VIRGINIA – A former Bedford County Animal Shelter worker who was arrested for slamming a cat to the ground, leading to its death, was sentenced to 15 days in jail Tuesday.
A Circuit Court judge reduced a felony animal cruelty charge against Bryan Thomas Skinnell, who is 44, to a misdemeanor after a doctor testified diagnosed psychological traits, which include autism spectrum disorder, impair Skinnell’s behavior.
Skinnell, of Bedford, was arrested back in fall 2016 after an incident at the animal shelter in which a cat was found injured. The animal later needed to be put down..
In a May court hearing, Skinnell entered a plea of no contest to the felony charge, which, though which is not a formal admission of guilt, has the effect of a guilty plea.
Evidence showed Skinnell was handling the animal with a cat-handling tool and found it extremely difficult to get the cat back into its cage, according to Stephanie Ayers, deputy commonwealth’s attorney for Bedford County, in court Tuesday. It was at that point, he slammed the cat on the ground, she dexplaine.
Skinnell reported to other employees he believed the cat’s back was broken, and it was taken to the animal hospital with injuries to its hind legs and later was put down, the prosecutor stated.
Leigh Drewry, who was the defense attorney for Skinnell, called a clinical psychologist, Joseph Conley, to the stand, who had spent approximately four hours evaluating Skinnell.
Conley explained that he could make diagnoses both of autism spectrum and attention-deficit disorders. In particular, Skinnell has a “lack of empathy,” which indeed causes an inability to regulate, control or adapt behavior to a given situation, he stated.
This does not mean an intellectual deficit, he noted.
When people with similar conditions encounter trouble with law enforcement, it’s “usually a result of misunderstanding of social norms,” Conley said.
Drewry noted that his client, despite being well-educated, had worked in primarily “menial” jobs his adult life and has applied for Social Security disability and enrolled in anger-management classes. He did ask the judge to consider holding off on sentencing until Skinnell could complete court-ordered counseling and then revisit the matter.
Ayers noted Skinnell had graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in entomology and in addition, served five years in the Air Force. Under Ayers’ questioning, the doctor agreed Skinnell would know slamming a cat to the ground could cause deadly harm.
“Doing what he did on this occasion was an intentional act,” Ayers stated.
Circuit Judge James Updike Jr. went on to say that he had considered all aspects of the case, including that the cat’s injury was “severe, aggravated and inexcusable” however, also factors such as the doctor’s findings and Skinnell’s Air Force service.
After reducing the charge to a mere misdemeanor, Updike ordered him to serve 12 months in jail with all but 15 days suspended, and then three years of supervised probation and good behavior.
Skinnell also may not possess or care for any animal under the judge’s order.