( 2/6/08 ) Photos ©2008 ARNO/Laura Richard
On Wednesday, January 30 2008, rescuers who labored and risked their lives on water/land rescuing pets after Katrina came together for a memorial service and quietly protested recent events. Representatives of Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO), Pasado’s Safe Haven, Katrina Animal Rescue Team (KART) and Capitol Area Animal Welfare Society (CAAWS) met in front of P.G.T. Beauregard Middle School to place flowers for the 33 dogs and cats murdered within the school in the anarchical days following Katrina. The front yard of the school soon filled with stands of flowers sent by rescuers and Stealth Volunteers (lost Katrina animal pet detectives) from all over the US and Canada.
Kelle Davis, ARNO volunteer from Houston, was overcome with emotion as she arrived at the school. “This is the first time I’ve been back to this school since the day I walked in and saw what remained of the carnage. I didn’t think it would effect me so profoundly today.” Katrina rescuers from out of town arrived for what should have been Michael Minton’s trial on Tuesday, January 29. Only to learn that newly elected Louisiana State Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell had dropped felony animal cruelty charges against the two men who worked for the St. Bernard Parish Sheriffs Office. AG Caldwell cited insufficient evidence as the reason for dropping the charges. Clifford “Chip” Englande’s trial was scheduled for February 14. If convicted the felony charges carried penalties of up to 10 years in prison.
John Bozes, a former resident of St. Bernard, present at the memorial service, spoke about the loss of his pet Angel. “I could get over the death of my family members, but not the murder of my poor little Angel. She didn’t have to die that way. I couldn’t live here [St. Bernard] any longer after that.” Bose is now a resident of Brookhaven, MS. Bose expressed complete disbelief that the street shootings charges were dropped in view of the evidence, which consisted of a video shot by David Leeson, a Dallas Morning News award-winning photographer.
The 33 pets were left with identification provided by their owners, some notes and phone numbers even scribbled on walls. The St. Bernard Parish residents were told that they could not evacuate with their pets, but could leave their pets for animal rescuers in the safety of the school’s upper floors.
Also present at the memorial was Mark Steinway, co-founder of Pasado’s Safe Haven and now a Louisiana resident. Steinway stated there is still a chance that charges will be brought against the two men, Minton and Englande, for the school shootings. The current dropped charges were for shootings in the streets of St. Bernard in the chaotic days after Katrina.
New Eyewitness Comes Forward
Pasado’s Safe Haven, a large Washington-state based humane nonprofit, has taken the lead in gathering evidence from necropsies and ballistics tests to prove that the bullets in the school shootings came from service guns issued by the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office. Pasado’s volunteers were in Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes immediately after Katrina rescuing animals that were left behind.
This week Susan Michaels, Founder/CEO of Pasado’s Safe Haven, was contacted by a man who was an eyewitness to St. Bernard Sheriffs shooting dogs and cats in the days immediately after Katrina. He and his wife remained in their St. Bernard home for eleven days with no food or water. All of their pets, 3 dogs and 2 cats, eventually perished in their home. This eyewitness states that he and his wife heard gunshots from boats out on the floodwaters. He saw individuals ‘wearing St. Bernard Sheriff uniforms picking off the dogs and cats who swam to roofs for safety.’ The witness claims he can identify the sheriffs in a photo lineup. He and his wife continued to hide in their home, frightened that the officers would shoot their pets. The eyewitness said he did not come forward before because he assumed with all the evidence, a conviction would be forthcoming without his testimony. The Louisiana Department of Justice is interviewing the new witness in Baton Rouge in person.
Pasado’s is continuing their investigation including offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderers of the pets in St. Bernard Parish. Michaels said they have hired a private detective to hunt down two more eyewitnesses key to bringing forth charges in the school shootings case. Michaels states, “We are committed to seeing these cases through and we’ll do what it takes to make those responsible pay for their cowardly acts of wanton cruelty.” Pasado’s Safe Haven has invested much time, and resources, and continues to do so. For the complete history of their investigation please go to http://www.pasadosafehaven.org/KATRINA/DOGSHOOTING/HISTORY.htm
What You Can Do Now
All humane advocates are urged to sign the petition to send a message to Attorney General Caldwell that you are not happy with the fact that the charges have been dropped. The case can still be sent to the US Attorney and tried in Federal courts. Please express your outrage and beg the court to hear this case.
In addition if you live, work, trap or feed in St. Bernard we urge you to post the $25,000 Reward flyer, which is downloadable on Pasado’s website. There were more people on the street, including National Guard, who witnessed these abominable crimes against defenseless animals.
A poignant, beautiful and unbelievably sad video has been put together by Susan Bongiorno, Stealth Volunteer and out of state transport coordinator for St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter. The contents are graphic but if there is anything that will make anyone take action, this is it. We urge you to send this link and the link to the petition to all your contacts…we can together make this happen. We must bring this to the Federal court level to attain justice.