Troy, NY — Two Rensselaer police officers have been suspended following reports they chased down and ran over a groundhog during a police union golf tournament in Troy, New York.
Chief Rick Fusco promised both officers would be fired if an investigation finds them guilty.
“If in fact this alleged situation happened, I will be recommending they be terminated,” Fusco said. “There is no room in any police agency for a person like this to be carrying a badge and a gun.”
Three-year veteran of the force, Tyler Sammon, drove the golf cart, and Matt Spath rode as passenger when the two reportedly chased the animal until it was exhausted, and then cruelly crushed it beneath the cart’s tires — possibly more than once — in what the Albany Times-Union deemed an act of “woodchuck homicide.”
“There is zero tolerance for this behavior,” said Troy City Council President Carmella Mantello in a statement cited by the Troy Record, “and the City Council, Mayor, Police Chief [John] Tedesco, and detectives are investigating this serious animal abuse incident and inappropriate actions.”
Witnesses said the same officers also drove the cart over tee boxes and onto greens on the course. Local ABC News 10 columnist John Gray theorized alcohol likely played a role in the officers’ rowdy and cruel behavior, though that has not been confirmed. Gray called for the pair to be terminated on principle, saying [emphasis added]:
“If you follow this page, you know I’m a big supporter of police, but that job requires a certain level of maturity and decency, and killing an animal that way shows a massive lack of both. Frankly, it is the kind of stunt from a disturbed teenager who needs mental help. There is nothing funny about it. There is no excuse for it.
“I know golf tournaments often involving [sic] drinking alcohol, and I’m sure … that will be the excuse. ‘We had a few too many and were just goofing around.’ Fine. Go goof around in a job that doesn’t involve you carrying a gun.”
Witnesses also said the woodchuck crawled about 10 feet after being struck by the golf cart before dying.
The callous killing sparked local and national outrage and vocal demands the two officers be removed from the force. Sammon and Spath have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
Local Rensselaer Police Benevolent Association hosted the tournament, which took place at Frear Park.
As one of the few species unprotected by law, the Washington Post reported, woodchucks may be “killed during any season in any number,” though the City of Troy bans the killing of any animals in public parks. Nevertheless, chasing a woodchuck in a golf cart and running it over can hardly be equated with hunting.
“This is really bothersome for me,” said Chief Fusco. “There is no room for a police officer to continue to be a police officer if in fact he did this, if he intentionally killed an animal … but we need witnesses to come forward.”
Come forward they did. As William Meissner, former head of the Troy Housing Authority, posted to Facebook, as cited by a local NBC affiliate:
“While playing Frear Park golf course today, I witnessed two people in a golf cart chase down a woodchuck until it couldn’t run anymore and then they ran over it with their golf cart. The woodchuck managed to crawl about ten feet and rolled around a little before it died …
“To the both of you: you guys must really feel good about yourselves, killing an innocent animal. To make it worse, there was a baby woodchuck nearby on hole number 12 probably wondering where it’s [sic] mother was. DON’T EVER COME BACK TO FREAR PARK.”
It appears that demand will indeed be met.
“Two bad seeds put a negative light of the whole organization,” asserted Mantello. “I have talked to park staff and we will ban that organization from future outings here at the park.”