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Judge clears officer in cats' deaths Says evidence shows no criminal acts

Lackawanna animal control officer Frederick S. Grasso was justified when he shot to death a mother cat and two of her kittens last June 10 in the basement of a Lackawanna apartment complex, a West Seneca judge ruled Friday night.

West Seneca Town Justice Richard B. Scott, who conducted the nonjury trial, said the evidence did not show Grasso acted criminally in the Eagan Drive complex, where he shot the cats after responding to an apartment manager's complaint they were acting aggressively.

"The community might think shooting three cats sounds terrible in and of itself. . . . I agree it sounds terrible, in and of itself," said Scott. "But shooting the cats violated nothing."

Grasso faced two unclassified misdemeanor charges for allegedly violating the state's Agriculture and Markets Law. The first count charged him with cruelty to animals and the other alleged he euthanized a dog or cat by gunshot.

Scott quickly dismissed the latter charge.

"No place in the testimony here has anyone alleged or argued that the killing of these cats was a mercy killing," he said. "In fact [it is] quite to the contrary."

The judge pointed out that for Grasso to be convicted of the cruelty charge, he would have to have acted "unjustifiably" in the shooting of the cats.|

Conflicting testimony in the nonjury trial held earlier this month presented widely varying accounts of the incident. Scott said while testimony from the six prosecution witnesses and three defense witnesses may have been truthful, there was no evidence that Grasso broke the law.

"As happens in all cases, people see things differently," the judge said.

According to testimony recounted by Scott, the apartment manager saw the mother cat hissing and spitting in the basement of the complex and sought help from the SPCA but was turned down.

During the trial, Grasso testified the three cats came at him, hissing and spitting. He went back to his vehicle, grabbed his rifle and shot the cats.

Grasso, at that point, "took action he deemed necessary and shot three cats," Scott said. "At that time and place, the animal control officer had to make a decision," the judge said. "The court feels no crime was committed."

Four other kittens were unharmed. They have since been adopted into homes.

The verdict ends an emotionally charged and highly publicized case that resulted in a change of venue from Lackawanna to West Seneca.

It was no less emotional outside of the courtroom after Scott's verdict.

Barbara S. Carr, executive director of the Erie County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said she was "extremely disappointed" by Scott's decision.
"This mother cat and kittens were domestic cats that were just shot by Officer Grasso," Carr said.

"It appears as if you are a government official, you can do things that other people can't do."

Grasso left the courtroom and the town municipal building without commenting. However, his attorney, Arcangelo J. Petricca, called Scott's ruling "the only fair verdict based on the facts of the case."

"The decision speaks for itself," Petricca said. "It was a very objective decision based on the facts."

Petricca called his client "an animal lover himself" who is also a cat owner and who "doesn't destroy animals unfairly or unjustly."

"[Grasso] felt strongly from the beginning he acted justifiably," Petricca said. "All I know is he's tremendously relieved."

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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