Felony charge in cat’s death

A local chef will face a felony charge of animal cruelty this week, the 26-year-old accused of feeding a pet cat to his two penned dogs on Christmas Eve at his Washington home on Battle Run Lane.

In Rappahannock County District Court Tuesday, Anthony Robert Ahrens, head chef until last week at Sperryville’s Cafe Indigo and a former Inn at Little Washington sous chef, appeared before Judge J. Gregory Ashwell to be arraigned on a misdemeanor charge of maiming or killing an animal. Ahrens had been arrested Dec. 26, and later released after posting a $2,500 bond, after a caller summoned deputies to Ahrens’ home and told them of the alleged crime.

Deputy Ronnie Dodson’s criminal complaint identified Ahrens’ father, Leo A. Shipp, as an eyewitness. Shipp had signed the complaint stating that his son, “on Dec. 24 at around 3 p.m., fed his [Ahrens’] adopted cat to his two caged dogs, which resulted in the cat’s death.” Other documents on file in the court indicated that during questioning by Dodson and Deputy Robbie Fincham, Ahrens did not deny the charges.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff, on his first day in a Rappahannock courtroom since winning an uncontested race for the post in November, asked that the misdemeanor charge be dropped and the more serious charge – of torturing, or willfully inflicting inhumane injury or pain to any cat or dog that is a companion animal, and as a direct result causing the death of a cat or dog companion animal – be made against Ahrens. The new charge was to be filed with the magistrate Wednesday (Jan. 4), when the arresting officer is back on duty, Goff said.

Lucille Niessen, Cafe Indigo owner, announced Monday evening that Ahrens is no longer an employee at Cafe Indigo. Because he is involved in a criminal trial, she said, “it would be improper to say anything more than that.” She said the restaurant had planned to close for the month of January, and that it would do so, but that the closing was “completely unrelated” to the charges against the chef.

Other than saying that this case is still an open investigation, Goff would not comment on specifics, citing legal obligations and not wanting to “taint the jury pool.”

Ahrens’ attorney, Frank Reynolds, declined to comment after the felony warrant was announced in court Tuesday. “I’m not going to say anything about [the new charge],” Reynolds said. “There’s already enough misinformation going around the county, stated as fact, so I’m not going to say anything more.”

Reynolds might have been referring to a flood of email-forum messages on Rappnet (a local email list-serve) about a “cat thrown to the dogs,” much of it speculation or outrage. In a Rappnet post on Monday, Patricia Snyder, president of RappCats – a volunteer organization that helps stray, abused, abandoned, and unwanted cats in Rappahannock County – invited concerned residents to attend the hearing Tuesday to send “a powerful message that this community does not support cruelty to animals.”

“RappCats doesn’t support animal cruelty,” Snyder said after Tuesday’s hearing, “and we want to see justice done.”

The cat was placed with Ahrens through a private acquaintence, according to one investigator, not through RappCats.

In other court action Tuesday:

o 34-year-old Manuel Alejandro Gonzalez Quintana of Huntly pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges – trespassing after being forbidden and assault and battery – and was sentenced to 360 days in jail on both charges (all 720 days suspended). He is scheduled for a Jan. 10 review date for a third charge – a felony count of entering a house to committ assault and battery. According to an Oct. 9 criminal complaint filed by Deputy Robbie Fincham, “it was determined that [on Oct. 9] Manuel Alejandro Gonzalez Quintana entered the home of [a Huntly woman], without permission, through a side door and committed an assault and battery against [the woman] . . . Evidence was also present that a safe inside the residence was tampered with.” Quintana is still in the Rappahannock County Jail, awaiting the outcome of the felony charge.

o Not showing up to court on Tuesday for charges of possession of alcohol by a minor and possession of marijuana – the result of an underaged drinking party busted by local police on Aug. 7 – turned out to benefit Alquan Ranell Newman of Culpeper. Because he did not appear in court, the commonwealth tried Newman in his absence, and was forced to drop the possession of marijuana charge.

The arresting officer for all of the possession of alcohol and marijuana cases linked to the party, Deputy Nick White, was the only witness for the prosecution. White testified Tuesday that he arrived at a drinking party of underaged individuals at Bailey Lane in Amissville the night of Aug. 7, after stopping a vehicle that had just left the party; inside the vehicle was an underaged girl that had been drinking, he said.

White said she told him the location of the party and he arrived at the Bailey Lane residence to find Newman, among several other 17- and 18-year-olds. White said several of the underaged individuals, including Newman, admitted to having consumed alcohol. White also discovered marijuana, and charged Newman with possession of marijuana and possession of alcohol as a minor.

When Goff displayed the lab results confirming that the substance White found at the party was marijuana, a public defender standing in for Newman asked for the lab technician to take the stand, to verify the lab results. Since the lab technician was not present, and the trial had already begun, Judge Ashwell said he had no choice but to dismiss the possession of marijuana charge. Newman was found guilty of possession of alcohol by a minor and ordered to complete 50 hours of community service, complete the VASAP alcohol awareness program and forfeit his license for six months.

Matthew Cory Fletcher of Amissville pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of alcohol by a minor, and was ordered to perform 50 hours of community service, complete VASAP and a six- month loss of license. Justin Kyle Jackson of Rixeyville pleaded guilty to possession of alcohol by a minor, and was ordered to complete VASAP, pay a $500 fine and a six-month loss of license.

The possession of alcohol by a minor charge against Cameron Lee MacArthur II of Amissville was amended Tuesday to public intoxication, to which MacArthur pleaded guilty and was fined $100. MacArthur is being held at the Rappahannock County Jail for unrelated arson and breaking and entering charges.

The possession of alcohol by a minor charge against Julious Ceaser Lucas of Sperryville was also amended to public intoxication; Lucas pleaded guilty to that charge and was fined $100. The possession of marijuana charge against Lucas was dropped. Lucas is also being held at the Rappahannock County Jail, awaiting trial in the same case as MacArthur.

Lauren Elizabeth Settle of Castleton pleaded no contest to a charge of possession of alcohol by a minor, so the court deferred a finding of guilt until July, when the charge will be dismissed if Settle has completed a court-ordered 50 hours of community service, VASAP and a six-month license restriction. Jeramie David Sims of Bentonville pleaded guilty to charges of possession of alcohol by a minor and possession of marijuana, and was ordered to complete a total of 74 hours of community service, VASAP and a six-month loss of license.