chicken

ST. THOMAS — Two men spent Sunday night in jail after police arrested them on suspicion of killing chickens at the Caret Bay bin site.

The case began just before 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon, when police received a report of “several Hispanic males in a white truck, with rifles, in the area of the garbage bins in Estate Dorothea,” according to an affidavit filed by V.I. Police.

Police received another report that about seven young men were using BB guns to kill wild chickens, and another caller said she was disposing of her household trash when she saw several men with rifles.

Police located a truck with six men traveling south on Crown Mountain Road, and officers stopped the vehicle and found two black rifles and four dead chickens in the back, according to the affidavit. Police confirmed the rifles were BB guns and not real firearms, and the dead birds were “wild chickens, with no known owner(s).”

Two of the men, Steven Montilla and Gabriel Santana, admitted to using the guns to kill chickens for food, and they intended to bring them home to eat, police said.

The arresting officer said he reviewed the case with his superiors, including Deputy Chief of Police Richie Velazquez, who agreed the men should be arrested and charged with first-degree animal abuse.

Unable to post $5,500 bail, the men were remanded to the custody of the Bureau of Corrections and appeared in V.I. Superior Court via video conference Monday morning, shackled and in red jumpsuits.

Magistrate Judge Henry Carr III expressed shock and annoyance that the men had been arrested.

He dismissively called it the “stray chicken caper,” and said police must have spent all night “looking through the lawbook for the criminal charges to hold these defendants in custody.”

But before Carr could proceed, Assistant V.I. Attorney General Brenda Scales said the Justice Department had decided not to prosecute.

Carr dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning that prosecutors could theoretically refile charges.

“I don’t expect that they will, but you are released from the jurisdiction of the court,” Carr said.

In response to questions from The Daily News, spokeswoman Sandra Goomansingh said in an email Tuesday night that the V.I. Justice Department “declined to prosecute because the particular facts of this arrest did not rise to the level of animal cruelty under the statute.”

According to the V.I. Code, a person is guilty of first-degree animal abuse when they “maliciously or unnecessarily” kill “any animal,” or “tortures, maims, mutilates, disfigures, wounds, or inflicts unjustifiable pain on any animal,” or forces a child to do so.

The statute also requires that surgical procedures, such as cropping an animal’s ears or docking of a tail, must be performed by a licensed veterinarian; bans the use of bait animals for dog or cockfighting; and prohibits the intentional poisoning of any animal.

— Contact Suzanne Carlson at 340-714-9122 or email scarlson@dailynews.vi.