Houston & Peach

Fired Houston County animal control officer details abuse allegations in lawsuit

A former Houston County animal control officer filed a lawsuit alleging she was improperly fired for trying to expose animal abuse at the Warner Robins Animal Control shelter, shown in this file photo.
A former Houston County animal control officer filed a lawsuit alleging she was improperly fired for trying to expose animal abuse at the Warner Robins Animal Control shelter, shown in this file photo.

A former Houston County animal control officer has filed a lawsuit against the county and Warner Robins, alleging she was fired because she sought an investigation about animal cruelty happening at the city’s shelter.

Samantha Okalani is the plaintiff in the suit filed in Houston County Superior Court on Thursday. The county and city are the only two defendants named, and attorneys for both said Monday they had not yet been served with suit.

“The City will rigorously defend any such lawsuit by a non-employee who was terminated by someone else,” Warner Robins attorney Jim Elliott said in an email. County Attorney Tom Hall said he had no comment at this time without having seen it.

The suit, filed by Atlanta attorney Amelia Ragan, states that the defendants violated the Georgia Whistleblower Act, which protects public employees who expose wrongdoing in the workplace.

Houston County contracts with Warner Robins to take animals picked up by the county’s animal control officers. In May of 2017, the suit states, Okalani witnessed acts of cruelty at the shelter.

“The inhumane, cruel handling of animals about which Ms. Okalani complained, included but was not limited to, using animal control poles to swing around and slam animals down, standing on animals’ tails to control their movement, and euthanizing animals prior to end of their statutory holding period,” the suit states.

She also complained that shelter employees were using inhumane methods of euthanasia that violated state law, including injections directly into the heart while the animals were still conscious.

The suit marks the first time that specifics of Okalani’s allegations had been stated.

The suit states that Okalani complained repeatedly to county officials about what she witnessed, and the county informed the city of her allegations, but no action was taken to stop the abuse. On Oct. 27, 2017, she filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office alleging criminal violations of abuse at the shelter. The investigation was turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which delivered a report to Houston County District Attorney Georgia Hartwig, but no action has been taken. Hartwig said in an email Monday that the case is still under review.

Shortly after Okalani filed the report with the sheriff’s office, the county fired her. The suit states it was because Warner Robins Police Chief Brett Evans banned her from entering the animal control shelter, which prevented her from doing her job. She also admittedly took a “cage card” from the animal shelter in an attempt to support her allegations. The county deemed that as “theft of government documents,” and it was cited as a reason for her firing, the suit alleges.

The suit seeks back pay with benefits plus compensation to be determined by a jury.

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