Two adults and two teenagers are facing misdemeanor charges after a “disturbing” video was posted on Snapchat that showed an opossum being hung by its tail dangling over a dog and beaten with a baseball bat.
However, animal activists groups are pushing for further charges in an online petition, saying that the misdemeanor charges “in no way cover(s) the actions of these defendants.”
Bethany Polutta, 18, of Summerville, South Carolina and Austin Kizer, 19, of St. George, South Carolina, along with two people under age 18, have been charged with ill treatment of an animal, according to David Lucas, of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Lucas said the two adults will appear in magistrate’s court, while the juveniles’ cases will be handled in family court.
Authorities began investigating the incident in September when a video was posted on Snapchat that appeared to show several teenagers beating an opossum with a baseball bat in a garage.
People who saw the Snapchat video took screenshots of the incident and turned them over to the Department of Natural Resources, Lucas said.
“I think anyone who saw (the screenshots) would think it’s disturbing,” Lucas said.
The video sparked anger and uproar on social media. Renate Hartland, a wildlife volunteer in Seattle, launched an online petition to Dorchester County Solicitor David Pascoe demanding harsh punishment for the abusers in the video.
Hartland, along with other animal activists, named the opossum “Hope” and started the Facebook page “In Light of Hope” for the animal’s supporters. The Change.org petition has more than 33,000 signatures and the Facebook page has more than 1,400 followers.
The petition requests more serious punishment than the misdemeanor abuse charge, which carries a maximum punishment of 90 days in jail or a fine of up to $1,000 on the first offense. Instead, petitioners are asking for the offenders to face felony charges for torture, torment, or cruel killing, with a minimum punishment of 180 days in jail.
“The animal suffered repeated, persistent, merciless pain,” the petition reads. “The pain and suffering inflicted upon the opossum goes far beyond anything tolerable in a decent society. This is not ‘generic’ animal suffering, this is specific torture and torment.”
Lucas said Monday that further charges from his department are not expected.
“The case on our end is closed, but the solicitor might further investigate the incident,” he said.
This is the second time in six months the state’s Department of Natural Resources has investigated teenagers abusing an animal on Snapchat.
In May, two Ridgeland, South Carolina men were charged with animal abuse after investigation into photos of a group of men pouring beer down an alligator’s throat.
In response to the opossum incident, PETA has sent letters to schools in the area urging them to implement humane education.
“We’re facing a bullying epidemic, and these boys allegedly beat an opossum to death with a baseball bat and bragged about it on social media,” said PETA spokesperson Marta Holmberg in an online press release. “TeachKind is urging schools to implement humane education and adopt an official policy against cruelty to animals that will help prevent a shocking crime like this one from occurring again.”