For the judge hearing accusations of animal cruelty against one Morristown employee, his verdict came down to the amount of time the defendant said he had his dog before calling animal control, and a man named "Frankie," whom no one else had ever seen.
Thomas Alexander, director of human services for Morristown, was found guilty Thursday night of all charges stemming from accusations of animal cruelty by "failing to provide a living creature with proper sustenance,” according to complaints.
As a result, besides accumulating several thousand dollars in fines, the guilty verdict carries with it a state statute requirement the 61-year-old lifelong Morristown resident vacate his municipal position immediately (the judge in a later reversal decided Alexander would not be required to vacate his position with the town —ed.).
That penalty was given a stay for one week while Alexander's attorney, Gary Moylen, prepares an argument against the employment termination.
Judge Gerard Smith, of the Rockaway Township Municipal Court, heard the case because of Alexander's employment with Morristown. In his ruling, the judge said Alexander's claim a man named Malik "Frankie" Rashid—a Newark resident who would come to Flagler Street in a black pickup truck to pass out material promoting the Nation of Islam—was cause for concern because, "no one has seen or known Frankie," Smith said.
In his defense Alexander had said he had to move from his Flagler Street apartment to a new residence that did not allow animals. Having befriended "Frankie," who had taken a liking to Alexander's dog "Satin," he gave "Frankie" the dog.
About a month later, in late December 2011, Alexander said he was in the neighborhood and saw Satin, now severely malnourished. When he saw his old dog in that terrible condition, Alexander said he panicked.
"I cried, I picked the dog up, went to the apartment I still had the key for and examined the dog," he said during testimony in September. "I was overcome with emotion."
Alexander said he fed the dog with food he still had at the apartment and gave her water and proceeded to look for "Frankie." To this day, "Frankie" has not been found.
About two days after seeing Satin, Alexander contacted Morristown Animal Control Officer Samantha Judson, who then took the animal to a veteranarian. That vet, Margaret Kearns, used a nine-point scale to determine the health of a dog, nine being overweight, five ideal, one near death. Satin, she said, rated a two.
"The dog was severely emasciated, dehydrated, very timid and lethargic," Judson said during testimony in September. "Her hair was falling out. Every bone in her body was showing."
Moylen had argued Alexander could not be blamed for neglect caused by "Frankie." He said Thursday prosecution had offered no proof that Alexander had caused Satin's condition.
"In order to convict somebody, you need proof," he said. "There is no proof of who had the dog. If there is no proof whatsoever of who had this dog, how can you convict somebody for such a horrible thing?"
Smith, who took about 45 minutes to return to the court to make his ruling, said it was "probably one of the toughest decisions" he has had to make as a judge.
He said it was "Frankie" and the roughly-48-hours Alexander had claimed to have had the dog before contacting Judson that lead to his decision.
Although a number of witnesses had spoken on Alexander's behalf in September, including the defendant's son, "nobody else ever saw 'Frankie,' nobody else ever knew 'Frankie,'" Smith said.
The judge pointed to testimony from Kearns, whom he called "a very credible witness," who said a severely dehydrated animal such as Satin would have shown noticeable signs of rehydration within 12 hours of being given a drink. This, despite Alexander having testified to feeding and watering the dog before he said he went to look for "Frankie."
"Why didn't he take her to the vet immediately," Smith asked. "Why did he wait?
"He knew the dog wasn't in great shape," the judge said. "Instead, he goes and looks for 'Frankie.' ... The 'Frankie' thing is far-fetched, but the '48 hours' was the straw that broke the camel's back."
After informing Alexander of his penalties—which besides losing his job as Director of Human Services will include 30 days of community service with the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and being required to pay the $1,600 veteranarian bill—Smith said, "I know it's been a tough night for you.
"I had to do what I thought was proper, I know you don't feel that way."
Moylen, visibly angry, said he would not comment but would appeal.
Several family members in attendance cried in the courtroom and in the municipal court parking lot after Alexander's case had been adjourned. One woman spoke out in the courtroom that Alexander had been an employee in Morristown for 35 years.
"This is awful. The man is sick," she said of Alexander, who cited illness during testimony in September. "They just killed a man."