By John Carroll
EUFAULA - Criminal charges and civil liabilities could be faced by Eufaula officials over the deadly chemical Pentobarbital that has been reportedly released in an illegal manner to kill thousands of dogs and cats the past several years. The dogs and cats, after being euthanized, were then illegally disposed of in violation of the Alabama Solid Waste Disposal Act. This then likely exposed the deadly toxin to Ospreys, Hawks, Bald Eagles, Buzzards and numerous scavenger animals who fed upon the contaminated bodies for periods of up to four months in very close proximity to the shore of the lake and two heavily populated subdivisions where children often play.
There are several federal statutes that may have been violated. According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Tyrone Ragan, Natural Resource Specialist that monitors lake Eufaula, Ospreys, Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles frequent and nest in the area and all are protected by law. John Rawls, the Federal Game Warden over this jurisdiction, told us that, “the Migratory Bird Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act protects these species and critical habitat areas and it falls under strict federal jurisdiction”.
Last week Mayor Jack Tibbs continued to issue strong denials, in a widely distributed memo and posting on the city’s social media sites, of any illegalities involved in the disposing of captured animals by the Police Department’s Animal Control Unit,
noting specifically that they “are in conformance with applicable state laws” and cited “WE COULD NOT FULLY MEET THE DEMANDS OF THIS RESPONSIBILITY WITHOUT THE the professionalism” FROM VETERINARIANS SUCH AS Dr Tommy Horne”.
But evidence has mounted in the past week, state officials witnessed and photographed the illegal disposal of the animals, building an irrefutable argument that it is becoming increasingly likely that the Police Department, under the direction of Mayor Jack Tibbs, has intentionally misled the public in a misguided attempt to protect the city and the lake from bad publicity and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties and fines, not to mention a potential environmental cleanup that could cost taxpayers a fortune. Last night after a controversial city council meeting where public comments were banned, the mayor publicly reversed his position and said that “it is his understanding that it was not being handled in a legal way and he assured a group of concerned citizens he would handle it”. Tibbs then alleged to us that he “had not visited the site, as of last night” and stressed his “primary concern was the ability to continue to be able to sell the lake for business purposes”.
When questioned directly after the council meeting if he were willing to visit the site, where the animals have been illegally disposed of with interim police chief Steve Watkins, he refused and stated it was a road-killed fox and a deer carcass that had been reported. We then offered to give Tibbs the opportunity to review any of our source material and he declined. Several people immediately spoke up and offered that they “knew this had been taking place for years” and demanded “it stop and for an outside investigation to take place”.
Mayor Tibbs then replied “if anything illegal was done in the disposal process that it was on the Vet (Dr. Tommy Horne), not the city, as far as liability goes”. However, in direct testimony to state officials investigating the illegal disposal and the allegations of illegal methods of euthanization being performed by Dr Horne, witnesses directly contradicted the mayor’s statement.
When questioned by dozens of concerned citizens in the Council meeting, Mayor Tibbs was willing to answer their questions, but Councilman Bob Powers became aggressive, interrupting the mayor multiple times and eventually appeared to actually order the Mayor to not discuss anything with the public about the issue. The crowd then became visibly angry with Powers shutting down all discussion. Both men are heavily dependent upon selling Lake Eufaula as a tourist and bass fishing destination for their own financial security. Powers being President of the Eufaula Agency and Tibbs owner of Strike Zone Lures.
Powers further complained about WTVM Channel 9 reporter Dante Renzzulli having questioned him directly about the illegal disposal, indicating he was not going to be questioned regarding the business of the city unless it was under controlled circumstances and in writing. One reply shouted from the audience was “what do you know about this and what the hell happened to democracy”. Powers refused to answer the local businessman and defended his recent decision to take away the public’s traditional right of over 50 years to address the council without any public referendum. This effectively enables the city to now deny anyone’s legitimate request without providing any reason as to why.
Despite Power’s objections, the Mayor did promise the crowd “if anything was improperly done by the city, he would address it”. Tibbs stressed, “his main concern was the pubic image of Lake Eufaula and how the crisis affected his ability to sell the lake and recruit industry to the town”.
Contradictory to Mayor Tibb’s statements, however, we have been informed that Animal Control Officers and city employees, some who have been interviewed by state officials, approached Mayor Tibbs shortly after he was elected last year, and informed him of numerous state and federal laws being broken, Tibbs promised them then he would take care of it. Tibbs denied being told anything about this subject by anyone.
Sources inside City Hall tell us this practice began when a former chief took over the Eufaula Police Department, and it was shared with us that former Chief Kenneth Walker and Capt. Phillip Ezzell, who was in charge of the Animal Control Unit until 2007, they always
“followed the law to the letter the with advice of Dr Klein as the legal requirements to dispose of the euthanized animals”.
If so, based on documents we have been shown, this means a rough estimate of up to 8,000 animals could have been illegally disposed of since then. At an average dose of 40 – 100 ml per dog there could be upwards of 100 liters of the deadly toxin that the city of Eufaula has introduced into the environment directly adjacent to the west side of the lake in a popular fishing area and near two areas where children frequently play.
Last Friday we inspected an illegal disposal site with state investigators who took photos and witnessed the rotting and decaying of piles of euthanized animals exposed to groundwater and other animals feeding upon their carcasses. Investigative Reporter Dante Rezzulli from WTVM channel 9 had witnessed and filmed the week before. The fact that the Mayor continues to issues denials and refuses to examine the site is increasingly hard to comprehend.
As we have previously reported on Feb 5th, local veterinarian Dr. Tommy Horne discussed with us how, at the city’s request, he used the controversial drug pentobarbital to euthanize cats and dogs in a manner that is contradictory with the professional’s standard’s outlined in the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Guidelines. In a interview with Horne, he admitted that an extremely toxic chemical (pentobarbital) was used in the euthanization process of stray dogs and cats for the city of Eufaula. To the veterinarian’s credit, he admitted to performing the procedure, in what we believe was an attempt by him to have it stopped and brought forward to the public. Here is a link to that article.
A public records request pending with city attorney Courtney Potthof should detail the payments made to Dr. Horne and copies of the Animal Control Center’s records that will give us an up-to-date number of the dogs that have been euthanized with this deadly chemical and a more exact estimate of how much of the deadly chemical has been released into the environment.
The policy requested of Dr. Horne, and that he admitted to us he performed, from sources close to mayor, say it was purely an economic decision on the part of the City and at no time did Horne recommend it.
“They did it to save twenty bucks, Horne is a nice guy and was merely doing what was asked of him. They simply were not willing to pay the money to have it done properly…really stupid, all to save twenty bucks”, one person at city hall told us.
More importantly, this was done against adamant protest by former animal control officers and current city employees, some who had been trained by the State and SACA in the legal methods of euthanization, hold periods and strict laws concerning control of disposal of the toxic pentobarbital-laced remains. In a confidential interview by state investigators, former employees shared with their supervisors that it was criminal to dispose of the animals in such a manner.
Allegedly indivIduals who were notified that this disposal was against the law were Captain Steve Watkins, Chief Ralph Conner, and Mayor Jack Tibbs. It was alleged their supervisors then insisted the employees cease complaining about any violation of law and were instructed to do as they are told or find a job elsewhere. Current employees have informed us that they were warned last Friday to not to speak about the matter or they would be immediately dismissed. One of the employees who printed out various federal and state statutes and sought to warn the Mayor was forced to resign and has been the target of what appears to be a illegal search without a warrant and police intimidation in recent weeks. We have notified the city attorney of this behavior, and in the presence of a group of a dozen people, told Tibbs of this. Two of the individuals have retained legal representation to protect them from the authorities attempting to force them to not speak about the matter. “The truth, one said, is going to come out whether they like it or not at this point, come hell or high water”.
In an interrogation where one of the employees was forced to resign, we have obtained video that shows Chief Ralph Conner overruling officers and aggressively violating the individual’s civil rights where he shouts angrily that “you dont have a right to a lawyer ” .
Understand this was done after the employee was read his Miranda rights, signed a document clearly stating he was legally entitled to have an attorney present which he forcibly requested multiple times and being detained. Other officers later apologized to the employee for Chief Conner’s inappropriate and potentially illegal behavior.
Unfortunately, those responsible for this decision to cover up the illegal disposal of toxin-laced dog and cat carcasses were ignorant of the larger ramifications of the potential liability it would incur for the city and taxpayers and risk to fisherman and children who live and play nearby.
The real problem with using pentobarbital as explained to us by a Federal Game Warden is that,
“when Eagles or other birds feed upon exposed dead animals the chemical immediately gets into the food chain”. It had been his experience that “some Eagles could die within hours after consuming a dog that had been euthanized with this chemical. This is why the laws are so strict regarding its use”.
And of course it enters the water supply and the fish population of lake Eufaula, which calls the whole issue of fishing into question until contamination studies are performed. While inspecting the site with state officials last Friday, we were able to bag and remove one of many carcasses that birds had been feeding on, and it is currently being sent to the US Fish and Wildlife’s Service’s forensic laboratory to test for levels of Pentobarbital contamination. If positive, the liabilities and fines the city faces could be especially severe.
Another city official close to the mayor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said late Monday that,
“We have the captain of our ship arguing that icebergs dont exist while its obvious we are headed directly toward one. We desperately need someone that has the ability to understand these issues to step in and take charge of the city and not be obsessed with recruiting bass tournaments, if not this will be disastrous for us.”
To understand the extent of the danger posed by the city releasing this chemical into the environment, federal game warden John Rawls who has investigated and successfully prosecuted such cases shared that,
“ Raptors such as Bald Eagles, which are numerous on the western side of Lake Eufaula, can die within several hours of feeding upon an exposed carcass of a animal killed with Pentobarbital. Incidences such as this would be a clear violation of the federal level of the Migratory Bird Act. Endangered Species Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, The penalties for those involved will be very severe”.
We reviewed the documents he directed us to and they state:
Criminal penalties can run as high as $250,000 per individual, or $500,000 per organization under MBTA and EPA, and may include imprisonment for up to 2 years.
The acts also provide for forfeiture of vehicles and equipment
In civil cases maximum fines range from $500 (for “any” violation) to $25,000 (for a “knowing” violation) under ESA and up to $5000 for any violation of EPA
Here is a link to a U.S Fish and Wildlife Fact sheet that discusses it in more detail.
We then spoke to McArthur award winning environmental scientist Wilma Subra, who has served on the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and she further explained the dangers and what would now be necessary to address the situation.
“THE SOURCE HAS TO BE ISOLATED IMMEDIATELY SO IT DOESNT CONTINUE TO FEED THE ECOSYSTEM. THEN WARNINGS PLACED IN THE AREAS THAT ARE AFFECTED. NO MATTER HOW BAD IT AFFECTS THE LOCAL ECONOMY IT CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO AFFECT PEOPLE’S HEALTH”.
Late yesterday we spoke to a leading area physician at South Alabama Medical Center who was familiar with the toxin and fishes lake Eufaula often. He explained just how damaging it could be to each of the city employees and jail trustees who handled the dogs after being euthanized. “If they weren’t wearing gloves and immediately put into the appropriate body bag, or incinerated, they could easily have been exposed to the chemical by dermal contact. Repetitive exposure over long periods of time could have severe health consequences”.
At this point it seems the debate is not about whether the animals were illegally disposed of, but more who at the city knew what, and when did they know it. We believe those who are responsible for this should be held accountable. If they broke state and federal law, and more disturbingly forced others who worked under them to do so, and then attempted to conceal it, then they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and held liable for any environmental damage and to the employees exposed to this chemical.