🔴 Sen. Vin Gopal wants to increase penalties for extreme cases of animal abuse

🔴 The proposal is in response to a recent case out of Asbury Park

🔴 Advocates say animal abuse is linked to future violence toward humans

New Jersey's animal cruelty laws don't account for the most extreme instances of evil.

That's the mindset behind legislation in the works that would increase penalties for the most violent acts against pets and other animals.

A bill to be introduced by state Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, was crafted in the wake of charges against a young Asbury Park man who is accused of torturing, sexually assaulting, and killing his pet cat.

Bani Mezquititla, 18, was ordered in March to remain behind bars until trial, and he was indicted in May. But if the defendant is found guilty, the courts are limited in the punishment that can be handed down, officials and advocates say.

"Anyone who could commit the acts described in this case needs extensive help and should be held accountable for their actions," Gopal said. "It is important that we give our prosecutors the tools needed to address these offenders in the proper way."

Gopal's bill aims to make extreme cruelty that maims or results in the death of an animal a second degree offense. Right now, Gopal said, crimes against animals, even those that result in death, don't come with a presumption of incarceration.

According to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, convictions on charges of this nature can be punishable by up to five years in prison.

Bani Mezquititla in court 3/14/23. (Doug Hood via Asbury Park Press)
Bani Mezquititla in court 3/14/23. (Doug Hood via Asbury Park Press)

Monmouth County Prosecutor Raymond Santiago said this case highlights the current limitations of the applicable statutes they are working with.

“Should our legislators reach a consensus that this type of conduct warrants a more severe penalty, I would certainly welcome it as a helpful tool that can be wielded to deter others from abusing defenseless animals," Santiago said in an emailed statement to New Jersey 101.5.

Ross Licitra, executive director of the Monmouth County SPCA, said in many animal abuse cases, such as hoarding situations, officials can simply work with offenders to get them the help that they need. But more extreme measures need to be taken, he said, when the offender is intent on harming or killing an animal.

"On this particular case in Asbury Park, the law needs to be to the absolute max," Licitra said. "History tells us over the years that violent offenders on humans always start with animals."

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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