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Judge hears claims in cat-shooting case Lackawanna officer attributes actions to protecting public

A Lackawanna animal control officer who fatally shot three cats June 10 said in court Wednesday that he was doing his job to protect public safety.

Frederick S. Grasso also charged that his constitutional rights were violated when he gave a statement to officers from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

West Seneca Town Justice Richard B. Scott scheduled a hearing late next month in the animal cruelty case against Grasso, which was transferred from Lackawanna at the request of prosecutors.

Grasso, 60, is accused of violating the state Agriculture and Markets Law by euthanizing a dog or cat by gunshot without an emergency and of torturing and injuring animals.

He remains on the job in Lackawanna and has the support of Lackawanna Mayor Norman Polanski Jr.

Arcangelo J. Petricca, the Lackawanna city attorney representing Grasso, asked Scott to dismiss the two misdemeanor charges against Grasso "in the interest of justice."

Scott denied the motion but agreed to hear arguments Nov. 25 on Grasso's claims that he was justified in shooting what he considered to be an aggressive feral mother cat and two of her kittens after being called to an Eagan Drive apartment complex.

"He's steadfastly maintained he was innocent," Petricca said. "He feels that he was perfectly justified in what he did. He acted within the law in pursuance of his duties and obligations as an animal control officer."

Petricca said prosecutors have not said his client acted unjustifiably in shooting the cats, which, he argued, they have the burden of proving.

Scott reserved judgment on that issue, asking both sides to submit documents before the hearing.

Grasso's defense also included arguments that SPCA officers had violated his constitutional right to remain silent by failing to read him his Miranda warnings June 13 when they tracked him down on Ridge Road.

Petricca claims the SPCA officers told Grasso they wanted to meet with him to conclude the investigation of the case. That ended, Petricca says, when the officers pulled Grasso over on Ridge Road and requested an explanation of the shootings.

"They knew he was the target of their investigation," Petricca argued. "They gave him no Miranda warnings."

"He wasn't free to go. He made a statement in violation of his constitutional rights. Had he been given these warnings, he might not have given those statements."

Prosecutor Michael Felicetta, however, argued that Grasso and the SPCA officials had arranged the meeting, which was not held in a "custodial setting" that would have required Miranda warnings to be issued.

"This was still an investigation at this point," Felicetta told Scott. "He chose to give statements."

The Nov. 25 hearing will get under way at 7 p.m. in West Seneca Town Court.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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