Cruelty to Animals trial starting this week

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — In papers filed March 1, Bloomfield Prosecutor John Cerza urges Municipal Judge John Paparazzo not to dismiss charges against former Animal Control Officer Vincent Ascolese, and let the case proceed to court.

Ascolese’s trial is scheduled for today, Thursday, March 9, in Bloomfield Municipal Court, at 9 a.m.

Ascolese has been charged by the NJ Society of the Prevention to Cruelty of Animals with multiple counts of animal cruelty, including allegedly euthanizing an injured fawn by cutting the animal’s throat. The animal was found injured on private property and taken to the Bloomfield Animal Shelter.

Ascolese is also charged with the alleged mistreatment of a squirrel and dog housed at the shelter.

The attorneys for Ascolese, Peter Willis and James Lisa, have said in court that the care of the fawn falls under NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife jurisdiction. Under this jurisdiction, they said the method Ascolese used to euthanize the fawn was acceptable.

Willis and Lisa also argue that if there is any ambiguity as to what agency has jurisdiction over the fawn — the Division of Fish and Wildlife, which is part of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, or the NJ Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — long-standing legal practice allows this confusion to benefit Ascolese and the charges against him should be dropped.

In the court papers, Cerza said that if Fish and Wildlife laws apply to Ascolese’s euthanizing the fawn, then those same laws also prohibit a deer from being killed out-of-season, which was when the fawn was euthanized.

“The deer was not killed through legal hunting, nor was it found dead on the highway or private property,” he said. “The deer was found alive and transported to the shelter clearly because the animal was hoped to be saved and needed care.”

Cerza said once Ascolese had custody of the fawn, it was his responsibility to protect it.

He also took issue with the defense argument that the charge should be dropped because the Division of Fish and Wildlife did not charge Ascolese. Creza said as to why the division did not charge him is no reason to dismiss the charge but a reason for the trial to take place and testimony to be taken.

“This defendant was not involved in any activity that involved the Division of Fish and Wildlife,” Cerza said, “which is precisely why they chose not to get involved.”

Willis and Lisa had argued in their own court papers, filed Nov. 2016, that the fawn had been severely injured. Under Fish and Wildlife laws, they said a severely injured deer can already be considered dead.

Cerza addressed this issue. He said testimony at at trial would determine the extent of the fawn’s injuries and this was another reason why the trial should take place.

He acknowledged that the law allows for an injured animal to be euthanized quickly but it is“not meant to allow for someone to take into custody a fawn, drive the animal back to the shelter and decide to cut the animal’s throat without consideration or care from a veterinarian as required under the cruelty laws.”

Cerza also found no reason to drop the charges because of any confusion as to what agency had jurisdiction over the matter.
“These charges are clear and long-enforced by the NJSPCA,” he said. “The defense is mixing apples and oranges in attempting to suggest that the animal cruelty laws and the hunting regulations are somehow ambiguous.”