ALBANY — Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and the Columbine High School shooters are among the infamous criminals who had a history of hurting animals before they went on to target humans, a tendency that’s part of what’s behind a movement to create public online registries of known animal abusers.
New York is among 11 states with animal abuse registry bills pending in their legislatures, following Tennessee, which started its in 2016 along with a growing number of municipalities in recent years, including New York City and the counties that include Chicago and Tampa, Florida.
“Animal abuse is a bridge crime,” said the sponsor of New York’s bill, Republican state Sen. Jim Tedisco, who noted that Nikolas Cruz, accused of killing 17 people in the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting on Feb. 14, reportedly also had a history of shooting small animals.
While the main goal of collecting names of convicted animal abusers is to prevent them from being able to adopt or purchase other animals, registry backers say such lists could also be a way to raise red flags about people who may commit other violent crimes ranging from domestic violence to mass shootings. But some animal welfare advocates, mostly notably the ASPCA, question how effective they can really be.
Under registry laws, people convicted of felony animal cruelty are required to submit information to the registry and pay a maintenance fee. Failing to do so brings fines and jail time. Shelters and pet dealers in a county with a registry are required to check it and risk stiff fines for providing an animal to anyone listed. It’s not difficult, since most registries have only a handful of names and mug shots of cruelty crimes ranging from dog fighting to beating or starving a pet to death.
A high-profile animal cruelty case is often the impetus for passing a registry law. In Nassau County on New York’s Long Island, it was the case of Miss Harper, a fawn-colored 7-month-old pit bull left earless and badly infected after the couple who bred her paid a friend to perform surgery he wasn’t licensed to do.
The couple had previously been charged with cruelty for putting bleach on another puppy. Since their convictions predated the registry, they’re free to buy and breed more dogs. Another loophole is the current scattershot nature of such registries. While neighboring Suffolk County on Long Island has a registry, along with 11 counties in upstate New York, many do not.
“There really needs to be a statewide law,” said Gary Rogers of the Nassau County Humane Society, which manages that county’s registry established in 2014. “Otherwise, someone on our registry can just go to another county to get an animal.”
Tedisco, who pushed through New York’s felony animal cruelty law in 1999, said the Miss Harper case underscores the need for passage of his statewide registry law, which would also require convicted offenders to get psychological evaluation and treatment.
Stephanie Bell, director of cruelty casework for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said PETA is strongly in favor of animal abuser registries. But not all animal welfare groups agree.
“Given the limited scope, reach and utilization of animal abuse registries, it is unlikely they would have any significant impact on the incidence of animal cruelty,” said Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of anti-cruelty projects for the ASPCA. The number of people who end up on registries is negligible, he said. Tennessee’s has just 12.
Leighann Lassiter, of the Humane Society of the United States, said that while her organization agrees with the motivation behind registries, it’s already possible to do a nationwide criminal background check on a potential pet adopter, which would reveal not only cruelty convictions, but also other violent crimes.
Instead, Lockwood said, communities should focus on strengthening anti-cruelty laws, using no-contact orders to prevent offenders from having contact with pets, livestock and wildlife, and expanding protective orders in domestic violence situations to include animals.
The other states considering registries are Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington.
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan showed little interest Tuesday in some of the stricter gun proposals being floated by President Donald Trump or bipartisan coalitions in Congress, as Senate Republicans pushed a more modest measure to boost the existing background check system with new penalties and incentives.
As student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting roamed the Capitol for a second day, promoting tougher gun laws in meetings with top lawmakers, Ryan acknowledged "system failures" in Florida that he said Congress should review. But GOP leaders stopped short of offering new legislation beyond the background check fix.
"We shouldn't be banning guns for law-abiding citizens," Ryan told reporters. "We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get guns in first place don't get those guns."
The Senate was poised to consider legislation from Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, though votes were not yet scheduled amid resistance from within the GOP ranks.
The "Fix NICS" bill, similar to one approved last year in the House, would penalize federal agencies that don't properly report required records used to determine whether someone can legally buy a gun.
"Let's do what we can and build from there," Cornyn said.
But broader proposals were quickly circulating, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. urged the Senate to be more ambitious than the "tiny" Fix NICS bill in its response to the Parkland, Fla., assault that left 17 dead.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., are reviving their background check bill, which would expand checks to include purchases online and at gun shows. It had failed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. And Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., pushed an effort to block terror suspects on the federal no-fly list from buying guns.
"Let's not set our sights too narrow and squander this moment," said Schumer, who also met with students Tuesday. "Let's try for significant, bipartisan legislation that will make a real difference in keeping our children safe."
Cornyn said he was dismayed that senators wanted to debate other ideas before taking up the background checks bill, and urged the chamber to immediately pass it.
"If our attitude is, 'I want everything on my list or nothing,' we're going to end up with nothing," he warned.
The efforts in Congress comes as Trump has floated his own shifting ideas on gun safety, including a proposal for arming teachers that has support from the National Rifle Association, but few backers on Capitol Hill.
Trump declared Monday he's willing to take on the NRA over gun legislation, and chided lawmakers not to fear the gun lobby. But the Republicans who control Congress weren't so sure.
"You guys, half of you are so afraid of the NRA," the president said Monday at a meeting with the nation's governors. "There's nothing to be afraid of. And you know what? If they're not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That's OK."
One plan, to prohibit sales of bump stocks —— the devices that turn rifles into automatic-style weapons and were used in the Las Vegas mass shooting last fall —— was under consideration at the Justice Department.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said top officials believe the hardware can be banned through the regulatory process. This was the approach preferred by the NRA and it could relieve Congress of pressure for legislative action. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives previously said it was powerless to restrict the devices without action from Congress.
Though Trump on Monday did not mention his earlier idea for increasing the minimum age for rifle purchases, he said he wants to toughen the Cornyn bill with stricter background checks, a change the NRA has opposed.
"We're going to strengthen it," Trump said. "We're going to make it more pertinent to what we're discussing."
Democrats have long pressed for more sweeping changes toward a universal background check system, including requiring inquiries for online and gun show purchases.
In the House, many Democrats — and a few Republicans — also want to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired more than a decade ago.
Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., a wounded Afghanistan war veteran, said he described his proposal to ban assault weapons to his House GOP colleagues Tuesday at a closed-door meeting. "There was not thunderous applause," he said.
The House passed legislation in December that included changes to the background-check system. It was part of a broader package that stalled in the Senate because it included expanded gun rights by requiring states to recognize conceal-carry permits issued by other states.
The House package also included a measure to study bump stocks after the Las Vegas assault, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
In the Senate, Republican leaders see the best route to passage in separating the issues of background checks and state reciprocity measures.
The more narrowly tailored "fix NICS" was introduced last fall after the shooting of churchgoers in Texas. At the time, authorities acknowledged having failed to report the Texas gunman's domestic violence conviction to the database.
But even the "Fix NICS" bill faced resistance from some in the GOP ranks.
Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky said the bill would encourage federal agencies "to encroach upon constitutionally guaranteed rights without affording robust due-process protections."
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Ken Thomas, Andrew Taylor and video producer Padmananda Rama contributed to this story.
Follow Mascaro on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LisaMascaro and Daly https://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC
The volunteer firefighter who fell off the roof of a Moreau apartment building last week is recovering from multiple broken bones, and a fundraiser has been set to help him.
Connor Mack, a firefighter with the Gansevoort Fire Department, slipped off a snow-covered roof at a burning home on Bluebird Road and fell an estimated 18 feet from the second story.
He landed on the icy ground and was taken to Albany Medical Center from the fire scene. He remained there as of Sunday, according to the Gansevoort Fire Department.
Both Mack and the Fire Department have posted updates on social media in recent days about his condition.
“I’m in stable condition and have a few fractures. But I am staying strong. Thank you everyone for the support. I love you all,” Mack wrote on Facebook.
“I want to thank everyone for all the support. It’s means the world to me. It’s overwhelming all the kind words I am getting. I will recover, and I will be back to fight some more. And that is a promise,” he added on Friday.
A benefit spaghetti dinner is being held for Mack on Tuesday, March 13 at the Gansevoort Fire Department on Route 32 in Gansevoort.
Medical bills for volunteer firefighters are paid through the state’s Volunteer Firefighters Benefits Law, but other costs, such as travel and ancillary expenses, are generally not covered.
Mack was hurt as fire tore through a three-apartment building, routing 16 people from their homes. It was believed to have started from a cooking mishap in a first-floor apartment. At least six fire departments were called out.
Online fundraisers have been set up for the residents of the building as well.
A GoFundMe page for one of the families had raised nearly $4,000 as of Monday. It can be found at www.gofundme.com/8q52y-fire.
A second GoFundMe page has been set up for the Bourdeau family. It can be found at www.gofundme.com/suzanne-bourdeau-family-fire. The family includes four children ages 16, 10, 8 and 2, who lost everything, according to Heather Bourdeau Barton, the sister of the mother.
Other donations of gift cards can be dropped off at Pizzeria Uno on Route 9 in Queensbury.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has agreed to release infamous escapee Joel O’Keefe to a home that a relative is giving him in Argyle, and he will likely be released early next month, officials said Monday.
The department released a statement Monday that read, “Mr. O’Keefe has been approved to live in a residence located in Washington County. Completion of the transition process could take several weeks.”
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office and State Police were notified during a meeting last week that O’Keefe was expected to be released in early March and allowed to live in a cabin on Hidden Valley Road, a private dirt road off county Route 43. He will be supervised by parole officers, who met with local police last week to discuss oversight of O’Keefe, who used to live in Argyle.
O’Keefe will be required to wear an ankle bracelet that will allow officials to monitor his travels through global positioning satellites. He will not be allowed to travel outside of an 11-county region around Washington County in New York.
O’Keefe has been in state prison since 1995 for a number of felony convictions, which included a widely publicized escape from police in 1994 while he was being taken to jail from a court appearance. He was on the run from police for 13 days after he ran off from State Police investigators.
He ultimately pleaded guilty in Washington and Saratoga counties to felony counts of burglary, criminal possession of a weapon and escape, then was convicted three more times of crimes related to escape attempts or contraband possession in prison.
O’Keefe was first eligible for release last Nov. 25, but the Corrections Department decided the homes where family members and friends had hoped he could go were not sufficient for reasons that were not disclosed. He is not being paroled, but instead served time up to his “conditional release” date because he accumulated “good time” credits while behind bars, despite his prison misbehavior.
Hidden Valley Road resident Travis Jameson, who is related to O’Keefe by marriage, said the state denied the applications for a variety of reasons, disallowing a relative’s home in Hebron because a woman lived in one of the homes and others because the state claims relatives helped O’Keefe remain on the lam during his escape.
But in recent days, the state agreed that a waterfront cabin that Jameson said he is going to give to O’Keefe on 50-plus acres would suffice, with improvements that Jameson has made.
Hidden Valley Road is a sparsely populated road, with the closest house to O’Keefe’s cabin sitting a third of a mile or more away. Many of the residents know O’Keefe from his years of living in the area before he was sent to prison, Jameson said.
“His closest neighbors are going to be these pigs,” he said, pointing to a pen that sits off the road.
O’Keefe, 57, has served more than 23 years in prison. He has long been considered a “person of interest” in a 1988 double homicide in the town of Hartford, according to police. Two men he knew were killed, one shot and one beaten to death. O’Keefe has maintained he had nothing to do with their deaths, Jameson said.
Police re-opened the investigation of the case last fall, after learning of O’Keefe’s potential release, and said the inquiry was ongoing as of this week.
O’Keefe will be on parole until July 25, 2023.