NEWS- Officer nabbed: Cat shooting tale takes a twist
When a prominent businessman was arrested April 24 for shooting his neighbor's cat in an upscale Albemarle subdivision, the situation was certainly unusual. Particularly strange was the alleged confession: that businessman, according to his own lawyer, admitted that shooting Carmen the cat was an "impulsive" act. But a recent development has added yet another layer to the story– one that could threaten the scheduled August 22 trial for the accused cat shooter, George Seymour.
Last month, William Maiden, the Albemarle County animal control officer who handled the Carmen case and had Seymour arrested, was himself arrested for– get this– "impersonating a police officer."
How does an officer impersonate an officer? According to Albemarle County Police Lieutenant John Teixeira, animal control officers are not full police officers, and therefore do not have any authority beyond the duties of animal control enforcement. They may issue summons and swear out warrants but cannot make "custodial arrests," says Teixeira.
According to a press release from the Albemarle County police, Maiden's 8:35am arrest on July 7 followed an incident unrelated to the Seymour case on I-64 West of Charlottesville. (Because Maiden is charged with a misdemeanor, no mugshot exists, and an Albemarle Police spokesperson says there are no official photos of Maiden available.) Though the incident occurred in Albemarle County, the case will be prosecuted by Charlottesville City Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman to avoid a conflict of interest, since Maiden is an Albemarle County employee.
Seymour's attorney, Benjamin Dick, wonders whether Maiden's arrest will affect his client's case. "I don't know if this thing is going to go forward if the animal control officer has been arrested," Dick says.
Maiden, a Waynesboro resident, is on administrative leave and could not be reached for comment. The Hook attempted to obtain a photograph of Maiden, but the Police department had no official photo available. Maiden did not have a mugshotChapman declined comment on the case, and Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos declined to discuss implications of Maiden's arrest, other than to say the case is moving forward as planned.
Teixeira, who also declined to reveal details of Maiden's arrest, says the animal control officer's own legal woes should not affect his ability to testify in the Seymour trial.
People who have been waiting to learn the outcome of the case against Seymour, owner of the Import Car Store on Hydraulic Road and Emmet Street, remain concerned.
The court date was already postponed once. Albemarle District Court judge William Barkley moved the date, initially scheduled for mid-June.
Dick maintains that his client, who reportedly shot Carmen through the neck because he believed she was a stray that had scratched the paint on his cars, had a legal right to defend his property. Indeed, while the bylaws of the Bentivar subdivision prohibit the discharge of firearms, Albemarle County code allows shooting in areas zoned rural– a huge portion of the county that includes Bentivar.
Seymour, charged with a class one misdemeanor for animal cruelty, faces up to one year behind bars and a $2,500 fine if convicted. Carmen's owners, Klaus and Vanessa Wintersteiger, believe he should have been charged with felony animal cruelty under a 2002 law that considers certain types of cruelty to companion animals such as dogs and cats a felony on the first offense if the animal dies as a direct result.
As detailed in the Hook's May 18, 2006 cover story, "Claws and Effect: Shooting shocks Bentivar," the Wintersteigers euthanized Carmen the night she was shot after learning she was facing an uncertain future after front leg and shoulder amputation. The incident shocked the couple's two children, 9-year-old Nicholas and 7-year-old Isabella, who had often dressed Carmen in doll's clothes and pushed her around the neighborhood in a carriage.
There is precedent for a felony conviction in such an animal shooting case.
In 2003, Augusta County resident James C. Coleman became the first Virginian convicted of felony animal cruelty for shooting Mosby, a malamute husky who'd been a mascot of sorts for the downtown Staunton community.
Mosby's owner, Johnny Adams, says he's been following the Carmen case and is considering coming to town for the trial. While he was pleased that Mosby's shooting led to a felony conviction, he'd like to see animal cruelty laws toughened in Virginia.
"The law is so poorly written," says Adams, who adds that he wishes Delegate Rob Bell's 2004 effort to sponsor a more concise animal cruelty bill had succeeded. "They haven't been able to get over whatever hump there is in Richmond," says Adams.
He isn't the only one frustrated with Virginia's animal cruelty laws. An online petition at the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA website (caspca.org) advocating stiffer laws for animal abusers has gathered nearly 2,000 signatures, says that organization's executive director, Suzanne Kogut. She plans to attend the Seymour trial August 22 at 3pm in Albemarle Circuit Court and hopes other animal rights activists will be there as well.
The Wintersteigers say they will attend with Nicholas, who reported seeing Seymour with a weapon the night of Carmen's shooting and who may be called as a witness.
They say life is almost back to normal in their family, and while they look forward to putting the incident behind them once the trial is over, they say they won't ever forget their pet.
"We talk about Carmen," says Vanessa, "but we usually talk about positive things about her and not her death so much."
The April 24 cat shooting in Bentivar touched some nerves
Isabella Wintersteiger with CarmenFILE PHOTO COURTESY THE WINTERSTEIGER FAMILY
The Seymour's Bentivar home is the alleged site of Carmen's shooting.
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO