Hearing to Decide Fate of Clarion County Humane Officer

| October 25, 2017

CLARION COUNTY, Pa. (EYT) – A November 16 hearing will determine the fate of Clarion County Humane Officer Penny Dewoehrel.

(PHOTO: All photos contained within this article were captured at the Girty residence located at 1312 Route 58 in Richland Township and submitted by Penny Dewoehrel.)

Clarion County District Attorney Mark Aaron filed a petition on October 18 to remove Dewoehrel from her position within the county.

The announcement was issued in a press release from the District Attorney’s office following a summary animal neglect hearing Friday morning at Magisterial District Judge Amy Long-Turk’s office in Knox.

Charges Filed in Animal Neglect Case, Plea Deal Accepted

Court documents indicate that Lorraine Girty, 63, and Richard Girty, 58, both of 1312 Route 58 Richland Township, were charged with three summary counts of animal neglect after they allegedly failed to provide adequate shelter, food, and water to multiple dogs and cats at the residence.

On September 8, 2017, Clarion County Humane Officer Penny Dewoehrel obtained a search warrant and seized the animals.

According to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Dewoehrel, she was made aware of the situation on July 2.

Dewoehrel included the following allegations in the affidavit:

  • One dog was chained outside without water or shelter and in direct sunlight;
  • Another dog was chained to a tree with a flooded dog house, no bedding, water was very old, dark murky and full of leaves and mosquito larvae;
  • Outside dogs where both matted and filthy;
  • A female dog and her puppy were living under the porch deck in debris, extremely overgrown weeds, and garbage. The mother dog was tied to a sofa chain on a three-foot chain without food or water. The puppy was running about the debris and garbage and weeds. Both of these dogs were flea infested and filthy;
  • One large black dog was flea infested;
  • A 10-year-old poodle was found with her litter of four puppies filthy, covered in fleas, blood, and dirt. They were in a kennel with a filthy pillow which prevented the puppies from walking, causing muscle atrophy. There was NO water or food available. The cage/kennel was extremely filthy, smelling of urine and feces;
  • One brown poodle/sheltie/Havanese-type long hair dog was kept in a small wire crate with old dirty water with food in his water bowl, and no bedding for cushion. The dog was filthy and flea-infested and matted;
  • A black Cocker Spaniel was living in a wire crate with no bedding, food, or water, filthy and flea-infested;
  • The owner surrendered four puppies and their mother as the puppies were very lethargic due to flea infestation. Their gums were pale white and puppies where not moving very well;
  • The home was filthy with debris and garbage about inside and outside, the smell of urine and feces was very prominent inside and outside the home;
  • According to the affidavit, Dewoehrel returned to the home on August 23, 2017, for a pre-scheduled revisit and stated, “the conditions have not changed and remained unsanitary.”

(PHOTO: All photos contained within this article were captured at the Girty residence located at 1312 Route 58 in Richland Township and submitted by Penny Dewoehrel.)

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The affidavit continued, “As of September 2, the violations have not been remedied. Lorraine Girty does not wish to comply with the law and refuses this Affiant access to the animals. These animals are roaming freely on Route 58 and have been witnessed by this Affiant being loose on Route 58 without anyone present. Dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys have been witnessed and directed by this affiant to safety as this Affiant was driving by and came across the animals in the middle of the road nearly striking them on two separate occasions.”

View Neglect of an Animal Offense – PA Title 18 5532 1,2,3 here.

The Girtys later spoke with District Attorney Aaron and agreed to remedy the situation.

To further complicate the case, the Girty’s home was destroyed in a September 26 fire.

In October, Aaron and Clarion County Sheriff Rex Munsee inspected the Girtys’ new residence in Oil City and found appropriate shelter, water, and food were available.

“Sheriff Munsee and I inspected the NEW home in Oil City, and it had adequate food and shelter,” said Aaron. “We are following the law.”

Aaron added that there was food “piled to the ceiling” for the dogs.

The Girtys reached a deal with District Attorney Aaron and agreed to plead guilty to one summary count of animal neglect, pay a fine of $100.00, and pay veterinary costs associated with the animals.

During Friday’s hearing, Judge Long-Turk accepted the plea and ordered Dewoehrel to return the animals to Sheriff Munsee on Monday, October 23, who will then return them to the Girtys’ new residence.

Dewoehrel agreed to hand the animals over to Munsee on the specified date.

Judge Long-Turk also ordered District Attorney Aaron to contact the Oil City Police Department and ask them to conduct random monthly inspections to ensure the animals are receiving the proper care.

“We followed the law and the animals are to be returned to their owners,” said Aaron. “And, Judge Turk agreed that the animals were to be returned.”

Petition Alleges Professional Misconduct

In the petition filed October 18, District Attorney Aaron alleges professional misconduct by Dewoehrel and asked the court to revoke her position as Clarion County Humane Society Police Officer.

The petition states Dewoehrel was directed by District Attorney Aaron to “not engage in internet ‘shaming’ campaigns regarding pending cases; as to do so would violate the rules of professional conduct applicable to police officers.”

Aaron cites Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8(e), Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor, which states “a prosecutor shall refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused.”

The petition alleges Dewoehrel engaged in an internet “shaming” campaign against the Girtys in direct defiance of the District Attorney’s instruction.

Aaron also alleges that Dewoehrel initially refused to return the animals to the Girty’s.

Petition Outlines Incidents in Other Counties

In the petition, Aaron points to incidents involving Dewoehrel in other counties.

Dewoehrel was charged by Officer Eric Petrosky of Manor Township, Armstrong County, Police Department for an incident which occurred on September 12, 2017. It is alleged that, during the monthly meeting of the Fort Armstrong Horseman’s Association, Ms. Dewoehrel became angry, disruptive, and refused to leave when asked. She was subsequently charged with Disorderly Conduct, Disrupting Meetings and Processions, and Criminal Trespass. A preliminary hearing is pending.

Dewoehrel’s authority to act as a Humane Society Police Officer in Butler County was revoked by President Judge Thomas Doerr on August 30, 2010. Judge Doerr cited Dewoehrel’s “apparent disrespect for the District Attorney’s authority, combined with her substandard conduct exhibited toward Magisterial District Judge Stoughton is enough to revoke her authority to act as a humane society police officer in Butler County.”

In 2011, Venango County Judge Robert L. Boyer adopted the findings of Judge Doerr’s Butler County opinion and revoked the authority of Dewoehrel to act as a Venango County Humane Society Police Officer.

It goes on to state that Dewoehrel was convicted on summary offenses of Defiant Trespass in 2006 and Harassment in 2016.

Dewoehrel Speaks Out, Creates Online Petition Calling for Aaron’s Resignation

Dewoehrel voiced her side of the story in an email correspondence to exploreClarion.com on Friday:

“Animals are being abused/neglected and our judicial system does not agree these issues are abuse/neglect and (Aaron) wants the animals to return to hell.”

“The DA has demanded my resignation because I said ‘NO!’ Animals are contraband they are a product of a crime, and he signed the warrant to remove the animals. I did not give my consent nor agree to the DA taking over my case and prosecuting it. The DA made a deal with the defendants without my knowledge.”

Dewoehrel created an online petition of her own, calling for the resignation of Aaron.

The petition had over 3,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning; however, it’s unclear how many of those signatures came from within Clarion County.

Aaron Responds to Dewoehrel

In a Monday morning phone interview with exploreClarion.com, Aaron fired back at Dewoehrel, stating “Dogs are not contraband.”

Aaron also emphasized that every case is ultimately the District Attorney’s case – “and this case isn’t different than any other.”

“The DA has the authority to prosecute all cases, regardless of the officer’s consent,” said Aaron.

Dewoehrel has not returned the animals as of Tuesday morning, according to Aaron. Aaron declined to say whether criminal charges would be filed against Dewoehrel.

A hearing to determine whether Dewoehrel will be removed from her position will be held on November 16.


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