3 Charged In Massive Cat Hoarding Case In Connecticut: Police

WINSTED, CT — Police have charged three people and plan to arrest a fourth person in what may be the most serious animal hoarding case in the state, Winchester Police Department chief William Fitzgerald told Patch on Thursday.

The indictment includes 106 counts of animal cruelty, police said. Eight people lived in the two-bedroom rented house. Two were children, a 6 year old girl and a 10 year old boy. Those arrested all lived in the home, Fitzgerald said. Hundreds of cats were suspected of living in the home, police said.

Marissa O’Brien, 30, whose last known address was Moore Avenue in Winsted, has been charged with 106 counts of animal cruelty and two counts of causing harm to a child. Laura Thomen, 53, of the same address, was charged with 106 counts of animal cruelty and two counts of causing harm to a child. James Thomen Sr., 61, also of the same last known address, was charged with 106 counts of animal cruelty and two counts of causing harm to a child.

After months of investigations that saw a number of Winchester police officers working to build a case, the prosecutor last week signed a warrant for his arrest. O’Brien and the Thomens were arrested and released on their own, Fitzgerald told Patch. They are due to be charged on November 1.

Another man will be arrested and charged once the warrant is returned, Fitzgerald said.

Police contacted the State Department for Children and Families about the children’s living conditions and they were taken to other relatives by DCF, he said.

Fitzgerald said although there were hundreds of cats in the home, investigators were able to prove 106 belonged to the defendants. He said “extensive investigations” led to the arrests. And he commended his officers and investigators, as well as the other agencies involved.

how it started

Hundreds of cats, most of whom were sick and many were found trapped in walls, were rescued from a small, two-bedroom Winsted rented home on the 100 block of Moore Avenue, officials said. Two children were taken into state custody from the home where eight people lived and where officials said they found an exploded septic tank and dangerously high levels of ammonia in cat urine. The house was condemned.

DEEP Emergency Incident Rep… by Ellyn Santiago

Four months after the case blew up after Patch’s initial report, Fitzgerald said he was “relieved this is finally done” and hoped justice would be served.

On her Facebook site, O’Brien notes that she’s a registered nurse who works in the emergency room at Connecticut Children’s Hospital. A call to the hospital’s spokeswoman, Monica Buchanan, Director, Community & Media Relations, for confirmation was not answered.

The investigation, rescue of nearly 250 cats

Winchester Animal Control Officer Alicia Campbell, who works for the city’s Police Department, was first alerted to the house over the weekend of June 18 over a “call about a sick cat”. Several days later, Winchester Town Manager Kelly would learn of the seriousness of the situation on Wednesday, June 22, around the same time Patch began investigating, officials said.

After visiting the home, officials said they found hundreds and hundreds of cats in various health conditions. And two young children lived in the home, which was filled with cat feces and urine, so much so that the home’s ammonia was tested at more than 60 PPM, officials said. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other related federal agencies state that anything above 25 PPM during an 8-hour shift is toxic in the workplace. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overexposure to ammonia targets the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. The house was closed and the family inside was told to leave.

Then, over the course of several days, hundreds of cats were removed from the home in a campaign involving an army of volunteers, city workers and animal control officials from across Connecticut. They were placed at a local school, where the vast majority were adopted after almost a week after being treated by local vets.

When Patch asked Kelly how he would describe the case, he said, “Crisis is the right word.”

“It was absolutely avoidable,” Kelly said. “You made decisions.”

And ultimately, the city has to pay the bill for the hamster purchases.

In late June, Kelly said a number of city projects had stalled as workers, from public works to social services, had to step off their regular duties to help. The pavement had to be abandoned for a day due to public works required to transport cats. Social services lost an entire day unable to deal with regular issues like poverty and homelessness, Kelly said at the time, calling what happened a “tragedy.”

“So many in this community and other communities have made a Herculean effort to respond to the crisis,” in Winsted, as the needs of other cities and communities “fell by the wayside.”

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