Onslow County District Attorney Ernie Lee announced Thursday morning that the felony animal cruelty charge related to a Jacksonville groomer at Animal House has been dropped.
Cherry Derr, 36, was arrested on Aug. 13 and charged after an initial investigation with Onslow County Animal Services claimed a 7-year-old Border Collie mix named Curry, owned by Emilee and Kevin Hanks, died in her care.
“This office has taken this investigation seriously, as we do any crime, including those involving animal cruelty. As a prosecutor, I have an ethical duty not to proceed with prosecution when there is insufficient evidence to support the charges. Based upon the evidence before me, there is insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict Derr of the offense of cruelty to animals,” said Lee.
North Carolina General Statute 14-360(b) makes it a Class H felony to “maliciously torture, mutilate, maim, cruelly beat, disfigure, poison, or kill, or cause or procure to be tortured, mutilated, maimed, cruelly beaten, disfigured, poisoned, or killed, any animal.”
OCAS originally said video evidence and veterinarian documentation led to Derr’s charge. Animal Services officers did not speak to a member of the District Attorney’s Office prior to charging the case but did consult with a local veterinarian regarding Curry’s death, according to Lee.
Animed Veterinary Hospital of Bell Fork was named as the veteranarian’s office Animal Services used in their initial investigation.
In an email to The Daily News, Lee explained the video footage shows several dogs and groomers in a large room at Animal House.
Curry was in the back left corner of the video, farthest away from the camera. Curry was standing on the grooming table and Derr was seen in the video grooming his legs and feet. Derr turned away from Curry on the table for a few moments and returned her attention to Curry and continued to groom him.
Lee added Derr did not leave Curry unattended at any time in the video.
As Derr continued to groom Curry, the video shows that Derr begins to move suddenly, and several other groomers run over to assist her. At least four employees were assisting Derr attempt to perform CPR and other lifesaving measures on Curry.
The video shows that a towel or blanket was placed under Curry while an employee continued to perform CPR. Curry was then picked up by an employee and rushed to a nearby veterinarian who attempted life-saving measures. Curry was then pronounced deceased while at the veterinarian’s office.
Cause of death
The necropsy (autopsy) for Curry was performed by NC Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System (NCVDLS) Rollins Lab in Raleigh on Aug. 16.
Extensive testing was performed on Curry and the veterinarian who performed the necropsy diagnosed Curry with myocarditis, interstitial pneumonia, and encephalitis, according to Lee’s email.
From the necropsy, it states, “The cause of death is considered to be the chronic and significant inflammation in the heart muscle with signs of heart failure in the lungs. Additionally, there is inflammation in the lungs and brain. This is most suggestive of an infectious disease, but a disease was not identified even with additional testing. This was an ongoing and underlying disease present when the dog was groomed. Stress may have exacerbated an already diseased heart but regardless, the myocarditis in this dog was going to be fatal. The lipoma was located outside the thoracic inlet and would not have contributed in any way.”
The vet’s report goes on to say there were no definitive lesions that confirm strangulation or hanging. No bruising of the skin nor under the skin of the neck was found and there was no bruising of the trachea nor of the hyoid bones. There was no fracture of the laryngeal hyoid bone
Change in procedures
County officials explained the incident has provided a shift in procedures when it comes to charging a person with an animal cruelty-related crime in the future.
In the event of a future investigation, OCAS has updated its policy and will await instruction from the district attorney’s office before following through with potential charges involving the death of an animal.
Additionally, two assistant district attorneys have been assigned to help evaluate cases for prosecution with Animal Services.
OCAS originally charged Derr after receiving information from a local veterinarian regarding Curry’s cause of death.
The Daily News has reached out to the Hanks’ attorney Devlin Horton and the family for comment.
Reporter Trevor Dunnell can be reached by email at [email protected] Please consider supporting local journalism by signing up for a digital subscription for as little as $1 a month. JDNews.com.subscribenow