A porcupine hangs out on the side of a dirt road in Otis on July 9, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

An animal rights group is criticizing the jail sentences given to two former Rockland police officers who killed more than 10 porcupines while on duty. The group doesn’t think the sentences were severe enough.

Last week, Addison Cox, 28, of Warren, and Michael A. Rolerson, 31, of Searsmont, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of cruelty to animals and night hunting. Cox will serve 10 days in jail on weekends and Rolerson will likely begin his 20 day sentence in January, according to court documents.

The group, In Defense of Animals, issued a statement Monday morning calling the sentence “pitiful.” In Defense of Animals is an international animal and environmental rights organization, founded in California 38 years ago. The group organizes awareness campaigns and promotes legislative initiatives that are aimed at protecting animals and the environment. It also manages animal rescue facilities in India, Korea, and Mississippi.

“We are deeply disappointed at the pathetic sentences given to these two officers who abused their power, broke the law, and committed shocking animal abuse,” Doll Stanley, In Defense of Animals’ Justice for Animals Campaign Director, said. “Cruelty to animals by any person is offensive, but seeing it inflicted by law enforcement officers who are charged with protecting our communities while they’re on duty is just beyond words.”

Rolerson and Cox were  fired from the Rockland Police Department in September after being placed on administrative leave following allegations of misconduct.

An investigation by the Maine Warden Service found that Rolerson and Cox  beat porcupines to death with batons while on duty. Rolerson estimated that he killed eight porcupines, according to a report from the Maine Warden Service obtained by the Courier Gazette. Cox said he killed three himself.

Shortly after Cox and Rolerson were charged, In Defense of Animals drafted a letter and collected signatures from about 10,000 people, calling for the district attorney’s office to seek the maximum sentence for Rolerson and Cox. It is unclear exactly who the letter was sent to.

Initially, Cox and Rolerson were facing charges of aggravated animal cruelty, a Class C felony, which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years in Maine.

“Law enforcement officers especially must be held to the highest standard of compassion and ethics if they are to be trusted to represent and uphold justice,” Stalley said in Monday’s statement.

Knox County District Attorney Natasha Irving said she understands the “visceral reaction” the crimes sparked, but she stands by her office’s decision to negotiate a plea agreement and reduce the charges to misdemeanors.

Irving said the men, who both served in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan, are receiving mental health treatment through the U.S. Veteran’s Administration and took responsibility for their crimes.

Irving said she feels this treatment will better address the root of the behavior than a longer jail sentence would.

“I understand that reaction and I don’t think that’s necessarily a wrong reaction. I think this is really horrifying criminal conduct that happened. But from my perspective these guys served in combat zones. … [It’s] not unusual for folks to suffer mental and emotional wounds that can’t be seen by all of us but can manifest themselves in various ways,” Irving said.

In addition to the jail time, Cox was fined $1,000 and was placed on administrative release for six months, during which he is barred from applying for jobs in law enforcement and must complete 100 hours of community service, court documents state.

Rolerson was also fined $1,000 and placed on probation for six months. The terms of his probation require that he give up his Maine Criminal Justice Academy Credentials.

Irving said that under Maine statute, the severity of punishment can differ based on whether the animals being abused are wild or domestic. While she agrees that the former officers demonstrated “disgusting” behavior by killing the animals ― wild or not ―  she felt the sentences they received were “pretty meaningful” based on other animal cruelty sentences given across the state.  

A judge gave the go ahead for Cox to serve his sentence on weekends beginning next month after his attorney made the request so Cox could provide care for his children during the week, Irving said.

Irving said a request to serve a sentence only on weekends, like Cox made, is rare. However, requests to defer the start of a sentence ― as in Rolerson’s case ― are much more common, she said.

While approving sentencing requests are ultimately up to a judge, prosecutors can weigh in. In some cases, Irving said prosecutors would object to special sentencing requests. However, Since neither Cox nor Rolerson were in custody at the time of sentencing and did not pose a public safety threat, Irving said her office did not take a stance on whether or not a judge should approve the requests.

“In a case like this, we would say it’s up to the courts,” Irving said.