Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley appointed an experienced attorney Tuesday to coordinate his office's efforts to prosecute animal cruelty cases countywide.
"The inhumane treatment of animals is cause for concern wherever and whenever it happens," Cooley said at a news conference.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Deborah Knaan will set guidelines for prosecuting cases and help train attorneys who will be designated to work on them. She will also help train law enforcement officers investigating animal cruelty.
"It's really thrilling that this office is going full steam on this," said Knaan, who returned to the district attorney's office in June after a six-month leave of absence to serve as assistant general manager of operations for the city Department of Animal Services. She also served from 2004 to 2006 as a commissioner on the city Board of Animal Services.
"People ask is there more animal cruelty than before, because we hear about it more," she said. "I don't think that's true. I think there's an increased awareness that it's not the right thing to do."
Animal cruelty offenses in the county are considered "wobblers" -- they can be either misdemeanors or felonies. "We're looking at introducing legislation that would make animal cruelty a straight felony," she said.
Knaan also will do public outreach to encourage people to report crimes of cruelty. The district attorney recently filed charges in several cases that came about after citizen reports.
Los Angeles pharmacist Keith Chung, 41, was arrested last month after police said they found a miniature schnauzer in a freezer in his home and another one lying face down on the floor barely breathing. "The animal had to be euthanized due to the severity of its injuries," Knaan said. "And there was blood on the wall."
Chung, who is free on bail, was arraigned Tuesday on two counts of felony animal cruelty and was believed by authorities to have beaten the dogs. He pleaded not guilty.
Knaan said Chung was arrested after a neighbor called police to report hearing "the cries of an animal and a male voice yelling."
Knaan said she will put together literature to raise public awareness of anti-cruelty statutes, such as leaving a pet in a hot or unventilated car and tethering an animal for more than three hours at a time.