Nick Barragan, 20 &

William Wallace, 21

set a family of opossums on fire, stabbing them with a pitchfork

Rancho Cucamonga, CA

San Bernadino County

March 26, 2008

Two Ontario men are to be arraigned on May 18 on charges they killed a family of opossums by lighting them on fire and stabbing them with a pitchfork. Nick Barragan and William Wallace told police they were simply trying to rid their yard of pests that harassed Wallace's cat.

But prosecutors say the tactics used to exterminate the mother opossum and her three babies crossed the line into animal torture.

"They were just doing it to be cruel," Deputy District Attorney Debbie Ploghaus said. "I mean, why else stab three babies with a pitchfork?"

Barragan, 20, and Wallace, 21, are charged with one felony count of animal cruelty. The charge carries a possible sentence of prison time and a fine of up to $20,000.

They are to enter pleas in West Valley Superior Court.

The men killed the animals outside Wallace's home in the 200 block of East Maple Street in Ontario on March 26, according to police reports and court records.

Witnesses told officers they saw the men poking and throwing things at an animal hiding in a bush. The men then tried to flush out the critter with a garden hose, witnesses reported.

Unsuccessful, one of the men went to the garage and got what appeared to be gasoline, doused the bush and lit it on fire, witnesses reported.

Wallace and Barragan killed the animals with a pitchfork and shovel as they ran out of the bush on fire, according to the reports. They then buried them in the back yard.

When police were called, Wallace told officers the opossum had attacked his cat, and he wanted to be rid of it to avoid future attacks, according to police reports.

Barragan told officers that the opossum showed its teeth and hissed at him before it ran into the bush, according to the report.

Taimie Bryant, an animal law professor at UCLA, said the law allows people to use reasonable means to protect property from nuisance animals.

There are, however, lines that are not to be crossed, she said. Killing animals can be criminal if the methods used are unusual or excessively violent, especially if other solutions, such as calling the Humane Society, are readily available, she said.

Bryant said cruelty charges could stick in a case such as this because the method allegedly used to kill the animals was unconventional.  "I doubt very seriously that anyone would say its standard procedure to set an opossum on fire and then stab it to death," she said.

Opossums are North America's only marsupial. The pointy-nosed animals are nocturnal and gray or black. They grow to about the size of a cat.

Brian Sampson, supervisor of animal services at the Inland Valley Humane Society, said opossums generally aren't aggressive and almost never attack people or domestic animals.

He said anyone concerned about opossums or other wildlife on their property should call the Humane Society, which can help resolve the problem free of charge.

Update 7/7/05: Barragan & Wallace pleaded no contest to misdemeanor animal cruelty. Nick Barragan and William Wallace, of Ontario, will spend two years on probation, undergo psychological counseling and pay $1,500 each to the Inland Valley Humane Society as punishment.

Both men were originally charged with felonies, but Judge Dennis Cole agreed to reduce the charges to misdemeanors before the men entered their pleas in West Valley Superior Court.

Cole did so because both men had clean criminal records and because the animals were wild, rather than domestic, Deputy District Attorney Deborah Ploghaus said.

Prosecutors said the duo flushed the mother opossum and her three babies out of a bush by lighting it on fire, and then killed the animals as they fled.

References:

Press-Telegram

Daily Bulletin