Westport animal advocates continue push for special prosecution unit

WESTPORT — The town’s animal rights activists clapped in unison when selectmen voted unanimously on last week to support their push for the Bristol County District Attorney’s office to create a special animal abuse unit.

The district attorney’s office indicated later in the week that the celebratory cheers could be in vain. DA spokesman Gregg Miliote indicated that the district attorney has reviewed this request, after meeting in person with Stop the Insanity members, as well as other animal advocates.

But such a unit might not be necessary, according to the DA’s office.

This request comes after Bristol County District Court Judge Gilbert Nadeau last month granted a continued without a finding charge against town employee Nicole Botelho, following animal abuse charges that resulted from the finding of two dead dogs and a dead bearded dragon, and other issues in 2015 at an abandoned Sanford Road home.

The sentence means that Botelho, who was charged along with her former estranged husband, Stephen Botelho, will not serve any jail time and will have these charges dropped if she is not involved in any more abuse cases between now and March 2019. The district attorney’s office requested probation, which Stephen Botelho received last year.

This case was preceded by a landmark animal abuse case last year on a former American Legion Highway tenant farm, which led to an estimated 1,400 animals removed from the property and more than two dozen people charged with animal abuse from the state attorney general.

In a letter read on Monday by animal activist Constance Gee, she and fellow activists called Westport the “Ground Zero” of animal abuse cases.

“We, your constituents, respectfully request that the Westport Board of Selectmen formally endorse the creation of an Animal Abuse Unit within the Special Victims Unit of the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office,” Gee read from the letter at Monday’s meeting. “Please note that such a unit should include the regular services of animal advocates in the courtroom — advocates to speak for victims who are unable to speak for themselves. We ask you to please send District Attorney (Thomas) Quinn a letter supporting this request.”

She added, “We also ask you to formally support H.852 ‘An Act Relative to Establishing an Animal Abuse Registry.’ Such a registry, similar to the registry on sex offenders, is long overdue.”

Selectmen did not take action on the latter request, which was not on the agenda. Selectmen also cited a need for further review.

Selectman R. Michael Sullivan noted that he was contacted by the DA’s office after making critical comments at a selectmen’s meeting. Sullivan at first urged selectmen not to take any action in support until after his meeting.

But Selectman Brian Valcourt had a different take.

“I have seen enough and heard enough,” he said. He later added, “We should put pressure on the DA and the judiciary to take these things seriously and having a special animal abuse unit is step one.”

Gee said that one Animal Rescue League said this county has a “lax record” when it comes to animal abuse cases.

Valcourt called that “an embarrassment” and called on selectmen to contact Governor’s Council member Joseph Ferreira, whose council selects district judges.

Activist Chris Wiley mentioned that Nadeau has also been asked by activists to revoke his sentence against Botelho in favor of a harsher penalty.

Miliote recently spoke about the animal abuse unit request.

“We certainly understand the frustration with the judge’s decision in this one case,” he said. “We do already have a prosecutor dedicated to animal cruelty cases, and our office will continue to vigorously prosecute any cases where animals are being beaten, treated inhumanely or being neglected. As a pet owner himself, the district attorney cares deeply about this issue and believes any abuse of an animal to be completely unacceptable in our society.”

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