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June 06, 2024

Pa. state trooper cleared of animal cruelty charges for hitting runaway horse with patrol car

The animal, which escaped from an Amish farm, had to be euthanized in Chester County in 2021.

Courts Animal Cruelty
Pennsylvania Trooper Horse FRANK PISCANI/USA Today

Animal cruelty charges have been dropped against Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Michael Perillo, 55, who struck a horse with his patrol car after it escaped from a farm in Lower Oxford Township in Chester County.

A Pennsylvania state trooper who used his patrol car to subdue a horse that had escaped from a farm in Lower Oxford Township in 2021 will no longer face animal cruelty charges, the Chester County District Attorney's Office said. The horse had to be euthanized due to its injuries.

Cpl. Michael Perillo, based out of Avondale, had the charges dismissed by a judge at the request of District Attorney Chris de Barrena-Sarobe. The DA's office argued the case was riddled with complex legal issues and that prosecutors likely would not be able to meet the burden of proof to show that Perillo's conduct rose to the level of the charges against him.

Around midnight on Dec. 28, Perillo and another trooper were called to the area of U.S. Route 1 and state Road 10 for a report that a horse had gotten loose from an Amish farm near the Lancaster County line. By the time the troopers responded, the horse had already been struck by another motorist, investigators said.

Two other troopers who had arrived earlier were unable to corral the horse using various methods, including an attempt to catch it with a lasso fashioned out of jumper cables. Perillo, a supervising trooper, advised the other troopers that they needed to prevent any other car crashes even if it meant killing the horse, the DA's office said in its review of the case.

Perillo first tried to trap the horse with his car and tapped it, investigators said, but that sent the animal running in the other direction toward Route 1. At that point, another trooper shot the horse five times in the midsection. As it kept running, Perillo tried to pin the horse against a rail, authorities said. He ended up striking the horse from behind and then drove on top of the injured animal. While the horse was pinned under the car, another officer fatally shot it in the head.

Perillo and the trooper who shot the horse were both placed on restricted duty.

Seven months later, after a state police internal affairs investigation, Perillo was charged with felony and misdemeanor counts of aggravated animal cruelty, including torture and causing significant bodily injury to the horse. Perillo was suspended without pay and had been free on bail awaiting trial. The other trooper, who was not identified, never faced charges.

De Barrena-Sarobe's request to the judge to dismiss Perillo's charges conceded that the trooper's planned defense — that his actions were necessary to prevent potential harm to people — stood a strong chance of success at trial. In a letter, the DA noted that the law requires all people, including police officers, to value the lives of humans over animals.

Perillo’s attorney, Williams Davis, told the Daily Local that he and his client were pleased with the outcome.

“We always felt it was an unfair prosecution,” Davis said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “If my client had not taken action, things could have turned deadly."

Perillo, 55, is a 17-year veteran of the state police and is expected to seek reinstatement.