“Wear the badge and the uniform.” How a small Alabama shelter wins big in court

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1993:

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA––On March 12,
the Montgomery County Humane Society took a man
named Tom Green to court. His offense, testified executive
director Mary Stanley Mansour, was keeping seven
Weimeraners in “complete darkness and filth in a large
warehouse for several months.”
It was the sort of case anti-cruelty officers often
hesitate to recommend for prosecution, a case of neglect
rather than overt physical abuse, involving conditions that
in many poor communities aren’t demonstrably far from
“normal,” no matter how undesirable. Mansour was not
eager to prosecute Green, either. She gave him repeated
warnings.

But when Green paid no attention, Mansour nailed
him. “We called in the health department to observe the
filthy conditions and surrounding odor, as well as the bags
of feces thrown on the ground outside the warehouse,” she
told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “After attempts to speak with
Green failed, we swore out a warrant for his arrest on ani-
mal cruelty charges and subpoenaed the health department
witnesses. I was also in court the day of his plea hearing to
present the court order for the confiscation of the dogs. He
defied the court order and was found guilty.”
Municipal court judge Judge Randolph Reeves
handed Green five days in jail and a fine of $500.
It was the 50th cruelty case Mansour has taken to
court, and her 48th conviction. A month later, on April 16,
Mansour won another tough case, obtaining a fine of $500
and a 60-day jail sentence against Wilda Sue Barnes, who
left her three cats to starve to death in her locked home
while she was away for six months. Because Barnes didn’t
pay the fine, she’s now serving the sentence.
Mansour and the Montgomery Humane Society
are now a perfect 48-for-48 in municipal court, and 49-for-
51 overall––a 96% conviction rate, probably the best in the
United States for any humane society or animal control divi-
sion pressing at least as many cases. (Montgomery
Humane, which holds both city and county animal control
contracts, is both.)
Other Alabama humane society and animal control
department directors have told ANIMAL PEOPLE that
weak humane laws and poor public attitudes prevent them
from laying cruelty charges in any but the most egregious
cases. Even then, they say, they’re lucky to get a convic-
tion half the time. But Mansour doesn’t believe in excuses.
She came to Montgomery Humane as a public relations offi-
cer, after earning her college degree in zoology and going
on to work with a variety of zoos and state wildlife depart-
ments as a wildlife rehabilitator. She learned to do law
enforcement work on the job, adding part-time deputy duty
to her public relations workload and then keeping her eyes
and ears open.
A good sense for public relations, she discovered,
could help her considerably. The first secret of successful
anti-cruelty law enforcement, Mansour learned, was “just
building a good relationship with other departments. If
you’re there to help them, they’ll help you when you need
them. We’ve built our relationships very carefully.
Uniforms
Learning to look and act like a peace officer was
an essential first step. When Mansour became executive
director of Montgomery Humane, she remembers, “We
started wearing our uniforms every day. We have them,
and we wear them, and we faithfully wear the star” of ani-
mal control officers, “because we’ve found that uniforms
are a must. We wear browns in county court and blues in
city court,” matching the uniforms of the sheriff’s depart-
ment and police department.
“The wearing of uniforms, I’ve found, is very
important psychologically,” Mansour emphasizes, “both in
getting the respect and attention of the general public and in
maintaining our image with other branches of law enforce-
ment. Uniforms are not that expensive to do. If you can
only afford one uniform, you can take it home and wash it
yourself every night––that’s what I did at first.”
Mansour and her staff rarely work alone on cases
that look as if they might go to court. “We work fairly
closely with the police and sheriff’s department,” Mansour
explains. For instance, in the Barnes case, Montgomery
Humane was called by the sheriff’s department, after
deputies found the dead cats while carrying out an eviction.
The deputies then became witnesses for the prosecution.
“Unless an animal is dead or in extremis,”
Mansour says, “we usually leave recorded citations with the
offenders. Then, whenever possible, we will call other
departments such as the health department, etcetera, to
back us up as witnesses. There are five of us, my deputy
humane officers and me. If the case is one of chronic
abuse,” Mansour continues, “we swear out an affidavit
instead of an arrest warrant to avoid false arrest suits. If
there has been great damage to the animal, or failure to
comply on the part of the offender, we will go the arrest
route. We contact all media on spectacular cases, and by
getting the coverage we will usually find homes for the ani-
mals that are turned over to us in these cases; create a deter-
ring factor for the other potential abusers in the area by
showing that we will prosecute; and create pressure on
reluctant judges by arousing the animal-loving public.”
Contrary to the national trend, Mansour prefers to
charge offenders with a misdemeanor, rather than a felony.
“When the offenses are misdemeanors,” she explains,
“we’re in a court where the cases are less costly and easier to
deal with all around. We would like to see cruelty made
into a possible felony in Alabama, as an option, but we
would rarely use it. Bringing felony charges would not only
bring more cost, it would also encourage defendants facing
stiffer penalies to put up more resistance,” for instance by
bringing in top lawyers and filing counter-suits.
Getting the maximum on a lot of misdemeanor
convictions, Mansour believes, has more deterrent value
than getting a light penalty imposed in a few felony cases.
Mansour praises Judge Reeves, fellow municipal
court judges Curtis Springer and Clark Campbell, prosecu-
tor Oscar Hale, and bailiff Tom Coker for their sympathetic
attitudes on animal cases. “We’ve only had two walks,” she
says, “and both of those were in county court.”
But even one of the failed prosecutions brought
some positive results. The victim was a dog named
Phoenix, “who had everything that could be wrong with a
dog because his owner refused to get help. The judge
released the owner with a ‘not guilty’ verdict, but Phoenix
had already been one three major prime time news shows
and an outraged public wrote the judge over 200 letters.
Phoenix received $1,500 for his recovery, and today he has
new owners and looks like a million bucks.”
As the designated county humane officer,
Mansour is the only one of the Montgomery Humane team
authorized to carry a gun––and she does. “I don’t carry it
because of the animals,” she notes. “It’s the two-legged ani-
mals I’m worried about. We go into some rough areas,”
including the vicinity of crack houses, where Montgomery
Humane has uncovered dogfighting, cockfighting, and
livestock theft rings. She is presently seeking authority to
have her deputies carry guns as well, since they too some-
times face potentially life-threatening situations.
“I’ve made a lot of enemies,” Mansour concludes,
“but I don’t care. With all these convictions in really bad
cases, people have started donating enough that pretty soon
we’re going to build a brand-new shelter.”
After investigating an average of 450 cases a year,
managing to deal with most of them out of court, Mansour
notices one big change. “Today, when we go through our
jurisdiction on patrol,” she says, “we see fewer people to
cite.”
––Merritt Clifton
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