Monday, July 20, 2020

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

An Indiana woman, who shared images and videos on social media that showed her torturing and graphically killing cats and dogs by hanging and skinning them, has been charged under the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, a groundbreaking federal law we helped pass last year. If found guilty, Krystal Cherika Scott, 19, of Kokomo, Indiana, could face up to seven years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, a penalty far more severe than any she would have faced had she been charged under state law.

A release from the U.S. District Attorney’s office in Indiana, announcing Scott’s arrest last Tuesday, offers a disturbing look at her grisly pastime. Scott is said to have obtained some of the animals she allegedly tortured and killed by responding to online ads from people looking to rehome their pets. Between May and July, she posted several images and videos over various social media platforms that showed her torturing and killing the animals when some animal lovers discovered her posts and brought them to the attention of authorities.

FBI special agents and other law enforcement officers who searched Scott's home recovered what appeared to be numerous animal parts and skulls belonging to cats and dogs. Agents also discovered approximately three live dogs, 12 live cats and several lizards. These animals are now in the care of the Kokomo Humane Society, which plans to put them up for adoption after the investigation concludes.

As sad and terrifying as this story is, it is heartening to remember that had these crimes been discovered before the PACT Act or the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010 came into existence, Scott would likely have been prosecuted under Indiana state law, which allows for a maximum penalty of two and a half years in prison.

The 2010 federal animal crushing law was designed to stop the creation and sale of videos of animal crushing for sexual gratification. However, that law did not allow the FBI and other federal law enforcement authorities to prosecute the underlying animal cruelty, like crushing, burning and suffocating animals, absent the production of a video, nor the movement of animals across state lines or other interstate activities related to the cruel exploitation of animals. 

The PACT Act was introduced to close this loophole and we, along with HSUS's legal team, worked with the bill's lead sponsors—Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and former Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas—to pass it with overwhelming support before it was signed into law by President Trump in November 2019. 

We applaud the FBI and local law enforcement officials who worked swiftly to bring charges against Scott. We enjoy a close relationship with these agencies, which have increasingly recognized the strong link between acts of animal cruelty and violence against humans. Just this year, HSUS's Law Enforcement Training Center has trained more than 3,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, social service and animal control professionals in identifying instances of animal cruelty. In June, HSUS launched the first training partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, addressing agents and analysts from its Behavioral Analysis Unit, which is integral to shaping the future of criminal investigative analysis. During the first training, agents learned about animal cruelty’s relationship to violent crime and the application of the PACT Act.

The story leading up to Scott’s arrest is also a tribute to the vigilance of animal lovers, who brought Scott’s posts to the attention of the Boise, Idaho, police department, and the role that each one of us can play in bringing those who mistreat animals to justice.  As Special Agent Paul Haertel of the FBI's Salt Lake City field office said in the U.S. attorney's press release, "This case is an outstanding example of society’s intolerance to animal cruelty and the public’s willingness to do the right thing." 

We will be watching this case closely as it moves up, and we will keep you updated on its progress in days to come.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.