Chesterfield Co. Animal Shelter: 3 Years Later
CHESTERFIELD, S.C. - It was March 2011 when animal rescue volunteers discovered Chesterfield County Shelter dogs and cats shot in the head, puppies in a plastic bag, all dumped in an unpermitted landfill. The Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office launched an internal investigation. Shelter workers were supposed to be lethally injecting the homeless animals.
WCCB's investigation also uncovered one worker's criminal background, the unauthorized possession of fire arms, and the shelter's incomplete record-keeping of controlled substances. The SC Attorney General ordered the shelter to submit to random inspections.
Jim McGonigal—an outsider—was the man tapped to turn the shelter around. WCCB News @ Ten anchor Morgan Fogarty asked McGonigal, "Have you all shot any dogs in the head, or cats in the head, since you've taken over?" McGonigal replied, "Absolutely not."
Eddie O'Cain, with the South Carolina Humane Society, was asked by the state to conduct the inspections. He says, "It actually was worse than what it had been explained. What had been found, the things that were uncovered."
He continues, "There was no system in place." McGonigal adds, "I think it was no supervision."
Now, there is plenty: detailed paperwork for every animal that enters or leaves the shelter. A computer tracking system. Even new cleaning procedures. One of the biggest concerns was with how the shelter maintained its euthanasia drugs and medications. They got a consent order to bring everything up to standard practice—and went above and beyond. McGonical installed a double-lock safe with two keys so two employees must access the drugs any time, every time. He also installed a 24-hour surveillance camera.
McGonigal says, "I have 'view only' on there, so I can't go erase a tape. It's recorded down at public works and also at the county council office."
McGonigal says he has an 88% "save" rate. That means about 84% of the animals are pulled out by certified, inspected, background checked rescue groups. The other 4 percent adopted by the public, up from only 1 percent in 2011.
O'Cain says, "The only thing that I would have a question about is whether the county will support them after the court order is gone?"
County Council Chair Matt Rivers tells WCCB, "Clearly Chesterfield County has made great strides in this matter, but there is much more we can do, and I am committed to those efforts." Councilman Frank Plyler even says "At this time, plans are in motion to construct a new animal shelter."
Quite the turnaround from 2011. Then, the shelter was under the authority of Sheriff Sam Parker. He is now awaiting trial on unrelated charges that he let inmates out of jail in exchange for work on his personal property, and charges he took money that belonged to the county. If convicted, Parker could spend 15 years in prison.
And the men county council confirms were terminated from their jobs at the shelter? Ex-shelter Director Brian Burch tells WCCB he has no comment on what happened three years ago. He is currently working for a screw manufacturer. Lee Carnes had his dad call WCCB to say his son also had no comment. He declined to say where his son is now employed. Eric Donahue also has no comment, and also declined to say where he is currently employed. Kip Gulledge declined to return WCCB's messages, but we did confirm Gulledge is now a "creative pastor" at a local church where his job duties include counseling.
In 2011, the Attorney General said the men "failed to follow authorized euthanasia procedures." They were never charged in connection to the shootings.
McGonigal says he's committed to the Chesterfield County Animal Shelter and proud of what he calls a community effort. He says, "Humanity, fiscal responsibility, and public safety can all occupy the same room."
McGonigal says euthanized animals are now disposed of in a permitted landfill in Polkton, North Carolina. He and O'Cain both acknowledge there are improvements to be made to the shelter's plumbing and construction. The state-ordered inspections are scheduled to stop in January 2015.