By Ted Waddell
ROSCOE February 18, 2003 Over the years, the sleepy riverside hamlet of Roscoe has become known worldwide as Trout Town USA, because of the regions magnificent fishing.
But in recent weeks it has gained local notoriety because a cat named Roscoe was shot by a neighbor who thought the cat was a feral pest invading his backyard and killing birds.
The case came to a close in town court in Roscoe Thursday, and the perpetrator left with a disorderly conduct conviction and a fine.
On November 21, 2002, Roscoe the cat disappeared from the Roscoe Community Nursing Home. The friendly feline companion to a lot of the nursing homes residents was never known to stray for long, and folks started to worry.
So folks started tacking up Have You Seen Roscoe? posters throughout the community, in an attempt to locate their beloved kitty, who for the past five years was an integral part of life at the local nursing home.
Then Roscoe resident Jim Herzog reportedly called the nursing home to tell them he heard a gunshot and his neighbor Frederick Banks say, There, you garbage-pickin cat, I got you.
One thing led to another, and on December 11, Banks was arrested by the State Police and charged with cruelty to animals, by violating Section 235 of the states agricultural and market law (a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both).
Frederick W. Banks did unjustifiably shoot and kill an orange and white tabby . . . and said defendant did use .22-caliber rifle to kill the cat owned by the Roscoe Nursing Home, said NYSP Trooper Matthew Lambert in a writeup filed before the local justice court.
Banks said he apologized to the nursing home after learning the cat was their pet and not a feral cat, as he surmised after watching it kill birds in his yard and use his garage as a kitty outhouse.
On December 12, Banks appeared before Town of Rockland Justice Harold Madison for an initial appearance.
On Thursday, January 9, he was back in court, only to find the small country courtroom packed with nursing home staffers and residents in a hanging mood.
And the residents came to court armed with a large poster featuring a photo of Roscoe and more than a hundred signatures of people expressing their sorrow at the cats demise.
In a surprise move, Banks attorney, Terrance OLeary, asked the court to waive his clients previous verbal plea of guilty before the court.
I am opposed to a 64-year-old man having a criminal record, he told Judge Madison.
After a series of in-chambers conferences, the local judge adjourned the case until Thursday, January 23.
In the wake of two postponements, Judge Madison said it was time to move along and denied a third request for a delayed ruling, and on Thursday, February 13, the cat case was back in court.
This time, the gallery was about evenly divided between Banks supporters and folks from the nursing home (minus the cat poster).
There have been many cases before this court in which defendants pleaded guilty [mostly traffic-related] and then changed their minds, said Judge Madison in allowing Banks to withdraw his plea of guilty to a misdemeanor.
Judge Madison accepted Banks guilty plea to disorderly conduct (a violation), thus averting a criminal record. In addition, Banks agreed to make restitution to the nursing home in the amount of $300. The monies will be held by the court in escrow until such time as the nursing home gets a new cat.
After court adjourned, Steve Lott of Roscoe went to bat on the record for Banks.
Ive known Fred for many years, and hes a good person, said Lott. This whole thing has been blown out of proportion. . . . If he had known the cat was anyones pet, it never would have happened.
I feel terrible for the people, [but] Freds done a lot for a lot of people in this town, he added.
According to Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney James R. Farrell, justice was served.
Although we cant bring back the cat that was shot, by the restitution we hope the nursing home can be made as whole as possible for the loss of a loved pet, the prosecutor said. We believe he thought it was a feral cat, and he was ridding the neighborhood of a pest. . . . He made amends for his actions.
Nursing home rehab technician Linda Buck accepted the ruling but wasnt all that pleased.
I never wanted him to go to jail, but I think disorderly conduct was a little light, she said. I think Mr. Banks is upset that he had to give us a nickel.
Virginia Duffy, the 87-year-old head of the homes resident council, said of the decision, I guess its fair enough, adding that the nursing home will start looking for a new cat to replace the late Roscoe.
Lois Margillo still remembers the pain of losing the nursing homes favorite kitty.
I was wondering for weeks where the cat was, she said. He used to sleep with me, and then he wasnt there anymore.
When they told me he was shot, I was hoping it wasnt someone in the neighborhood who had pulled the trigger, added Margillo.
Looking ahead to the arrival of a new cat at Roscoe Community Nursing Home, she said, I hope we get a black cat.
While declining comment, Judge Madison said he was glad the case of Roscoe the cat was finally over.
As for Fred Banks himself, he said he was very embarrassed by all the publicity and media attention to the case.
That cat killed Pecky [a cardinal] and a bunch of baby robins, but if I had known it was their cat, I would have gone up to the nursing home and asked them to keep it home, he said.
I went up there and apologized to them, he added.