Charlotte police probes kitten's death during animal-rights demonstration

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 6, 2013 

— Police are investigating an incident in Charlotte’s Square on Sunday in which a motorist fatally injured a kitten by throwing it on the ground near a group demonstrating against dolphin hunting by Japanese fishermen.

Members of the group, which was part of the worldwide Dolphin Day demonstrations, say they believe the incident was premeditated and aimed at animal rights activists.

“It was calculated,” said Burton Pinckney, a member of the Charlotte Dolphin Day group. “He knew there were animal lovers there.”

Dolphin Day is observed around Sept. 1, the traditional start of the dolphin hunting season. The demonstrations arose after the 2009 release of “The Cove,” a movie that documented the issue and won an Academy Award in 2010 for Best Documentary.

Pinckney said his group had a permit to demonstrate and hand out leaflets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Trade and Tryon streets. He said the program was peaceful for the first 90 minutes.

About 11:30 a.m., he said, someone in a car stopped at the stoplight, then threw a tabby kitten to the ground when the light changed.

“A couple of our members and a homeless guy rushed over to help,” Pinckney said. “The kitten panicked. It had a broken leg and kind of ran in circles. One of our people was able to scoop it up and cradle it.”

He said the kitten died about 10 minutes later.

Melissa Knicely, a spokeswoman for Charlotte-Mecklenburg police’s Animal Care & Control unit, said the officer who responded wrote in his report that the kitten died “probably from injuries suffered when it hit the ground.”

“People were in tears,” Pinckney said. “The officer was fantastic. He was as angry as we were.”

No description of suspect

Knicely said Charlotte-Mecklenburg police reviewed surveillance video from uptown cameras and spotted the car involved in the incident. She said it was a late-model silver- or pearl-colored Hyundai Sonata with tinted windows. But nobody got a license plate number, Pinckney said.

Knicely said police have not found anyone who could provide a good description of the driver.

“I suspect that when it happened, everyone’s attention focused on the kitten,” she said.

Pinckney said police told the group that the surveillance cameras showed the car pulling into a lot on Fifth Street. “Some of us think the guy got out and walked back, just to watch people’s reactions,” he said. “That would be absolutely sick.”

Knicely said that if a suspect could be identified, that person could face felony animal cruelty charges.

“At this point, we are out of leads,” she said. “We could use help from the public.”

Steve Lyttle: 704-358-6107 Twitter: @slyttle

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