Gwinnett animal shelter director guilty of criminal contempt

Image 1 of 2

A judge found Gwinnett County Animal Services director Curt Harrell guilty of criminal contempt after killing a dog in spite of a restraining order.. He was fined $500 but not given any jail time.

The ruling came during an extraordinary contempt hearing where Harrell was the only witness, admitting he did order an 18-month old lab mix be put to sleep after getting legal advice from county attorneys.

“We had to make a decision for the betterment of the community,” Harrell testified.

In February, animal advocates convinced Judge Warren Davis to issue a restraining order that blocked Gwinnett County Animal Services from euthanizing Ricki, believing the shelter was moving too fast to kill what they believed was an adoptable dog.

A few weeks later judge Davis told both sides he was not going to keep the restraining order in place, but he wanted each to submit proposed orders first in case the dog's advocates wanted to appeal. Three days later the dog was killed before any order was signed that would have legally allowing that to happen.

“I do find that you violated the court order and you shouldn't have done so,” ruled Davis from the bench. “You made a conscious deliberate decision. In my mind I find it willful.”

Harrell will appeal. His one-year anniversary as animal services director comes next week.

It's clear looking at the dog's shelter records that authorities worried about her aggressive nature. The dog was originally surrendered by a woman after her family had become homeless. She got the dog back a few weeks later hoping to place it in a private kennel, but records show the kennel refused because of the dog's bad behavior.

Then Ricki bit the woman's child when she reached into her dog bowl. She brought Ricki back to the shelter as second time for good.

Noted animal behaviorist Victoria Stilwell evaluated the dog and wrote she should be kept away from children because she was still a bite risk.

But advocates like Lisa Musser still asked the court to help, believing the shelter had given up too soon.

“I never expected it to turn into all of this,” she admitted. “I was just trying to save one dog there. But it would benefit the animals if both sides could find a way to come together peacefully and work together for the sake of the animals.”