2 township officials charged over premature killing of 300 shelter animals

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Embattled Hamilton Township Animal Shelter violated state law on animal euthanasia and euthanized over 300 animals over a two-year period without following proper procedures. Now two of the shelter’s former supervisors have been charged with animal abuse and mismanagement, the Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri announced Friday evening.

2 township officials charged over premature killing of 300 shelter animals
2 township officials charged over premature killing of 300 shelter animals

Onofri announced charges for one current and one former township employee in charge of the shelter: Todd Bencivengo, 56, the former director, and Jeffrey Plunkett, 62, the township’s health officer.

Each faces two counts of third-degree animal cruelty and one count of second-degree official misconduct, Onofri said in a news statement. Plunkett lives in Hamilton, Bencivengo in North Hanover.

The prosecutor’s office began investigating the shelter in August after it was forwarded two complaints from the state. The prosecutor’s Humane Law Enforcement Unit learned the shelter euthanized 236 cats and 93 dogs before they were held, or up for adoption, for at least seven days.

Onofri said the investigation revealed “multiple examples of mismanagement,” but no evidence that could lead to any additional charges. The Hamilton Township Council is handling administrative discipline, he said.

Hamilton Council President Jeff Martin, Vice President Rick Tighe and Anthony Carabelli, the Democrats on council, said in a statement Friday they are reviewing the charges and will act afterward.

Last year, Martin called for an investigation into the shelter, which continued to euthanize more animals after a major $1.1 million renovation in 2015 that added 16 extra dog kennels, bringing the total to 36, and doubled the spaces for cats from 25 to 50.

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