Tuesday, September 20, 2005

 

Jourdanton has drownings past


JOURDANTON, Texas — When the news came this summer that city employees here had drowned five stray dogs in a metal cage at the sewage treatment plant, dog lovers from around the nation joined local politicians in loudly condemning the practice as shameful and barbaric.

City Hall was deluged with angry phone calls and e-mails, and at one point, police guards were posted there because of threats against city officials.

Despite an apology by Mayor Tammy Clark, a taint remains.

But according to Police Chief Ronnie Lawson, who Monday night presented the results of his investigation into the incident, killing stray dogs to save city money was commonplace in Jourdanton a decade ago.

Between 1994 and 1997, he said, dogs were euthanized in Jourdanton either by drowning or shooting. He said the practice was known both inside and outside city government.

"As many as 250 animals were killed this way and buried at the old city dump," Lawson said. "Several people contacted alluded to then-City Manager Roy Underwood as being the person responsible for enacting this practice to 'save the city money.'"

At that time, two people who this summer sharply criticized the practice were part of city government: City Councilman Darrell Richter was the police chief then, and Councilman Joe De La Garza was already on the council.

De La Garza was absent from Monday's meeting. Richter said he doubted the chief's words.

"I don't believe it," Richter said. "It's news to me. I guess if they were doing it, it was hush-hush."

The chief said he interviewed about two dozen past and current city employees during his monthlong probe, including some who now live out of state.

Before the meeting, Lawson said Chantan Morin, the public works supervisor who received a reprimand for ordering the five dogs drowned July 11, learned the practice from his superiors when he was hired in 1994.

Hours before Lawson presented his report about the dog-killing episode, an Atascosa County grand jury reportedly heard evidence about the incident against Morin and two other city employees.

No indictments were reported Monday.

By state law, the only legal ways to kill stray dogs or cats are by gassing them with carbon monoxide or injecting them with sodium pentobarbital at an animal shelter. In addition, anyone putting an animal to death must be certified.

Violations are a Class B misdemeanor.

City Manager Dan Nick, who was on vacation July 11, at first said the drownings were ordered because the city's veterinarian was not available and because the dogs were sick.

However, police later learned that the veterinarian in fact was in town.

Lawson was careful to note that Nick had budgeted money to ensure that animals at the pound were euthanized lawfully and that none of the sources interviewed in his investigation knew of Nick giving any order to drown or shoot dogs.

The incident came to light when a youth performing community service with city employees witnessed the drownings and complained about it.


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