her obligations to animals and public safety, despite a recent letter from Chief Prosecutor Greg Banks claiming that his office will no longer prosecute some animal control violations.

“I’m going to continue doing my normal duties,” said Barnes on Thursday.

In his Dec. 17 letter, Banks said that recent budget cutbacks have forced “some difficult restructuring,” adding that certain animal control violations have been deemed “to be cases for which criminal prosecution can be delayed.” Banks said that he hopes the interruption of service is only temporary.

“I made the decision because we sort of got an end of the year notice from the commissioners to restructure our office,” Banks said Friday. “I looked for crimes that didn’t have people as victims and didn’t directly affect public safety.”

He added: “We just kind of got hit with this and we’re trying to shuffle case loads around. It was just designed to give us a little breathing room without totally upsetting the apple cart here.”

Banks said that he also recently decided that his office will no longer prosecute certain misdemeanor cases, due to office restructuring.

The types of animal control cases that Banks identified as ones he would no longer prosecute are dog off premises, inherently dangerous animals (wolf and wild cat hybrids), and animal cruelty in the second degree, which deals primarily with neglect rather than overt violence toward animals.

The prosecutor noted that, so far this year, his office has received fewer than 10 such cases for processing.

Banks added, however, that the county would continue to prosecute properly presented dangerous animals and animal cruelty in the first degree “because of the public safety issues involved.”

Barnes’ agency, Whidbey Island Animal Control, received the letter along with the Animal Control office on Camano Island. She said that, whatever the drawbacks of such a decision, she will continue to do her job to the best of her abilities.

“I’m going to continue with my normal duties and obligations to the county,” Barnes said. “I don’t want the public the get the wrong idea. The law is the law, and not open to negotiation as to what is or will not be enforceable. Especially when it comes to the welfare of animals and public safety.”

For example, Barnes cited a theoretical case where a dog running off premises ends up injuring another person. She said such a circumstance will always call for action on her part.

“A dog that runs off the premises and bites someone is still a public safety issue,” Barnes said.

Banks said that the cases he identified as one he would no longer prosecute amount to 5 or 6 percent of the total caseload. He added that often in the past the prosecution of such cases as animal cruelty in the second degree turned out to be situations where the violator had a reasonable excuse, such as getting trapped out of town and being unable to get to their pets.

“We sometimes put an awful lot of time into those cases,” Banks said, adding that he questions whether certain violations should be tried as criminal offenses.

As for changes brought about by Banks’ decision, Barnes is optimistic. She said that, in her dealings with the prosecutor’s office, she’s found the attorneys to be “all animal friendly.”

“I’m sure things will get worked out,” said Barnes.

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