RAVENA — A video showing Coeymans Police deliberately driving over a rabid raccoon in Faith Plaza has gone viral and garnered national attention.
It has also drawn the attention of county law enforcement and local animal advocacy groups.
The incident occurred Monday afternoon when police were called to Faith Plaza in Ravena for a report of a raccoon that was thought to be rabid, according to a statement from police that was posted on Facebook.
Officers claimed they were unable to shoot the animal because people were nearby.
“Officers did find the raccoon, but it was not in an area that was safe to discharge a firearm due to the proximity of pedestrians and residences,” according to the statement. “They dispatched the raccoon as quickly and humanely as possible.”
To put the animal down, they decided to run over it with their vehicles.
In a video posted to Facebook by a local resident, two vehicles — a marked Coeymans Police SUV and an unmarked white sedan — can be seen aiming for the animal. They struck it numerous times before it died.
Acting Police Chief Daniel Contento, who was appointed by the town board to serve as interim chief following former chief P.J. McKenna’s retirement March 1, said the department had no further comment beyond the statement posted on Facebook.
“It’s being looked into at this time,” Contento said Tuesday. “That’s all I can say with an open investigation.”
He declined to identify the officers involved in the incident.
The case has also been noted by the Albany County District Attorney's Office, which is aware of the incident and is also looking into it.
"Our ACT — Animal Cruelty Taskforce — has contacted the DEC," said Cecilia Walsh, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.
Meanwhile, the video has gone viral, and has drawn national attention.
Ron Perez, president of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA, said using vehicles to run over and kill an animal, even if rabid, is “inhuman.”
“That was about as improper a thing as one could ever do,” Perez said. “We don’t know whether the raccoon had rabies, but regardless, it could have been handled much more humanely. The animal could have been corralled until a DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) officer could be notified. At that point, the raccoon wasn’t posing a threat to anyone.”
Perez said there are signs that indicate when an animal is rabid, “if it is acting in an unusual manner, foaming at the mouth, behaving aggressively, but to determine for certain you need to run a test on the brain.”
In order to run the test, the animal has to be put down. It is not clear at this point whether the raccoon was, in fact, rabid.
How are rabid animals dealt with by law enforcement?
Perez said it depends on department policy.
“Some departments will contact a DEC officer if there is time,” Perez said. “If there is a clear and present danger to people, the officers can use a firearm, or a deterrent spray, but definitely not this. This was really unacceptable and unusually cruel.”
Meanwhile, the case has drawn a flurry of phone calls to the village of Ravena offices from concerned residents criticizing the technique police used to put the raccoon down. The village issued a statement on its Facebook page stating that the police department is under the jurisdiction of the town of Coeymans, not the village.
“The mayor of the village of Ravena finds the video shocking and disturbing,” according to the statement. “Be assured that the mayor of Ravena has made his concerns and feelings known.”
On his own Facebook page, Misuraca reiterated that the village “does not have any control over the Coeymans Police Department,” and that it is “run by the Coeymans town board.” Misuraca suggested concerned residents contact the town offices with comments or concerns.
“I do not know all the facts in this case and I’m looking into the matter,” Misuraca concluded.
Coeymans Town Supervisor Philip Crandall could not be reached for comment.