Modern tech, old-fashioned police work led to dog cruelty arrests

  • In US
  • 2023-02-09 05:01:00Z
  • By The Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

Feb. 9-PITTSTON - In the summer of 2021, "Justice for Nova" became a popular cry around the area after police recovered a severely emaciated pit bull from an alleyway where she'd been abandoned and left for dead.

Now, almost two years later, that sentiment has become reality.

Just hours after a press conference at Pittston City Hall announcing the filing of charges against two suspect in Nova the pit bull's neglect case, the suspects were arrested and arraigned at City Hall before transport to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.

Terik Wiggins, 30, and Shaniqwa Scott, 24, are accused of leaving Nova in an alleyway near Butler Street in Pittston, where she was recovered by police on June 8, 2021 in a severely emaciated state.

Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce formally announced the names of the suspects and the charges against them at a press conference held at City Hall with Mayor Mike Lombardo and Police Chief Kyle Shumosic.

Nova attends announcement

Watching the proceedings was Nova herself, having made a full recovery and now enjoying life under the care of Luzerne County Detective and former Pittston City Police Chief Neil Murphy, who adopted the dog in September of 2021 along with his fiancée, Pittston Township Police Chief Lena Angelella.

"I'm here with the pleasure of announcing that charges have been filed in the abuse case of the dog that you've probably all come to know as Nova, who is present here today," Sanguedolce said.

Within hours of the press conference, both Scott and Wiggins were taken into police custody; it was not announced Wednesday night where and how the suspects were located, though Sanguedolce said earlier that the two were believed to be staying in the Hanover Township area.

The suspects were arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Alexandra Kokura Kravitz on Wednesday, and each charged with a felony count of aggravated cruelty to animals, as well as misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals and neglect of animals.

Both Scott and Wiggins were transported to the county correctional facility after failure to post bail set at $50,000 each. Preliminary hearings for both suspects are scheduled for Feb. 21 in Luzerne County Central Court.

High-tech investigation

The criminal complaint filed against the two suspects offered more details about the state Nova was in when she was recovered, and sheds light on how investigators were able to track them down.

According to the complaint:

Nova was first recovered in June of 2021, after officers from Pittston City were dispatched to Davis Alley after receiving reports of a dog abandoned in a crate. The dog appeared to be severely malnourished and unkempt.

The SPCA of Luzerne County took custody of the dog the next day, taking it to the Shoemaker Animal Hospital in Wyoming, where care was administered by Dr. Sara McGarry.

McGarry's report indicate that Nova was found to be suffering from severe emaciation, severe dermatitis, a severe ear infection, fleas, hookworm, angular limb deformity, severely overgrown nails and anemia.

It was McGarry's conclusion, according to the criminal affidavit, that the dog could have died if not for the medical care administered at the animal hospital.

Security footage pulled from neighboring properties determined that a gold or tan Ford Explorer had made two stops in the area of Davis Alley on June 7 and 8.

Cameras captured a passenger in the vehicle getting out, with an item fitting the description of the kennel Nova was found in, and entering the alley with it. A short time later, the vehicle exited the area, heading east on Butler Street.

Investigators were led to the Hanover Village Apartments, where a maintenance manager and a property manager both told police that a young couple staying in one of the apartments had a pit bull puppy that was not well taken care of.

The apartment was rented to Wiggins and Scott, and photos provided of Scott's car matched the car shown in the Butler Street surveillance footage, according to the affidavit.

Additionally, photos provided from an inspection of the apartment showed a pit bull matching the eye and ear structure of Nova.

From there, authorities were able to use a series of GeoFence search warrants served to Google to determine if any devices linked to Google accounts were active in the area where Nova was abandoned in the timeframe in which she was left there.

Through this information supplied to investigators, it was determined that three active devices in the area all belonged to either Wiggins or Scott, according to the affidavit.

It was through this data, along with the surveillance evidence and the interviews at Hanover Village Apartments, that investigators were able to find the suspects and bring charges against them.

"This case featured not only the new modern technology of search warrants for electronics ... but also good old-fashioned footwork by the police," Sanguedolce said, praising by name Pittston City Patrolman Drew Malvizzi and Assistant District Attorney Drew McLaughlin for their efforts, along with Mayor Lombardo for his efforts in keeping the case alive.

The mayor made it clear in his own remarks that crimes like the ones done to Nova would not be tolerated in Pittston.

"No crime is too small in this city," Lombardo said. "We're going to take every matter seriously, and I will continue to, in my position as mayor, make sure that our department has what it needs to get these cases solved."


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