Campus killings: 'It started with skunks, went to raccoons, and now cats'

TEHACHAPI, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) A school worker is being investigated for allegedly killing cats, but a month after his arrest, no charges have been filed.

The Kern County District Attorney's Office said the case is still being investigated. Meanwhile, other school employees also allege wild animals have been killed by staff for years.

"I just hope that things get taken care of, and they start doing things the way they're supposed to," Tehachapi Unified School District custodian Kris Harding told Eyewitness News. She got wind of cats being killed and contacted Kern County Animal Services.

Harding said cats hang out around the high school cafeteria, and some people had wondered if they could trap the animals and take them home. So, she started asking questions about the cats.

"And, then I had a (school district) maintenance worker come to me, reveal to me that they were being killed," Harding said. "I asked how, and they told me they were putting them in a box and using carbon monoxide and killing them."

Harding said she called Animal Control. An officer asked her to get photos of that box, and then Robert Hutton was arrested in the case.

Eyewitness News obtained a statement from the office of Kern County Counsel confirming Hutton was arrested on March 31 at the Monroe High School campus for three felony animal cruelty charges.

"Mr. Hutton was placed under arrest after informing an Animal Control Officer that he had captured three cats in a trap, placed them each in a constructed chamber, and euthanized them using a carbon dioxide canister," according to the statement.

Hutton is not in custody.

An Animal Services officer said on Thursday his office is currently working with the district attorney's investigation of the case, but "we're not getting a lot of cooperation from witnesses," he told Eyewitness News.

On Wednesday, Kern County Deputy District Attorney Ron Taylor said he is still looking into the allegations and reviewing information from law enforcement. He said no decision's been made yet on filing charges against Hutton.

"We want to do the right thing, and do it well," Taylor said.

Asked why the investigation has now gone on for about a month, he said some complex cases take longer to get the necessary information and evaluate it.

Meanwhile, other current and former Tehachapi school district employees say maintenance workers have also killed wild animals for a number of years. A man who used to work in maintenance told Eyewitness News skunks and raccoons would be trapped and then drowned in 55-gallon drums of water.

That former worker said the animals had turned up around various school campus grounds. That man said he was told to dispose of animals that way, but refused to. He called it a "sad subject."

A current district employee, who didn't want to be identified, said he saw Hutton about two years ago with a raccoon in a live animal trap, with a tarp draped over it. This worker said a pipe had been attached to a truck's exhaust and run into the cage.

"I was really kind of upset about it, so I jerked the cage out from under the conduit and told him, 'This is animal cruelty, you can't do this to a raccoon,'" that worker said. The man said he took the animal up into the mountains and released it.

This man also said Hutton killed 21 skunks in one year.

"He bragged about it," that worker said.

Eyewitness News called Hutton and left a message. He has not returned the call.

Putting in calls to the Tehachapi Unified School District, Eyewitness News was referred to the school board president as the only one to make comments. Mary Graham said the school board has also launched an investigation, and she's expecting the results in about three weeks.

"We're trying to follow the process," Graham said on Wednesday. She said Hutton is now on administrative leave.

"That's good news, I'm glad they have an investigation going," Tehachapi resident and former teacher Susie Ormsby said. She insists the school district probe should be independent. She wants everyone involved to be held accountable.

"We have to insist that charges are not dropped," Ormsby added, regarding the criminal investigation of Hutton.

"We really didn't expect somebody to be arrested, we were just trying to get people not to do this anymore," said the current district employee who wants to remain anonymous. But, he thinks at least 10 cats may have been killed and worries about past practices.

"I think it's tragic that we've let it go on on this far," he said. "It started with skunks, went to raccoons, and now cats."

Kern County Animal Services officers say cats often show up at school campuses, especially near cafeterias. The officer explained the law gives everybody the right to trap an animal on their property, but it's then their responsibility to take it to a shelter. He said many local school districts do that.

He added that animal control will not pick up cats, unless they're sick or injured.

"I'd like to see the (school) district follow the law, I mean there's a right and wrong way to do things," Kris Harding said.

As the one who first alerted Animal Control, she believes work is being done to get all the facts on the case so authorities can decide about any charges against Hutton. She said it was the right thing to come forward with the information.

"The more I think about it, the more disgusted I become," Harding said. "Because I think it's very inhumane the way he did it."