Attorney Rachel Mitchell recently announced the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) would continue to strengthen its efforts to combat animal cruelty, which research points to being a gateway crime to more serious offenses.
“As you know, I am a believer in the ‘broken windows’ approach to reducing crime,” Mitchell said during a news conference. “If criminal elements get away with small offenses – and let me be very clear, I do not consider animal cruelty to be a small offense – they become emboldened though to pursue bigger crimes or crimes against human beings.”
Mitchell revealed that prosecutor Casey Mundell had previously focused on animal abuse cases but was recently appointed as a municipal judge and would leave the MCAO. To fill this void and continue efforts to combat animal cruelty in the state, Mitchell announced she would hire a new prosecutor and specialized detective to focus on these cases.
The Arizona Sun Times reached out to the MCAO for more information on the potential new hires but did not hear back before publishing time.
Myriah Moon, CEO of New Life Center, the largest domestic violence shelter in the state, explained why it is important to combat animal abuse.
“Stated simply, people who hurt animals don’t stop with animals. There is a strong link between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans, and violence against animals must be taken seriously under the law,” Moon said. “Time and time again, we hear stories that are compounded with abuse towards animals [and] family members. Animals are beaten, starved, and bearing witness to the violence that is occurring in the home.”
Mitchell shared that another reason for addressing animal cruelty is to prevent Maricopa County from becoming like Portland or Los Angeles. She claimed these cities have prosecutors who ignore misdemeanors and lower-level crimes, which has caused crime to spiral out of control.
“Those cities have become unlivable. Keeping Maricopa County safe means addressing crime at every level,” Mitchell said.
As reported by AZ Family, the MCAO has received an increase in animal abuse cases. In 2020 and 2021, the office received under 40 cases each year; however, there have been 44 cases to date in 2022. One case involved a man from Surprise who was charged with almost a dozen counts of animal cruelty after authorities received complaints he was zip-tying a dog’s mouth closed and then found 10 puppies in the man’s apartment, all suffering from dehydration.
Arizona law outlines the varying degrees of animal abuse, which, if committed, can result in a class 1 misdemeanor or a class 5 felony.
However, a report from the Law Enforcement Bulletin (LEB) emphasized that not all animal abusers will go on to hurt people. Yet, as Mitchell pointed out, a connection between the crimes still exists. Abusers sometimes threaten to hurt or kill a companion animal as leverage to manipulate a victim into agreeing to, or staying in, a relationship. They may also harm the animal to punish the victim, and if a child is involved, they will often witness the abuse.
A reported 50 percent of children witness animal cruelty at some point. Exposure to abuse at home can cause emotional damage and increases the risk of that child perpetuating that violence.
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