Former West Milford Department of Public Works Superintendent Carlos Luaces of Byram.
BY ERIKA NORTON
CLIFTON — A judge denied a motion to dismiss the indictment of the former West Milford Department of Public Works Superintendent and Byram councilman, Carlos Luaces, who is charged with killing a baby bird with weed killer in 2015.
Judge Scott Bennion denied the motion in Superior Court on Jan. 19.
“We were disappointed,” defense attorney Gary Kraemer said about the decision. “We believe that the grand jury was not presented with evidence on a material element of what Carlos is charged with, and that is that the spray that was allegedly used is poisonous to birds.”
A pretrial conference between Kraemer and Passaic County Assistant Prosecutor Paul Roby is set for Feb. 13 at 10 a.m.
The motion filed May 19, 2016 argued that Luaces was indicted by the state based solely on a hearsay statement made to grand jurors by a West Milford Police officer.
Luaces, of Byram, served on the township council from January 2012 to February 2014 and is charged with a single count of animal cruelty in the third degree, a crime punishable by a maximum fine of $15,000 and/or three to five years in prison. He is alleged to have sprayed Ranger PRO Herbicide weed killer around the West Milford Department of Public Works yard on or about July 16, 2015, according to the motion.
There was a post outside the DPW’s garage where a robin’s nest was perched, which, according to the motion, at the time of the weed spraying contained three eggs and one small hatched bird. The next day, DPW workers allegedly noticed a dead bird in the nest along with the other unhatched eggs and relocated the nest with the eggs and alleged dead bird to an unprotected area of the DPW yard.
Three weeks later, two DPW employees complained about the incident to West Milford police, who then went to investigate and found the nest, but no eggs, birds or mother robin.
In May 2016, Kraemer said there is no real proof of any dead bird, “But more importantly, even if we assume that there was a dead bird, there is no proof that the weed killer had anything to do with it.” He also said that the Ranger PRO weed killer Luaces is accused of using is “practically non-toxic to birds.”
According to the court records, West Milford police Lt. Keith Ricciardi told a grand jury on Feb. 4 that the weed killer allegedly used by Luaces is stronger than Round Up and requires the user to have a special license. DPW employee Keith Hanson allegedly told Ricciardi that Luaces, wearing the backpack used to administer the weed killer, allegedly said, “If you see any three-headed birds flying around, baby birds flying around, they just got sprayed with Round Up… they were cute, but they had to go.”
Luaces was appointed the West Milford DPW Superintendent in April 2015 and placed on paid administrative leave on Aug. 7, 2015, when the animal cruelty allegations first surfaced.