By Erica Thomas, managing editor
TRUSSVILLE — A Jefferson County Grand Jury voted to indict a woman on the charge of aggravated cruelty to animals, for an incident that happened at the Trussville Walmart last year.
Stephanie Shae Thomas, 34, of Trussville, is the woman accused in the incident that happened on July 4, 2018.
The Trussville Police Department said they received a call around 11 a.m. about a car in the parking lot in front of Walmart in Trussville Crossings. The caller said there was a dog inside the car and that the car’s engine was not running.
Officers responded and found the dog alive but distressed inside the older model Mercedes. All the doors were locked and officers tried to locate the driver of the vehicle, according to Trussville Police. When they were unable to find the driver, officers broke out a window and removed the dog. Video of the attempted rescue was posted on social media.
Efforts to keep the dog alive were unsuccessful. The dog died in the parking lot. The Jefferson County Humane Society responded and recovered the dog’s body.
Upon further investigation, police said they learned the driver of the Mercedes had been in Walmart since 4 a.m. that morning. When she returned to the vehicle at 12 p.m., officers confirmed she was the driver.
Thomas turned herself into the police station on July 5. At that time, Thomas told officers she lost track of time while shopping at Walmart, according to police. Thomas was placed in jail on a $25,000 bond, which she posted the same day. She waived her preliminary hearing in November of 2018 and the case was bound over to a Grand Jury.
On July 26, 2019, the Grand Jury of 18 voted to indict Thomas. The indictment was filed in District Criminal Court in Jefferson County on Aug. 26, 2019.
In the indictment, Thomas is accused of “intentionally or knowingly subjecting an animal to cruel neglect by leaving the animal located in a hot vehicle for approximately seven hours.” The indictment called the incident an “act of cruelty or neglect that involved the infliction of torture to the animal.”
Alabama law says “a person commits the crime of aggravated cruelty to animals if the person intentionally or knowingly subjects any animal to cruel mistreatment or cruel neglect. Ala. Code 1975 §13-11-14, 14.1 (Code of Alabama 1975, Title 13, Chapter 11, section 14). Aggravated cruelty to animals is a Class C felony with fines up to $6,000 and up to 10 years in prison.
Prior felony convictions could increase prison time up to life for 99 years and fines up to $15,000.
Thomas’ defense attorney, Leslee French Hughes declined to comment on the case.
Since the incident, the city of Trussville passed an ordinance allowing police officers who see an animal in distress, to take actions necessary to save the said animal.