FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (WDVM) — The Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney’s office announced that they will no longer be prosecuting animal misdemeanor charges.
In addition, the office will no longer cover reckless driving and indecent exposure cases. According to the office, the change comes due to an overwhelming amount of bodycam footage to watch and not enough staff, as well as a backlog of cases due to COVID-19. The office says that they are implementing the reform in order to allow for more time to fully investigate the cases they take on.
“Our criminal justice system needs that kind of attention, resources and time to not just do the job, but do it well,” said Antonio Peronace, Chief of Staff for the Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney’s office.
One of the major concerns for activists, however, was not prosecuting the animal abuse misdemeanors. Holly Hazard, President of non-profit animal rights organization Humane Dominion, said that not covering these cases may not result in a fair result for the animals.
“Because of the way animal laws are written in Virginia, there are some really heinous things people can do that are classified as misdemeanors,” she said.
She also expressed concern that some of the cases may be handled by animal control officers. “We have fabulous animal control officers, they’re great at their job, but they’re not attorneys,” she said.
Activists also worry that if these crimes aren’t dealt with properly, then animal abuse can escalate to impact the community.
“There’s plenty of data out there to indicate that there is a correlation between animal abuse and family and societal violence,” said Chris Brosan, Chief of Humane Law Enforcement for Fairfax County.
However, the Attorney’s office is saying that many of these cases didn’t go through their office to begin with.
“Traditionally, this office has not been involved in in the vast majority of animal cruelty cases,” said Peronace. “What happens is, the court will just deal with them correctly.”
Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano said in a press release today that he believes animal abuse is a “disturbing and pernicious act”.
“To be clear: animal cruelty will continue to be prosecuted in Fairfax County and any suggestion otherwise is categorically false. Furthermore, it’s false to suggest that any of the recent steps taken by this office are intended to diminish services or justice,” he said in the press release.
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