NewsTreasure CoastRegion Okeechobee County


Cat doused in acid in Okeechobee prompts discussion on animal abuse laws

'We prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, but the law itself is weak,' Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg says
Posted at 6:23 PM, Apr 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-13 20:40:14-04

OKEECHOBEE COUNTY, Fla. — Residents of an Okeechobee County neighborhood were shocked to hear three men were arrested on animal abuse charges just doors down.

According to the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office, detectives served Jaymarion Lawton, 19, with a search warrant for his cell phone and found an 8-minute video recording of an individual pouring Liquid Fire, or sulfuric acid, which is used to unclog drains, onto a household cat closed within an animal trap.

Detectives later discovered the incident happened Feb. 14 in the 300 block of Northeast 17th Avenue in Okeechobee County.

Detectives said Lawton and Andrew Jackson III, 21, recorded the video, while a third person, Wanya Sands, 22, was seen on the video pouring the Liquid Fire onto the cat's body and head numerous times throughout the eight-minute video.

All three men were arrested.

Residents on and around Northeast 17th Avenue said they were horrified when hearing about what happened. Many of them, pet owners themselves, said they hope it's not a reflection of the neighborhood.

"Who would do something like that to a cat?" asked Edilia Rojas. "I have a dog, I can't imagine anyone doing this."

Rojas said it's a good, quiet neighborhood where people look out for each other.

"The police are never out here. Never," Rojas said.

Just down the street, Olivia Burlanda had a similar reaction.

"It's heartbreaking and it's hard to comprehend that someone would be that cruel to an animal," Burlanda said.

Burlanda said as someone who rescued her dog, Chase, it's personal.

"Found him in a box, in the wintertime. It was cold and rainy and somebody left him outside and you know, had to have him," Burlanda said. "Grew up loving animals."

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said animal abuse cases are personal for him, too.

"It's something that I personally take seriously, because it hits home, as an animal lover," Aronberg said.

Aronberg said in general, animal abuse cases are incredibly concerning for several reasons.

"Not only is it barbaric behavior, but there is a proven link between animal abuse, domestic violence, and then even more serious crimes like murder," Aronberg said. "So, you want to stop it at animal abuse."

Yet, he said, because of Florida's animal abuse laws, that often doesn't happen.

"We prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, but the law itself is weak," Aronberg said.

In most cases, Aronberg said animal abuse charges are a misdemeanor unless the crime kills the animal, it's especially heinous, or it happens repeatedly.

Yet even when cases are upped to felony charges, he said jail time, much less prison, is rare.

“I would like to see Florida make it easier to send someone who commits these types of crimes to prison," said Aronberg. "When it comes to felony animal cruelty, they should go to prison. Misdemeanor animal cruelty, they should be eligible for jail time."

Aronberg said as the law stands now, misdemeanor animal cruelty is treated like a slap on the wrist, which he said isn't much of a deterrent for harming animals.

"I think it's important our state laws reflect our community values," Aronberg said.

Rojas and Burlanda agreed, thinking of their own pets. Both said they hope this interruption to their peaceful neighborhood at least brings about positive change.

"A lot of laws got to change around here," Burlanda said. "I hope people will just see that animals are things that just need love and nurture and caring."

At this time, the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office said the cat's whereabouts are unknown, as it was reported that it was let out of the cage and ran away.

Animal Control was also contacted, and there were no reports of cats being turned in for refuge.

Animal Control also said they did not receive any cats from February to the present date showing any signs of chemical burns, which would have been the result of the Liquid Fire being poured onto the cat.

Wayna faces an aggravated animal cruelty charge and resisting arrest without violence.

Jackson is accused of being an accessory after the fact and aggravated animal cruelty.

Jaymarion, who was currently in custody from last week's search warrant and those charges, faces a charge of accessory after the fact and aggravated animal cruelty.