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UPDATE: DA Dismisses Pigeon Shoot Citations

SHARK responds to Heckler's decision.

Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler has decided not to prosecute citations against a local gun club regarding its live pigeon shoots.

Johnna Seeton, a court-appointed Humane Society officer, filed animal cruelty citations against the Philadelphia Gun Club. The club holds the shoots at its property at State and Street roads in Bensalem.

The citations alleged five counts of cruelty to animals during its pigeon shoots on March 17 and 31. They said that the club failed to retrieve and kill five pigeons that had been wounded during the shoots and were found in the Delaware River near the club.

“The shooting of pigeons in Pennsylvania is unquestionably legal,” the release stated. Efforts by Seeton and others to persuade the Pennsylvania General Assembly to ban pigeon shooting failed as recently as December 2011.

The DA’s office agreed however that efforts must be made to ensure that animals wounded but not killed by shotgun are humanely killed. Gun clubs must conduct a complete search of their property and adjacent areas for the purpose of retrieving wounded birds at the end of the pigeon shoot.

A video produced by advocacy group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), showed a pigeon being retrieved from the river. The DA's release said the video was unclear.

The DA said club representatives have acknowledged and accepted their responsibility to humanely kill birds that have survived the pigeon shoot. The club has erected a barrier to prevent birds from escaping from their property and hired individuals to patrol the Delaware River in search of wounded birds.

According to the DA, these steps represent a good faith effort to comply with the obligations imposed by law.

Therefore the DA has advised District Judge Leonard Brown that the citations will not be prosecuted and should be dismissed.

Philadelphia Gun Club attorney Sean Corr told PhillyBurbs last month that Seeton’s actions have become “an abuse of police power.”

Seeton countered, “I don’t believe it’s an abuse of power at all. When there’s cruelty involved, I’m going to charge for it.”

Following news of the dismissal, SHARK issued the following release:

In a sadly unsurprising move, Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler has dismissed five animal cruelty citations against the Bensalem based Philadelphia Gun Club (PGC) which were legally filed by Humane Society Police Officer Johnna Seeton. This is the second time that Heckler has used his power to protect the PGC from cruelty charges.

“The shooting of pigeons at the Philadelphia Gun Club is unquestionably illegal,” states Officer Seeton. “Any reasonable person who views Pennsylvania’s cruelty statute 5511 can see that for themselves. There is no affirmative legal excuse for shooting pigeons solely for fun and pigeons are animals and animals are protected by the law. It's simple and easy. The truth is that the shoots held by the PGC are violations of state law, but we can’t stop them if the District Attorney won’t allow us to go to court.”

SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) contends that Heckler’s intervention in this case was payback for campaign support and that Heckler should have recused himself from the case.

“DA Heckler has strong ties to the lawyer and law firm that represent the PGC,” states SHARK President Steve Hindi. “Heckler had a duty to recuse himself from this case, but he chose instead to again use his power to protect the wealthy clients of a law firm that has donated heavily to his campaign.”

SHARK has previously pointed out the unethical connection between Heckler and Sean Corr, the lawyer for the PGC (you can view that report on this webpage: http://www.pashame.com/hecklerethicscomplaint.html). 

New evidence shows that the Heckler’s financial connections to the pigeon shooters go much deeper. Sean Corr works for the law firm of Eastburn and Gray, which is the firm of record that represents the PGC. Eastburn and Gray was a major donor to Heckler when he ran for Judge in 2007.  

In Heckler’s campaign finance report filing 2007, cycle 5, nearly half of the donations came from members of Eastburn and Gray, giving Heckler a total of $3,070 in that cycle alone. We already knew that Heckler’s ties to Sean Corr were serious breaches of the principals and moral code that a District Attorney should abide by, but these new revelations show how much more insidious the situation is.

SHARK is continuing to review Heckler’s campaign records and will release more information in the near future.

“DA Heckler knew how strong this case was and was determined to never let it be heard in a court of law,” states Hindi.  “He knew that if his patron’s client was found guilty then that would shut down pigeon shoots at the PGC, and he was willing to disgrace himself and his office to make sure that never happens.”

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