March 26, 2007

Student May Face Felony Charges for Dog Abuse

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Alexander H. Atkind ’06, a fifth-year Cornell senior accused of beating a dog and burning her with bleach on March 8, was arraigned last Friday on misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty in Tompkins County City Court. Atkind may also face stiffer felony charges of aggravated cruelty to animals if a grand jury indicts him on April 17.

Atkind was originally charged with one misdemeanor count of overdriving, torturing and injuring an animal on March 10, a day after the dog’s owner contacted Ithaca Police and claimed that Atkind had admitted to beating and pouring bleach on his pet. According to an Ithaca police report, the owner claimed that he had left the dog, named Princess, in Atkind’s care while spending the night at the house of a family member.

The officer arrived at the owner’s home and found the dog with a one to two inch laceration that had exposed a portion of her skull, according to the report. Bleach and detergent were also spilled in the dog’s kennel area. The officer collected Princess and brought her to Cornell’s veterinary hospital for treatment.

After an evaluation, the hospital’s attending veterinarian told the officer that the dog had suffered chemical burns, allegedly caused by bleach, to its face, eyes, back, groin area and paws. The veterinarian also said that the animal had blood in its stool, a sign of gastrointestinal issues probably caused by ingestion of some of the bleach.

Atkind was charged later that day with a misdemeanor count of animal cruelty, ordered to appear in city court and released.

Atkind appeared in court on Thursday handcuffed and wearing an orange jumpsuit after spending the better part of a week in Tioga County Jail on drug possession charges stemming from an incident on March 17 in the town of Nichols. According to a press release from the Tioga County Sheriff’s Office, Atkind was arrested for criminal possession of a controlled substance in the 3rd degree during an investigation into a motor vehicle accident on Route 17. Atkind was found in possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms by investigating officers and was remanded to the Tioga County Jail on $5,000 bail or $10,000 bond after his arraignment before Justice Charles Quick.

Before Friday’s hearing in city court, Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson had to prepare an order to transfer Atkind from Tioga County, where the Cornell senior was still jailed. At the time of his arraignment, Atkind was not accompanied by defense counsel.

“I thought people on the outside were working on it,” Atkind responded when Judge Judith Rossiter asked why he had not retained an attorney.

Wilkinson indicated at the arraignment that she would push to indict Atkind for aggravated cruelty to animals, a Class E felony. Later, Wilkinson said that the allegedly cruel nature of Atkind’s actions and the extensive nature of the dog’s injuries warranted a felony charge.

In light of the possible felony indictment, Wilkinson argued that Atkind, a Cornell senior five weeks from graduation with no real ties to Ithaca, was a significant flight risk and asked for the maximum bail of $25,000. Rossiter subtracted $5,000 from that figure and set bail at $20,000.

At his hearing, Atkind was served with a variety of notices, including a packet of papers from the Cornell Judicial Administrator. In a press release, Cornell Vice President for Communications Tommy Bruce stated that federal law prohibits the University from disclosing information from student disciplinary records and that Cornell was consequently unable to comment on any disciplinary action that may have been taken against Atkind, or on the contents of any papers served to Atkind by the J.A.

Atkind’s parents sat behind him at his arraignment. At the end of the hearing, he was transported back to Tioga County Jail.

Later, Wilkinson said that it is not uncommon for a defendant to appear without the presence of counsel at an initial arraignment.

“When he gets a lawyer, he will be arraigned again in city court [in the presence of counsel],” Wilkinson said.

However, Wilkinson continued, if the grand jury votes to indict Atkind on felony charges before he retains an attorney, he will be arraigned in county court. The grand jury also has the option of sending the case back to city court on the original charges of misdemeanor animal cruelty.

Atkind’s case has drawn the attention of animal rights organizations from around the country, including the Humane Society of the United States, which drafted a letter to Wilkinson on March 19 calling on the District Attorney to bring felony charges against the Cornell senior. The Tompkins County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has also been involved in the case, housing Princess after her release from Cornells veterinary hospital and treating her for her injuries. Officials from the Tompkins County SPCA said they had been advised by the D.A. not to comment further on the case, but said that Princess was fine, and that her injuries were healing well.

Atkind is currently being held in Tioga County Jail. He is scheduled to appear before Quick again on April 3 to face drug possession charges stemming from his March 17 arrest in the town of Nichols.

Sun Staff Writer Tom Scherer contributed reporting to this article.

For updated information on this case, click here.