COEYMANS — The raccoon run over and killed by Coeymans police last month amid controversy showed signs the animal was rabid, including being out during the day, possible frothing at the mouth, lethargy and showing no fear of people, according to police reports.
Two incident reports written by police Officer Jeff Iovinelli and Investigator Steve Prokrym document police interactions with the raccoon during the morning and early afternoon of March 12 in Faith Plaza, Ravena, according to reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request filed with the town.
Both incident reports, which Iovinelli wrote, are dated March 13 and cover the police response to the raccoon sightings at the shopping plaza. The incident was video recorded by a local resident and show officers intentionally running over a raccoon, which was later confirmed to be rabid, with their vehicles. The video went viral on social media.
The killing drew criticism from across the country and from animal rights groups while Albany County District Attorney David Soares and the state Department of Environmental Conservation determined two weeks ago no charges would be filed against the officers regarding their method of killing the raccoon.
Acting Coeymans Police Chief Daniel Contento recently announced an internal investigation also found no disciplinary action would be taken against the officers.
The first report details Iovinelli responding to a 911 call at about 8:46 a.m. March 12 to the loading dock of the Shop ‘n’ Save supermarket in Faith Plaza “for a report of a raccoon acting sick,” according to the report.
Iovinelli searched the area and found the animal “curled up in a ball” and “breathing heavily and at times was shaking uncontrollably” in an inaccessible area by metal stairs. The officer also reported the animal was “unresponsive to loud stimuli and would not leave the area it was in.”
Because of the raccoon’s location, Iovinelli reported it was difficult to determine the raccoon’s physical condition and it was decided he leave the animal near the stairs. In addition, police advised people in the area to stay away from the raccoon and contact them if there were any other issues with it, according to the report.
At 1 p.m. March 12, a routine police patrol found the raccoon left the area by the metal stairs, according to the second incident report.
A few minutes earlier, at 12:54 p.m., police received a report of sick raccoon near the CVS store in Faith Plaza.
When Iovinelli, the responding officer, arrived, he found a large group of people near the CVS store. The raccoon was on the sidewalk in front of the store “acting lethargic, was limping and appeared to have some saliva or foam near its mouth,” according to the report.
The raccoon tried to approach stores and people. Iovinelli shouted and threw snow at the animal in an attempt to scare it away from the people congregated in front of the store. The raccoon did not respond to Iovinelli, according to the report
“The raccoon showed no signs of fear of any of the surrounding crowd and continued to make advances with no reaction to loud noises or the objects thrown near its position,” according to the second incident report. “The raccoon appeared to be exhibiting the signs of rabies and the decision was made, in the interest of public safety, that the animal needed to be dispatched.”
Prokrym, who arrived on the scene, advised Iovinelli because people were nearby, it would be unsafe to shoot the raccoon.
“The decision was made to attempt to safely dispatch the animal using the patrol vehicle,” according to the incident report.
After the animal was killed, “EnCon [state Department of Environmental Conservation] was contacted and [the] animal was safely placed into [a] hazardous materials bag and transported to EnCon pathology lab at 56 Game Farm Road for examination,” according to the report.INTERNAL INVESTIGATION CLEARS OFFICERS
Following the determination the Albany County District Attorney’s Office and the state Department of Environmental Conservation would not file charges against the officers, Contento announced an internal investigation also cleared the officers of wrongdoing.
“The department has completed its internal investigation into the incident of March 12, 2018,” Contento said in a statement. “The officers involved did not violate any department policy and acted without malice or contempt, and without another remedy acted only with the public’s well-being in mind.”
Contento also said the police department was planning to work with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies to train officers “on how to better handle this type of situation.”
“While anomalous as this incident was, the town of Coeymans Police Department is committed to developing and implementing a less visceral and safer solution to any such incident going forward,” Contento said in the statement.PUBLIC REACTION
A handful of people turned out at Thursday’s Coeymans Town Council meeting to voice their continued criticism over the way the raccoon was killed.
For several of them, it was their second time attending a council meeting to express their opinions on the issue.
“The whole thing was botched from the beginning,” Ravena resident Daniel Boomer said.
Athens resident Kimberly Hosler urged the town to find another way to deal with this kind of issue in the future.
“Animal cruelty and violence against other beings is highly related,” Hosler said. “I would like for the death of this raccoon to not be in vain because you can easily judge the character of a man by the way he treats those who can do nothing for him. The way we treat the most vulnerable in our society is indicative of how we will treat each other. Let’s work to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Blake O’Dell, of Delmar, also commented at the meeting.
“It [the police handling of the raccoon] cannot be swept under the rug,” O’Dell said. “The role of a police officer is to protect and serve our community, and animals are part of our community. They [police] are role models to our children, and this incident was anything but role model material.”
O’Dell urged the town to hire an animal control officer who would have been able to euthanize the animal in a humane way.
“Running over a diseased animal again and again, spreading illness while people are watching, is absolutely sickening to our community,” she added.
Alicia Yodis said while a rabid animal has to be euthanized, shooting it would have been more appropriate.
“It’s not OK,” Yodis said. “We literally watched a raccoon used as a soccer ball, rabid or not. We need justice. It’s not OK.”
Ravena Village Trustee Nancy Warner was the final speaker and urged people to consider it’s difficult to determine how anyone would respond to the same situation without having experienced it in the past.
“Until any of us in this room have been put in that circumstance and had to decide what to do, I think we all need to take a step back and not judge,” Warner said. “Right or wrong, I don’t know — I wasn’t there.”MOVING FORWARD
In response to the incident, Ro Woodard, a member of the Coeymans Conservation Advisory Council, organized a presentation open to the public that will outline how people should interact with wildlife and deal with this type of situation.
“The program is educational and informational,” Woodard said. “The citizens of the town may be wondering about handling encounters with wildlife that we share the town with. This program should help answer questions about what to do and how to be safe.
“While it is being offered because of the raccoon incident, it is not a discussion about it,” Woodard added.
Karl Parker, a senior wildlife biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Wildlife, Region 4, will provide information on common nuisance wildlife issues in the Capital Region and information landowners need to know about animal behavior. Parker will also discuss environmental conservation law and recommend steps to resolve issues that may come up between humans and animals.
In addition to discussing raccoons, the program will also cover other species including bear, deer, geese, coyotes, fishers and other small mammals, Parker said.
The free program will be held at 7 p.m. April 24 at Coeymans Town Hall, l18 Russell Ave., Ravena.