DA's Office investigating Rowley animal control officers

Sep. 20—ROWLEY — The Essex County District Attorney's Office confirmed on Monday it is investigating the shooting and killing of a stray husky at a local dog kennel by the town's two animal control officers in October.

The investigation of Rowley Animal Control Officer Reed Wilson and Assistant Animal Control Officer Carol Larocque, who is also Newbury's animal control officer, began as the result of statements made by Hydrant Regency owner April Bernhardt to police after they charged her with 40 counts of animal cruelty.

Bernhardt, 40, was arraigned Wednesday and ordered held on $3,000 cash bail.

District Attorney's Office spokesperson Carrie Kimball announced that Bernhardt's husband, Marc, was arraigned Friday on domestic violence-related charges and was ordered held without bail pending trial.

Marc Bernhardt's arrest on numerous strangulation/suffocation, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon charges came following the same interview, according to Kimball.

"We are following up on both (matters)," Kimball said.

Rowley police Chief Scott Dumas did not respond to an email and phone call asking for comment and whether the two animal control officers remain on duty.

Newbury police Chief John Lucey Jr. said he was made aware of an ongoing investigation regarding a dog being euthanized in Rowley and stressed the animal control officer was working on behalf of the Town of Rowley at the time the alleged incident took place. Lucey said he would monitor the investigation.

"At the conclusion of the investigation, or when deemed necessary, there will be a determination made of what, if any action is to be taken regarding Newbury's Animal Control Department," Lucey said in a statement. "The Newbury Police Department is committed to providing a high standard of care and professionalism to its citizens and animals alike. We will continue to do so."

Court records shows that Rowley police Sgt. Matthew Ziev received word Sept. 7 that a stray dog may have been euthanized with a rifle at the now-shuttered Route 1 kennel. He asked April Bernhardt if she knew anything about the claim and she said that she did.

She claimed to have video footage showing the two animal control officers entering the grounds armed with a rifle or tranquilizer gun, according to Ziev's report.

April Bernhardt described the husky as a stray without a microchip, tags or collar that was found in Willowdale State Forest by a good Samaritan and brought to her kennel in late September 2021. The dog then bit her on two occasions, once so badly she got a rabies shot as a precaution. The dog remained in a crate following the incidents.

Around this time, and unbeknownst to April Bernhardt, the two officers came to the kennel armed with what appeared to be rifles. Their arrival was caught on video and Ziev was able to watch it.

"A few minutes later, April Bernhardt "heard a shot, a dog yelp and then a second shot. A Bernhardt indicated that this made her feel horrible and it was inhumane," Ziev wrote in his report.

When asked why she did not call police after the shooting, April Bernhardt said it was because "they are the animal police."

"Based on the above incident involving ACO Larocque and ACO Wilson, there will be a separate investigation into that matter," Ziev wrote in his report. "Chief Dumas and the Essex County District Attorney's Office was made aware of the incident."

The report does not say what happened to the husky's body.

Marc Bernhardt was there at the time of the shooting and spoke to both animal control officers, according to Ziev's report.

In the same report, April Bernhardt told Ziev that her estranged husband, Marc Bernhardt, became mentally and physically abusive starting about 2020. She described six incidents when he hit her with his hands or knees and that on numerous occasions "put his hands around her throat and neck to the point where A Bernhardt was unable to breathe."

She added that many of the attacks took place in front of their children and were caught on video. Ziev watched some of the videos and includes details of at least one of the incidents in his report.

Based on the alleged incidents and Marc Bernhardt's criminal record, Ziev wrote that he considered him a risk to flee and asked the court to issue an arrest warrant. The court granted Ziev's request and Marc Bernhardt was arrested shortly before his arraignment.

Dave Rogers is the editor of the Daily News of Newburyport. Email him at: drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.

Dave Rogers is the editor of the Daily News of Newburyport. Email him at: drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.