Two former Maine police officers were charged with animal cruelty last week, reportedly on allegations that, while on duty, they beat multiple porcupines to death with retractable batons.
The accusations against the Rockland police officers, who were fired in September, were detailed in a report filed by an investigator with the Maine Warden Service, the law enforcement arm of the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, according to the local Courier Gazette, which viewed the document.
The former officers, Addison Cox and Michael Rolerson, admitted to killing several porcupines when speaking to a Game Warden investigator, according to the Gazette, but expressed regret over it. Rolerson also admitted to sometimes pepper-spraying porcupines. Another officer allegedly posted video of one of the attacks to Snapchat.
The incidents were first revealed when another officer reported Cox and Rolerson to department superiors in August, spurring an investigation that revealed Rolerson killed an estimated eight porcupines, while Cox said he killed three, according to the Gazette.
“These porcupines were in their natural habitat and causing no harm,” Officer Anne Griffith wrote in an Aug. 29 statement to her supervisor after learning about the incidents, according to the Gazette. “Officer Rolerson not only chased the animal in the woods to kill it, but returned with a smile on his face and appeared as though he enjoyed it.”
One of several Rockland police officers interviewed last month by Game Warden investigator Kevin Anderson said he was once with Rolerson when the officer suddenly jumped out of a car to beat a porcupine, according to the Gazette. Others said a video of Rolerson beating something on the ground, exclaiming, “I got him,” was shared to a Snapchat group of officers back in June, followed by a photo of a dead porcupine.
Rolerson and Cox both served in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine Corps, according to the Gazette. Rolerson told Anderson he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and sees porcupines as a nuisance, although he doesn’t necessarily dislike them. Cox, meanwhile, looked up to Anderson and told Anderson he wanted to be like him. Cox has received multiple awards in his four years with the department, according to the Gazette, and was once praised as an “avid outdoorsman” and "resident Raccoon Whisperer” after he aided a baby racoon in 2017, according to Portland’s CBS affiliate, WGME.
Cox and Rolerson were fired Sept. 22, before they were charged last week with Class C aggravated animal cruelty and a misdemeanor count of night hunting, or hunting after dark, according to the Gazette. Cox was also charged with unlawful use or possession of implements or aids, according to the Gazette, while Rolerson was charged with illuminating wild animals or birds. Both are misdemeanors.
The officers are appealing their firings, according to the Gazette. Rolerson’s attorney, Stephen Smith, declined to comment. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Rox had retained an attorney. Both are scheduled to appear in court Nov. 9. The local Teamsters Union that represents Rockland officers did not immediately return a VICE News request for comment.
Kenneth Smith, the officer accused of posting the video of Rolerson killing a porcupine to Snapchat, is on administrative leave, according to the Gazette. He denied posting video of the porcupine beating in June, according to the Gazette, although Rolerson said Smith had shared it.
The city’s police chief, Chris Young, wrote in a Facebook post Sept. 30 that he couldn’t fully detail the allegations and why they had triggered terminations, as he was bound by Maine law to not disclose employee disciplinary action.
“A tremendous amount of power is given to those who wear a badge and are tasked with protecting their communities; it’s a power that I do not take lightly,” Young wrote. “I’m asking you to trust that, if there were an allegation of police misconduct, I would take it very seriously and any investigation would be conducted appropriately, always placing public safety and community trust at the forefront.”
Cover: A full grown porcupine photographed in its enclosure in the Cottbus animal park.' A North American porcupine was born on 19 March 2018 and it is the first time ever that a porcupine and been born in the park. Photo by: Patrick Pleul/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images