Who, age What Where When Last known address
Steven S. Croley, 37 7 dead, 8 starving dogs found at kennel

Youngstown, OH

Mahoning County

October 22, 2008 Lowellville, OH
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved
Misdemeanor noxious odors and exterior property violation, eviction notice 19 dogs

The man who operated High Caliber K-9 at his home, where seven dead and eight starving dogs were found this week, was arraigned in municipal court.

   (Photo courtesy of Vindy)

Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr. set bond at $20,000 for Steven S. Croley, 37, of 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road, allowing 10 percent to be paid. He will be back in court Nov. 13 for a pretrial hearing.

As a condition of bond, Croley is not allowed to own or harbor any animals. Although originally arrested on 19 counts of animal cruelty, Croley was arraigned on only four counts, plus one count each of noxious odors and exterior property violation.

  (Photo courtesy of Daniel C. Britt/Vindy)  Animal Charity humane agents found seven dead and eight malnourished dogs in the backyard kennel area of Croley’s business. They also found four dogs in the house. The 12 live dogs were taken to Animal Charity on South Avenue.

Croley told a humane agent that he couldn’t afford to feed the dogs. He claimed ownership of 16 dogs, telling police the other three were boarded.

          

    

(Photo's courtesy of the Nitro Foundation)

Update 10/25/08:  Only four of 19 animal cruelty charges can be prosecuted against a Youngstown kennel owner.

YOUNGSTOWN — If Animal Charity humane agents had waited for a search warrant before using bolt cutters to enter High Caliber K-9 — where seven dogs died — the city prosecutor would have filed more charges against the operator.

City Prosecutor Jay Macejko said four dogs, are the ones the agents saw before they entered the property at 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road.

In all, seven dead and 12 starving dogs were found, and Croley, who lives at the business, was originally arrested on 19 counts of cruelty to a companion animal.

Macejko, however, did not file charges related to the 15 dogs found after agents entered Croley’s property with bolt cutters.  “They should have called me. I could have got a warrant in one hour,” Macejko said. “Saving animals doesn’t mean you can prosecute.”

Macejko said civilians can act to save animals in distress, but the agents, Kyle Ziegler and Joe Borosky, were acting on behalf of the state and must follow the law if they expect criminal charges to be filed.

Macejko said Ziegler and Borosky first saw one dog through a fence and weren’t sure if the animal was sick or dead in the kennel area. They went next door and, from that vantage point, saw three more dogs. They then decided to enter the property by using bolt cutters, the prosecutor said.

Nikole Owen, chief executive officer at Animal Charity, wrote to Macejko, saying that her agents acted within the law and that Croley should face his original 19 counts of animal cruelty.

In a written response, Macejko said the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure, applies to humane agents.  He said: “There was absolutely no way to justify the illegal entry that your agents conducted” and “there were no exigent [pressing] circumstances” as Owen asserted in her letter.

Owen wrote that four charges instead of 19 “is an injustice to our community and our society as a whole.”

Macejko responded that the only individuals who perpetrated the injustice were her agents. He said they unlawfully intruded on a man’s property and the unlawful act has sacrificed a full-scale prosecution.

The prosecutor said reports don’t reflect the forced entry and that Croley repeatedly demanded to see a warrant.  “You and they further complicated the matter by turning the scene into a media spectacle. None of you had a right to escort the media around this man’s property,” Macejko wrote. “If you wished to hold a press conference, you would have been fully within your right to do so once the animals had been removed from the scene and secured at Animal Charity.”

He said her conduct — sending letters to the mayor and reporters before they spoke — “only serves to justify my lack of faith in your agency.”

The prosecutor said he learned, while researching the case, that Borosky has not been appointed by the mayor to act as a humane agent, but Ziegler has, so Borosky had no authority to act at all, other than as a private citizen.

Macejko warned Owen that if Borosky acts again without authority or enters a public building wearing a firearm under the auspices of being a humane agent, all necessary action will be taken. The prosecutor added that her agents are generally unprepared when they present cases to his office and severely need training.

“I, too, am mortified at the conditions of the High Caliber kennels, but our hands are tied by what your agents did,” Macejko wrote. “Please know that Mr. Croley will nevertheless be prosecuted to the extent we are able.”  He said his office will continue to make decisions absent of sympathy, emotion or bias, adding “I would strongly urge you to do the same.”

Borosky said even though there was a problem with the animal-cruelty charges, “We saved the dogs, no matter what.”

Croley was video-arraigned in municipal court.   Croley told the judge that he can’t afford to hire a lawyer because his business “has fallen under.” The judge appointed an attorney to represent him.

Croley said he’d use his house in Alliance as collateral to post bond. Property records show him as co-owner of a house valued at $45,199 on High Street in Alliance.

As a condition of bond, he is not allowed to own or harbor any animals.

Ziegler, Borosky, Patrolman Melvin Johnson and housing officer Laura Fulmer described the odor of feces and decomposing animals in the backyard as atrocious.

The agents and officers found empty, overturned food and water bowls and the animals desperate to get out of their cages, Johnson said in his report. The live dogs were covered in feces, had matted fur and open sores, and were severely malnourished with spine and ribs protruding, he said.

“The dogs are adjusting to eating again — I know that sounds funny,” Borosky said, explaining that because they went without food for so long, it may take several weeks before normal digestion returns.  “We can’t feed too much at a time; we’re doing small amounts four to five times a day. Some are having a hard time keeping food down.”  He said donations of food and money, for which Animal Charity is very grateful, are pouring in.

The dogs are getting individual and group attention by caretakers and being walked outside, he said. Verifying ownership, he said, is difficult because several of the dogs came from out of state to be trained at High Caliber K-9.

Update 11/2/08:  As residents of the Mahoning Valley were trying to understand how an individual in the business of caring for dogs could allow seven to die of starvation and 12 to barely survive, officials responsible for enforcing cruelty to animal laws were embroiled in a jurisdictional dispute.

The dog kennel owner has said he could not afford to feed and look after the dogs that were kept in his care by their owners. He also said he cannot afford a lawyer.

But before taxpayers are required to foot the bill for a court-appointed lawyer, the prosecutor’s office should determine what happened to all the money that Croley’s clients paid in advance when they dropped off their dogs at the kennel.

Case in point: A couple from New York whose 3-year-old Rottweiler died of starvation say they paid more than $2,000 and also provided three months of food and vitamins when they left their dog for obedience training.

The couple read about the dead and starving dogs in the newspaper, and came to Youngstown for their pet. They not only found out that he had died, but his weight had dropped from 105 pounds in late June to 50 pounds.

Update 11/14/08:  A New York man whose dog, Nitro, starved to death at High Caliber K-9 held up a small decorative tin in municipal court and shouted, “Here’s Nitro!”

  (Photo courtesy of Daniel C. Britt/Vindy)  The tin contains Nitro’s ashes. The Rottweiler weighed 50 pounds when cremated; he weighed 105 pounds when taken to High Caliber K-9 in late June for obedience training. His owners said they paid more than $2,000 up front for the training and dropped him off with more than three months’ food and vitamins.

Steve Croley, who is accused of starving dogs at the Coitsville-Hubbard Road business, didn’t turn around at the outburst in the court’s gallery. He stared straight ahead during the commotion.

Judge Robert A. Douglas ordered Nitro’s owners, Tom Siesto and his wife, Liz Raab, who was crying loudly, to leave the courtroom. The judge warned those who remained to keep quiet.

Two security guards were positioned in court out of concern that the proceeding might be disrupted. Several animal lovers who came to support Nitro’s owners cried softly but there were no further outbursts.

Judge Douglas set the trial for Dec. 18. He ordered that Croley come with a financial statement.

High Caliber K-9 offered kenneling, obedience and guard dog training. Since the arrest, dog owners have come forward to say they paid Croley in advance.

After court, Siesto and Raab, both 50, said they will be back for Croley’s trial. The couple lives in Queens, N.Y.  Holding the tin, Siesto said he wants to let people know how the poor animals at High Caliber K-9 suffered.   "This man did this,” Siesto said of Croley. “I’m very disappointed today. I thought this monster would have admitted what he did — he’s a coward.”  Of the dead dogs, Raab said: “We’re their voices.”  (see Siesto & Raab's website about Nitro at http://www.nitrofoundation.com/)

Croley was kept in a back room next to Judge Douglas’ court until the hallway cleared. Guards directed people away from the elevator, reserving it for Croley and his attorney, Heidi Hanni.  A red SUV picked Croley and Hanni up in front of the courts’ building on Boardman Street.

Update 12/4/08:  A plea agreement recommends four months in jail for the man who operated High Caliber K-9, where seven dead and 12 starving dogs were found.

Croley, of Struthers-Coitsville Road, Lowellville pleaded no contest in municipal court to four counts of animal cruelty. Two housing violations related to the condition of the High Caliber K-9 property at 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road were dismissed.

City Prosecutor Jay Macejko said the plea agreement calls for 30 days in jail on each count; restitution of $1,646 to Animal Charity, a humane agency on South Avenue; and a provision that Croley not own or harbor animals during whatever probation period — one to five years — that may be imposed.  Croley will be sentenced Jan. 22.

Update 1/20/09:  The man who operated a kennel where dogs starved to death is due in municipal court today for failure to pay rent for the property once known as High Caliber K-9.

Matt Akenhead of Virginia, the owner of 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road, said in court papers that Steve Croley and his wife agreed in January 2007 to pay $500 rent each month and now owe from May 2008 to the present. Notice was served to have them vacate the premises on Nov. 19.

Croley and his wife are in the process of a divorce that was filed Nov. 7.

A lawyer representing Akenhead said he has performed all obligations under the lease as a landlord and demands payment of rent, late fees, unpaid utilities and any expense incurred in removing any of Croley’s personal items or restoring the premises.

If Croley fails to show for this hearing with Magistrate Tony Sertick, judgment would be given to Akenhead. If Akenhead or his lawyer fail to show, the case would be dismissed, the court said.

  (Photo courtesy of Daniel C. Britt/Vindy)  After Croley was arrested on animal cruelty charges Oct. 22, the High Caliber K-9 sign in front of 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road was defaced with spray paint, as was the ranch-style house. Windows were also broken.

After the hearing, Croley, is due again in municipal court to be sentenced by Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr. for animal cruelty.

Judge Douglas told Croley, who is represented by Youngstown attorney Heidi Hanni, that the potential penalty for each count is up to 90 days in jail and $750 fine. The judge ordered a background investigation.  “The court recognizes there were losses in this matter,” the judge said last month. Restitution to the owners of four dogs cited in the charges is expected.

Judge Douglas could sentence Croley to more time than worked out in the plea agreement. If that happens, Croley could withdraw his plea and the case proceed to trial, the prosecutor said.

Update 1/21/09:  Steve Croley told a magistrate he had no rental agreement for the property once known as High Caliber K-9, and that he and the owner were business partners.

Croley appeared in municipal court for an eviction hearing prompted by Matt Akenhead, owner of the kennel property at 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road.

Akenhead told Magistrate Tony Sertick that Croley and his wife verbally agreed to pay $500 monthly beginning in January 2007 but no rent was received from May through November 2008.

Akenhead, of Virginia, said in court that it appears Croley left sometime in November. Croley’s estranged wife was not in court; records show she moved to Alliance.

The magistrate said the matter of eviction was moot because Croley moved out. Because a dispute arose over the rent, a second hearing will be scheduled.  “He was my business partner; there was no rental agreement,” Croley said in court. “I took care of the property.”

Croley told the magistrate he needs time to find a lawyer because he didn’t find out about the eviction hearing until recently. He said possessions he left at the kennel were thrown into the trash by Akenhead.

After court, a reporter asked Akenhead if he and Croley had been partners. “No way, shape or form,” he answered.  Akenhead said his family operated the property at 1516 Coitsville-Hubbard Road as a kennel until four years ago and then moved to Virginia. He said the place “has been through a rough couple of months” but had no estimate on repair costs.

Reference:

The Vindicator

The Nitro Foundation