Ms. Darlene Armstrong Plead Guilty to Cruelty
July 28, 2011
In March of 2006, Woodbridge Health Department Director Dennis Green received a letter from a Baton Rouge, Louisiana resident reporting that the homeowners at 524 Amboy Avenue in Woodbridge were maintaining numerous animals in deplorable conditions and requested that their complaint be investigated. Other complaints received from the immediate community addressed the stench coming from the home from citizens walking on the sidewalk in front of the residence. Director Green contacted Woodbridge Animal Control Officer Mercedes Lopez and (then) Officer Al Peterson of the NJSPCA Humane Police to launch an investigation. A preliminary investigation ensued with unheeded NJSPCA warnings and a number of failed attempts to determine the health and conditions of the animals. Additional information gathered resulted in a joint inter-agency investigation and response to successfully execute a number of court orders for seizure of the animals granted by the Woodbridge Municipal Court. A subsequent raid on the property by both NJSPCA Officer Peterson, Woodbridge Police units and Detective Bruce Chester, and animal control officer Mercedes Lopez, in April 2006, uncovered a "house of horrors" complete with extensive filth, sick animals, and sick humans who lived in the home under the terrible conditions.
Responding to the location to execute a court order to seize the stricken animals and to arrest Darlene Armstrong on three contempt of court warrants from the Woodbridge Municipal Court, Woodbridge detectives reported that they saw Armstrong through the window, sitting at a kitchen table. When they knocked at the door, which was ajar, they saw Armstrong run through the house and go upstairs. Police found Armstrong upstairs, crammed into a tiny bedroom closet, and officers had to wiggle her out because she became wedged. She was taken to the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center in North Brunswick on the 17 initial state and local animal cruelty charges and the outstanding warrants for her arrest. One warrant charged her with failing to license her animals; one charged that she had an excessive number of animals. The third charge accused her of wrongful impersonation and theft by deception. In that case, Armstrong was also charged with stealing checks from her son's girlfriend and cashing them, police said. In 2011, those charges are still pending adjudication.
A total of 14 cats and one dog were seized during the raid and taken to the Central Jersey Animal Hospital and treated. "The other cats couldn't be trapped," Officer Peterson said. "We took out what we could."Additional cats were later removed from the home by animal control officers after they were successfully trapped, treated and their dispositions determined by Central Jersey facility veterinarians. Ultimately, those cats that were adoptable were readopted into loving homes, although eleven others were euthanized due to severe emaciation, their coats caked with dried feces, and also their associated life threateniung health conditions. Officer Peterson, during a News 12 video interview, described the conditions in the home as "deplorable." He said the odor was intense and the home was filled with flies and fleas. There was feces and urine on every square inch of floor space throughout the home, from the front of the house to the back and up the stairs and all of the bedrooms and the bathroom on the second floor. It staggered the imagination," Peterson said.
Darlene S. Armstrong, then 50, was charged with 14 criminal counts of animal cruelty under New Jersey's animal cruelty statutes, issued by Officer Peterson of the NJSPCA, and for violation of local ordinances, by Woodbridge Animal Control officers for licensing and health code violations, including violations of ordinances limiting the total of five dog and five cats per residence.
Numerous attempts by the Wodbridge Municipal Court to successfully adjudicate the case between 2006 and 2011 were hampered by defendant Darlene Armstrong who feigned medical illnesses, on various court dates, resulting in her being taken by ambulance to Perth Amboy General Hospital and walking out of the emergency room. Armstrong also moved to a number of Middlesex County addresses, and an attempt to execute a search warant against Armstrong by NJSPCA officers Peterson and Bernavon, in Carteret, resulted in still another false medical emergency. Extensive efforts by the NJSPCA Humane Police continued and the $5,000. arrest warrant remained active.
On July 13, 2011, defendant Darlene Armstrong was arrested by Aberdeen Township Police on the outstanding 2006 NJSPCA contenpt of court warrant issued by the Woodbridge Municipal Court and incarcerated in the Middlesex County Correctional facility pending her trial.
On July 28 2011, NJSPCA Sgt. Al Peterson and the attorney representing Darlene Armstrong formulated a plea agreement to resolve the case and its impending trial. Armstrong appeared before Woodbridge Municipal Court Judge Morse via video from the correctional facility and a trial was held. Darlene Armstrong was convicted of 7 criminal counts of Deprive of Necessary Sustenance under 4:22-17a1 and fined $3500., with additional court costs, $250. in NJSPCA restitution, and assessed an additional penalty of a lifetime ban on animal ownership (care, custody, control or ownership), which was entered as a court order to prevent animals from being harmed by the defendant, Darlene Armstrong, now a convicted animal abuser.
Judge Morse allowed Armstrong, now age 55, to be released in her own recognizance from the Middlesex County Correctional Center with the promise that she would commit and adhere to her schedule of paying her fines and restitution to the NJSPCA, would follow the terms of the animal ownership ban, and would appear her scheduled court dates in order to adjudicate all remaining charges.