RAVENA — A petition is circulating the Internet demanding that “justice must be served” following the killing of a raccoon by Coeymans police.
As of Friday afternoon, the petition had received 54,706 signatures.
The incident stems from the Monday, March 12, killing of a raccoon thought to be rabid at the time by Coeymans police officers who used two vehicles to run the animal down, making several attempts to do so. The health department has since confirmed that the animal was rabid.
The killing was caught on video by a local resident who posted it to Facebook and has since received millions of views, with people around the country calling police to complain about the incident and demand that disciplinary action be taken against the officers.
The petition had a goal of 55,000 signatures on Friday, and by Saturday evening had exceeded that with 63,358. The goal was upped to 65,000 signatures.
“The public demands action against the officers who ran over this innocent raccoon under the false pretenses of ‘protecting the public from a rabid raccoon,’” according to the petition. “There were humane and just ways to remove this raccoon from Faith Plaza, but the officers in question chose to publicly and inhumanely torture and kill this raccoon. Justice must be served.”
The petition goes on to demand that the officers be fired or disciplined, fined and “charged for the crimes of animal abuse within the protocol of New York’s animal welfare statutes.”
Krista Renella, of California, launched the petition after she was “horrified and shocked” by the video.
“Running it over with their vehicles for 15 minutes is not a humane or logical way to exterminate a raccoon from a public area,” Renella said.
The health department has determined that the raccoon did test positive for rabies, though critics have questioned the validity of that claim. Health department officials say the test received priority standing and was conducted immediately.
According to Mary Rozak, spokeswoman for the office of Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, the rabies test was conducted by Wadsworth Laboratory, which operates under the auspices of the New York State Department of Health.
“We were notified of the result of the rabies test and that was the extent of our involvement,” Rozak said Friday.
Todd Cramer, president and CEO of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, said the treatment of the raccoon was highly inappropriate.
“MHHS is appalled at the method with which the Coeymans PD chose to handle this when humane options were available,” Cramer said. “MHHS is in contact with the appropriate authorities.”
In the wake of the incident, it is unclear how the remains of an animal confirmed by the health department to be rabid were handled. Rabies is contracted through bodily fluids from an infected animal.
“Transmission of rabies virus usually begins when infected saliva of a host is passed to an uninfected animal,” according to the Centers for Disease Control website. “The most common mode of rabies virus transmission is through the bite and virus-containing saliva of an infected host. Though transmission has been rarely documented via other routes such as contamination of mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, nose, mouth), aerosol transmission and corneal and organ transplantations.”
Health department officials and Coeymans Town Supervisor Philip Crandall could not be reached at press time about the cleanup of the animal’s remains, but property owner Aaron Flach, who owns Faith Plaza where the killing took place, said he had not been contacted either during the incident or afterwards to determine what would be done.
In fact, the only way he knew about what had happened was by viewing the video online.
“Nobody contacted me from the police department, either before or after, and no one contacted me from the DEC,” Flach said. “I don’t know if they just picked it up and took it away or if DEC or anybody else cleaned it up. I wasn’t contacted by anyone.”
Flach went on to say the incident was unfortunate and did not reflect well on the community of Coeymans, which has drawn national ire as millions viewed the video of the killing.
“I wish it would have been handled in a different manner. It cast a negative perception on the town, and that we don’t need,” Flach said.
The Coeymans Police Department has come to the defense of the officers involved, saying that on the morning of March 12 at 8:50 a.m. the police department received a 911 call regarding the raccoon, which was in the parking lot of Faith Plaza on Route 9W.
“On arrival, patrols were advised of a sickly raccoon in the area, on arrival said raccoon was secreted under a loading dock and unable to be accessed at that time deemed not to be a public hazard, and left in place to be monitored periodically by patrols, in hopes that it would return to its habitat on its own,” said Interim Police Chief Daniel Contento in a statement. Contento took over the position March 1 with the retirement of former police chief P.J. McKenna.
At 12:55 p.m. that day, the department received a second 911 call reporting a “sick raccoon.” Contento said officers found the raccoon and said “it was having difficulty walking and had lost its fear of contact with humans, both of the previous are signs of an animal infected with the rabies virus, with rabies being prevalent among raccoons in the Eastern part of the country.”
He went on to say that at that point the animal was deemed to be a public hazard and would need to be euthanized.
“With the normal course of action being dispatched by firearm, this was deemed an invalid option based on the location being heavily traversed by both vehicles and people, and the probability of a ricochet of the projectile, to be too great a hazard to both the citizenry and property in the area,” Contento said.
He said the officers decided the animal would be “dispatched by vehicle.”
“We understand that this is not easy to watch, however the town of Coeymans Police Department and the officers involved acted without malice or contempt, and without another remedy acted only with the public’s well-being in mind,” Contento said. “Based on the above it was the safest way to remove the immediate hazard, given the circumstances presented.”
Contento on Thursday declined to identify the police officers.
Animal advocates, however, said there were other, more “humane” options that could have been used by the officers to euthanize a rabid raccoon under those circumstances.
“That was about as improper a thing as one could ever do,” said Ron Perez, president of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA.
“The animal could have been corralled until a DEC officer could be notified,” Perez said.
Meanwhile, the county is looking into the incident to determine what should be done in the aftermath.
“We are aware of the incident in Coeymans,” said Cecilia Walsh, a spokeswoman for the Albany County District Attorney’s Office. “Our ACT Animal Cruelty Taskforce has contacted the DEC.”
The Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed the killing of the raccoon is being investigated.
“DEC is continuing to review the incident with the Coeymans Police Department,” Kevin Frazier from the department stated.