By LINDA MOSS and ERIN ROLL
After an incident that sparked public outrage and put Montclair in the media spotlight once again, a township man this week was charged with animal cruelty for throwing a tiny dog out of a car in a road-rage incident on Bloomfield Avenue, an act depicted in a video that went viral.
The New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals brought the charges against Marc Dionne, 22, for taking a dog — a 12-year-old miniature pinscher named Daphne — out of another driver’s vehicle and throwing it onto the sidewalk during an altercation at the corner of Bloomfield and Gates avenues.
“This is the township of Montclair,” Liz Morgan, acting director of the Township Animal Shelter, said earlier this week. “Animal cruelty is not tolerated anywhere, but absolutely not here. He will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The charges against Dionne, who has worked as a Lyft driver, are two counts of animal cruelty for torture and torment of a living creature. Filed in Essex County Superior Court on Tuesday, one is a fourth-degree indictable offense and the other is a civil charge, according to the NJSPCA, which also offered an update on the small canine’s condition.
“Despite some bruises and stress resulting from this traumatic event, Daphne is recovering well,” the organization said in its press release.
Montclair residents and others responded with anger after the video was posted online last Sunday, with some people on Facebook advocating violence against Dione in retaliation for his actions.
The road-rage incident also attracted widespread media attention, including coverage by local TV stations and even making news in Great Britain, where the Daily Mail picked up the story. It’s the second time in a week that the township has made news, coming on the heels of Gov. Christie calling “Mike from Montclair” a communist during the governor’s tryout on WFAN radio.
The event also came up for discussion by members of the Township Planning Board at its meeting on Monday night, with a resident also making reference to it at that session. Talking about traffic on Bloomfield Avenue, Lucy Fitzgerald pointed out that there had been an incident on that busy street where “a family pet was taken hostage briefly.”
The video of the incident, which happened last Wednesday, July 12, shows Dionne and Daphne’s owner, whom WNBC identified as Gary Keay of Saddle Brook, having an argument behind their vehicles, a red hatchback and a white minivan. It shows both men pulling at each other’s arms and shoving each other, with Keay at one point yelling “What’s your [expletive] problem?”
It is then that the video shows Dionne walking around to the minivan, opening the door, taking Daphne out of the vehicle and throwing her onto the sidewalk before getting into the red hatchback and driving away.
Daphne is seen running back toward the minivan after the incident.
The video was taken by the occupants of a vehicle directly behind the altercation. The vehicle occupants can be heard crying out in alarm at the dog’s treatment. “Oh my God, why’d they do that to the dog?” a woman is heard exclaiming.
The video, which was posted online last Sunday, did not show what set off the confrontation. Both men were subsequently identified during the investigation, Morgan said.
“People knew who he [the assailant] was and were very upset … that was such a violent act,” she said.
The video quickly made the rounds on the internet, and viewers were outraged about the dog’s treatment.
Tracking It down
Morgan said that she and other shelter officials spent time Sunday enlarging frames from the video to get a close look at both men involved, to try to discern what happened to the dog and to try to get the license-plate numbers of both vehicles. The numbers on the plates were clearly visible, according to Morgan.
Michele Shiber, who is township animal control officer as well as a New Jersey state-certified animal cruelty investigator, immediately started investigating the incident, Morgan said.
“The video is absolutely horrible,” she said. “We were absolutely stunned by it. We spent a good 20 minutes enlarging it, enlarging it to ensure that the animal was OK. And you can see at the end of it the owner has the dog tucked under his arm, kind of like a football. … You can understand, not that it’s OK, but people lose their temper.”
She said, “It seemed like they had their argument and a little body slamming, and then were going back to their cars. To witness that violent act on that innocent creature was just a whole other level.”
The NJSPCA Humane Police worked closely with the Montclair Police Department and Shiber on the case, according to the animal rights group.