New Jersey

Philadelphia Firefighter Faces Charges in Seagull Death in Sea Isle City

A 29-year veteran of the Philadelphia Fire Department will be in a Cape May County court next month for alleged animal cruelty. Here's what led to the charges.

What to Know

  • Several seagull species are common to the Jersey Shore. While none are endangered, they are "protected" migratory birds.
  • Intentionally killing a seagull in New Jersey requires permits from federal and state agencies.
  • Frost's case is not the only one to occur at the shore this summer. Ocean City police, also in August, investigated an alleged gull killing.

Here's something that may surprise those of us familiar with the Jersey Shore: Seagulls are state- and federally-protected animals.

And killing one of them, even accidentally, can get you jammed up in court.

A Philadelphia firefighter, alleged to have killed a gull on the Sea Isle City beach in August, is learning this the hard way.

Edward Frost, a 29-year veteran of the fire department, was vacationing with his wife and son when he allegedly threw an object — some say a rock, some say a shell — at a gull in the middle of a crowded beach.

Now, he’s waiting for a second court hearing scheduled Nov. 16 on two disorderly persons charges issued by a local animal cruelty investigator.

So how did Frost, of the Far Northeast section of Philadelphia, get to the point where he faces potentially up to six months in jail and fines for allegedly hitting a gull with a shell?

His lawyer, Richard Bobbe III, says it’s a case of a public servant with “an exemplary record” being pushed around by a local animal shelter.

“Shore Animal Control may think it’s a good practice to try to bully this man into pleading guilty to a crime he did not commit, but that isn’t the kind of man Mr. Frost is,” Bobbe said in an email. “I am confident the truth will win the day.”

Shore Animal Control, whose investigator filed the charges, says, however, that the rule he allegedly broke is simple enough.

“Don’t throw things at seagulls, period,” shelter manager Linda Gentille said.

Let’s look at the death in some context, based on police reports, witness accounts, and the protections for birds in New Jersey:

It began about 2:30 p.m. Aug. 25 with some all-too-familiar seagull shenanigans.

Frost was sitting with his family on the beach off 38th Street in Sea Isle. According to the police report, Frost believed one of the birds was being attacked by other gulls, so Frost said he threw a seashell to try to break up the scrum.

"Frost stated that he did not mean to injure the bird," the report said.

One of the witnesses claims he saw Frost get up from his beach chair and walk towards two seagulls some 20 yards away.

"As he approached the seagulls I noticed his arm go back in what could be described as a baseball pitching motion," Joe Piscopio wrote in the statement provided to NBC10. "As his arm came forward in a very fast and deliberate motion the smaller of the two seagulls began to flail around on the beach."

The other witness, Nicole Buck, said in another statement to Shore Animal Control that Frost told her the bird in question “was bothering the other birds.”

After the alleged throw, Buck said she tried comforting the injured bird.

“I brought the bird over to my spot and was comforting her as her neck was knocked out of kilter, her head was shaking and her eyes could not focus," Buck sad. "She was clearly in a lot of pain and distress. It was heartbreaking.”

Buck said she, along with Piscopio and another person, brought the bird to a nearby house, where Shore Animal Control picked up the gull.

Cruelty investigator Holly Gavrilow, who is contracted by Shore Animal Control, issued a summons to Frost. At an initial court hearing Oct. 5, Frost was willing to pay a $250 civil fine in the form of a donation directed to a local animal organization.

That plan did not appease Gavrilow, who wanted a guilty plea to a disorderly persons charge under New Jersey’s animal cruelty statute, Gentille said.

Sea Isle City prosecutor, Thomas Rossi, told NBC10 afterward that he is still working on the charges and could not say how he would proceed at the Nov. 16 hearing.

The New Jersey statutes that Gavrilow has charged Frost with fall under Title 4, Section 22, Cruelty. Specifically, the two offenses are: 4:22-17.a. A person who shall: (1) Overdrive, overload, drive when overloaded, overwork, deprive of necessary sustenance, abuse, or needlessly kill a living animal or creature; and 4:22-26. A person who shall: a. (1) Overdrive, overload, drive when overloaded, overwork, deprive of necessary sustenance, abuse, or needlessly kill a living animal or creature, or cause or procure any such acts to be done. Both are disorderly persons charges, misdemeanor-level offenses.

The first comes with penalties of up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, and community service, though jail is not common for first-time offenses. The second comes with a fine of up to $1,000.

There are several species of seagull common to New Jersey. While two types of smaller shore birds, known as terns, are on the state’s endangered species list, no seagull species are. Still, seagulls are protected animals.

A spokesman with the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife Agency said that means killing the birds intentionally is prohibited, unless you get permission.

That requires a federal permit and a state permit. Obtaining those permits requires “a specific and justified purpose,” Fish and Wildlife spokesman Robert Geist said.

The term intentional is important, and at the center of the Frost case.

His attorney, Bobbe, says the firefighter “will be vindicated.”

Gentille, of Shore Animal Control, says the shelter’s stance is the same whatever the species: “All animals matter to us.”

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