Three Memphis Animal Services employees were arrested Thursday morning on six counts of aggravated cruelty to animals.
Frank Lightfoot Jr. and Billy D. Stewart are each charged with four counts of aggravated animal cruelty, and Archie Elliott III is charged with two counts of aggravated animal cruelty. These felony charges carry sentences of one to six years.
At a press conference this morning, authorities were vague on the details of what happened to the animals, but prosecutor Paul Hagerman with the Shelby County District Attorney's Office confirmed that the abuses occurred right before the animals were scheduled to be euthanized. Six animals were victimized, but Hagerman would not reveal whether they were dogs, cats, or a combination of both.
"These acts are not up to interpretation as to whether or not they constitute animal cruelty," said Mayor A C Wharton at this morning's press conference. "It's easy enough for a second grader to know someone needs to get in trouble for what they did."
The abuses were witnessed by an undercover Memphis Police officer, who has been employed by Memphis Animal Services since November 2011.
"This is an extraordinary step to have to use undercover officers," Wharton said. "Puppies, kittens, and dogs can't call their lawyer. They can't file a report about what's happening to them. We can only find out by using undercover officers."
Wharton's request to send an undercover officer to investigate the shelter stemmed from concerns about dog fighting, animal cruelty, and missing and unaccounted for animals. However, Wharton said the aggravated animal cruelty charges filed against the three employees were not related to dog fighting.
Wharton said that nearly one-third of Memphis Animal Services employees have been dismissed over the past two years as a result on wrongdoing.
"Some have said, 'Why don't you just fire everybody?'" Wharton said. "I refuse to do that. There are some great shelter employees."
Shelter employees are currently undergoing re-training at the request of interim shelter director James Rogers.