MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Three employees at the Memphis Animal Shelter have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton announced Thursday.
The mayor, along with Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich and Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong, held a news conference on the city's undercover investigation at MAS on March 8. According to the investigation, an MPD undercover officer began working as a technician, conducting duties such as helping in the clinic area and assisting with euthanasia. While there, the officer witnessed several acts of cruelty against animals committed by the defendants on duty in the shelter.
As a result of the investigation, shelter employees 28-year-old Billy Stewart and 59-year-old Frank Lightfoot, Jr. were each charged with four counts aggravated animal cruelty. Another employee, 35-year-old Archie Elliot, III, was charged with two counts of aggravated animal cruelty.
“As we continued to hear rumors and allegations concerning MAS, we knew we needed eyes and ears inside the facility. We hoped to find that all of our employees were performing their work with the highest possible care, empathy, and attention, but that was not the case with these particular employees,” said Mayor Wharton. “I am saddened and disgusted that we are here once again, but by this point, I hope people understand that we take these matters very seriously.”
Mayor Wharton said he initiated the undercover operation last November because of ongoing concerns about dog fighting, animal cruelty and missing animals.
"After it became evident we were dealing with a closed society, as you will, in which workers who may have known something weren't going to cough up anything, it was a last resort we had to do it this way," Wharton said.
Police won't release what the employees did, only that charges stem from the mistreatment of animals. Investigators claim the undercover officer witnessed acts of cruelty against animals while the defendants assisted in the euthanasia room.
Director Armstrong noted, "You can imagine how difficult it is to investigate something where the victims can't speak for themselves."
"The allegations that are the basis for the indictments are very disturbing on many levels," added Weirich.
The arrest of the three employees is just the latest scandal at the shelter. For years there have been claims of abuse and mistreatment of animals.
Wharton says he's working to clean up the problems, but won't say just how long that will take.
If convicted, each count of aggravated animal cruelty carries a sentence of one to six years behind bars.