NJ group protests lack of info on fate of teens who beat raccoon
TOMS RIVER — Demonstrators plan to be outside the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office on Friday to protest the handling of an animal cruelty investigation involving a raccoon that was trapped and beaten with a baseball bat by teens who shared video of their actions.
The video was posted on the Ocean County Scanner News website a year ago this month. The 24-second video showed the raccoon in a steel trap and then smashed at least eight times by an aluminum baseball bat.
"Hit 'em, hit 'em, hit 'em," one teen says to the other, who strikes the hissing critter in the head.
It is not clear what kind of justice — if any — the teens faced because they are underage and juvenile investigations are largely confidential.
Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer told New Jersey 101.5 on Thursday that the incident was "fully and thoroughly investigated by the Lacey Township Police Department Detective Bureau, the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office."
The prosecutor said he is "keenly aware" of the outcry over the incident but is prohibited by law from discussing the case because the teens are under the age of 18. His office will not say whether the teens were punished or whether any of them had their trapping licenses taken away.
"While we appreciate the concerns expressed by certain members of the public relative to this investigation, the fact remains that the incident in question involved juveniles. As a matter of law, by statute, information concerning juveniles shall be strictly safeguarded from public inspection and dissemination."
The Lacey Raccoon Task Force, which is organizing the demonstration, said on their Facebook page that Billhimer needs to be shown "that animal lives matter and animal cruelty is a crime, whether he thinks so or not,"
Billhimer said he would be "violating the very law we are sworn to uphold if we were to comment on an investigation involving juveniles. I am keenly aware of the public outcry regarding this matter, I am however constrained by the law."
State Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, has asked Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to review the case. Smith's letter says that Billhimer had not appointed a humane law enforcement officer, resulting in the state Division of Fish & Wildlife having to investigate the case. Smith is on the Environmental and Energy Committee.
Billhimer disputed Smith's letter and said that his office has two assistant prosecutors and two detectives serving as humane law enforcement officers.
Billhimer said the four officials conducted two separate two-day trainings in January and February for municipal police and the two prosecutors have conducted lectures for the State Police.
The protest begins at 2 p.m. in front of the Prosecutor's Office on Hooper Avenue.
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