Felony charges not pursued, Brookville teen pleads guilty to cruelty of animals

BROOKVILLE — A Brookville teenager, 18-year-old Alexander Brock Smith, has entered a guilty plea to a second-degree misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals and to summary charges of driving or disturbing game, taking or possessing of game or wildlife, use of a device/method prohibited by chapter and violating rules and regulations of the Game Commission — while numerous felony charges will no longer be prosecuted — in relation to a November 2019 incident in which District Attorney Jeffrey D. Burkett said that Smith posted a video on social media of him and a juvenile co-defendant abusing an injured whitetail deer. Following an investigation, charges were filed against the two teens in January.

Burkett said in a release issued on Monday that Smith entered the negotiated plea of guilty to the listed charges and received a sentence of two years probation and fines totaling $2,150. Burkett also noted that, as a part of the agreement, Smith's hunting privileges have been revoked for a period of 15 years.

Along with the guilty plea, entered on May 6, court documents indicate that charges against Smith deemed nolle prossed — a Latin phrase meaning "will no longer prosecute," which results in a dismissal of charges by the prosecution — included third-degree felony charges of aggravated cruelty to animals-torture; conspiracy to commit aggravated cruelty to animals-torture; aggravated cruelty to animals-causing SBI or death; and conspiracy to commit aggravated cruelty to animals-causing SBI or death, as well as misdemeanor charges of corruption of minors and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. Smith's guilty plea came on May 6, which court documents stated was the last day a plea could be entered. Jury selection had been scheduled to take place this week.

In his statement on Monday, Burkett said, "There was certainly a huge outcry from certain segments of the public on this case. This was because it was captured on video, and everyone could see the crimes being committed. Certainly, these videos were repulsive, and no decent person could ever condone what was depicted in them. Notwithstanding the public outcry, we are bound by law, facts and the sentencing guidelines. After numerous consultations with officers from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, county detectives, other law enforcement officers and the Western District United States Attorney's Office, we were convinced that the misdemeanor cruelty to animals charge was the one that fit the facts of this case. The sentencing guidelines for that charge call for a probationary sentence. Also, we obtained an extensive revocation of Smith's hunting privileges until well into his 30s."

Burkett also thanked the Game Commission officers, who he said "worked very hard on this case and were an invaluable source of counsel and wisdom in bringing this matter to a successful resolution."

Back in January, when the charges were announced by the Game Commission, a release said that the teens were interviewed and reportedly confirmed they were hunting together on Nov. 30 in an enclosed tree stand on property Smith's family owns in Beaver Township, Jefferson County. It was reported that the juvenile shot and wounded a buck, then missed with a follow-up shot; the deer was immobilized, and video of the deer being abused was taken, then shared through the messaging app Snapchat. One recipient of the video saved it to his phone and contacted the Game Commission, and his phone, as well as the defendants' phones, were seized for forensic analysis.

Smith was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Gregory M. Bazylak on Jan. 10 and was released on $50,000 unsecured bail. At that time, paperwork containing the juveniles' charges also was filed, which began the process of the charges being sent to juvenile court. The juvenile faced the same charges as Smith, minus corruption of minors. The Pennsylvania Game Commission does not release the names of minors who are charged with violations of the state Game and Wildlife Code.