A state trooper who wanted to stop animals from climbing on his vehicles trapped his neighbor's 5-month-old kitten and shot it to death.
Former Trooper Shawn C. Houston was charged in October with cruelty to animals and injury to real property, both misdemeanors, according to court records. The Highway Patrol dismissed him in January.
Houston, 39, declined to discuss his firing this week. But in an appeal of his dismissal filed May 10, the former trooper contends that he was treated unfairly and that he deserves his job back.
The court filing says Houston was bothered by something climbing on vehicles parked at his home in Granite Falls, a small community about 170 miles west of the Triangle. He had also caught a glimpse of "an unknown animal" that jumped out at him "during the hours of darkness," according to his appeal.
The trooper, who said he was concerned for the safety of his three young sons, baited a steel trap with ham and captured a small domestic cat. When Houston tried to remove the animal, which did not have tags, it scratched him, according to his appeal. Then he killed it.
"The Petitioner did not know if the cat had rabies or any other disease," the summary filed by Houston says. "The cat was hissing and growling at Petitioner and Petitioner shot the cat."
Next-door neighbor Andrea Evans said the cat's name was Rowdy. The kitten, which was mostly white and orange, was a birthday present to her son.
Evans said Rowdy could be mischievous, as kittens sometimes are. But the trooper's tale of a wild and scary beast doesn't square with the demeanor of her family's kitty, she said.
"He was really very sweet," Evans said. "He was never aggressive, even at the vet."
Rowdy gets lost
Rowdy slept inside the house at night but was let out to play in the mornings. The Evanses and the Houstons live in a rural area, a couple of miles from the closest stoplight. Evans said people largely keep to themselves.
When Rowdy didn't come home, the Evans family trekked around the neighborhood to see whether anyone had seen him. When she learned what Houston had done, Evans called the Alexander County Sheriff's Department.
A deputy responded and interviewed the off-duty trooper, before telling Evans there wasn't much he could do.
Evans then went to speak with a county magistrate, who issued a criminal summons against the trooper on the two misdemeanor charges. The value of the Evans family's "injured real property" was estimated at less than $200, court records show.
Evans testified against the trooper at his December trial.
She said Houston's sons had played with Rowdy, and she doubts his story that he mistook the cat for a stray.
"We played with him out in the yard every day," Evans said. "I don't know how he could have missed it."
Records show District Court Judge Carlton Terry Jr. granted Houston a prayer for judgment continued, a legal finding of guilt that does not impose any penalty. The trooper paid $125 in court costs.
The state Highway Patrol dismissed Houston on Jan. 22, according to state records. He had worked as a trooper about three years.
Sgt. Jeff Gordon, a spokesman for the patrol, said he could not comment, citing state personnel privacy rules. A hearing on Houston's appeal is tentatively scheduled for August.
A burial at home
Evans said they got the dead kitten back from Houston the day of the shooting but have had little interaction with him since. The children of the two families no longer play together.
Evans, her husband and children buried Rowdy on their property after a modest funeral. To this day, she said, Houston has not apologized.
"It's been rough on us, it really has been," she said.
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