CARLISLE — Frank Sargent loves animals.
He would never hurt them, he told police, and doesn’t even eat them because he’s a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
But that was before police showed him the surveillance images, the photos that they say made his hands begin to tremble. Police say those photos show Sargent making repeated trips into his neighbor’s backyard, under cover of darkness, to poison the rooster whose crowing had been tormenting him for months.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I got to a point where I thought the bird was mocking me,” Sargent said as he fessed up to throwing rat poison pellets into his neighbor’s backyard coop and dousing the chickens with hornet spray, according to a report from the Carlisle police.
“I couldn’t sleep,” he told police. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Eventually, the rooster succumbed, one of 11 chickens that died or had to be put down over the course of several months..
Now Sargent, a 17-year veteran of the Carlisle Fire Department, is facing 11 counts of malicious killing of a domestic animal, a crime that could carry a sentence of up to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Attempts to reach him at his home Tuesday were unsuccessful.
For two years, Sargent had been at war with his Lowell Street neighbors, Brendan Mirfield and his fiancée, Amanda DeFreest, over the rooster. He had called police about the noise several times. He had been to the town’s Board of Health. He wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper, the Carlisle Mosquito, complaining about the nonstop crowing.
“I’m composing this letter at 4:25 a.m.,” the letter began. “I have been awake since 3:55 a.m.”
But he had never, according to DeFreest, come to their door. “If he had come to us from the very beginning, we would have done something, sure,” DeFreest said Tuesday, standing in her driveway, a dozen yards from a tall wooden fence that separates her house from Sargent’s. “We didn’t realize it was an issue until we had a cop at our door at 5 a.m.”
Carlisle has no ordinance against backyard chickens, according to police, who say this town of large homes on large lots is known for having all sorts of backyard animals, from goats to horses to llamas. Sargent has rabbits in his yard, according to the report.
But sometime after the battle between Sargent and the rooster began, his neighbors noticed that some of their chickens were sick — one had to be put down — and that there were small green pellets around the chicken coop. According to the police report, the neighbors also said that one of their dogs, a boxer, had been vomiting, and a veterinarian had been unable to determine the cause.
By that time, police were well aware of Sargent’s problem with the rooster. At one point this spring, during a casual conversation with Sergeant Scott Barnes, Sargent had jokingly said he was “going to mix poison in with bird seed and throw it over the fence,” according to the police report.
In late April, police installed an infrared “game camera” overlooking the chicken coop, and that camera twice captured footage of a man they say is Sargent, including an incident in July when he was wearing rubber boots, a rain coat, and a headlamp, and he was carrying a spray can.
‘I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t take it anymore.’
Sargent later told police he wanted to take the rooster and drop it off at Kimball Farm, according to the report, but the coop was padlocked. So instead, according to the report, he said, “I mixed mouse poison with bird seed” and “brought it over in a bucket and threw it in.”
When he felt the rooster was mocking him, he told police, he “sprayed it with hornet spray to make it stop.”
While being interviewed by police at his home, Sargent asked to call his sister, and police said they heard him tell her, “I [expletive] up. I just couldn’t take it anymore and I killed the chickens.”
Sargent has been placed on unpaid administrative leave from the Fire Department “until there is a resolution to this personal issue he has,” said Chief David Flannery.
Amanda DeFreest said her fiancé has lived in the home for about 14 years and has never gotten along with Sargent. She said they have had backyard chickens for about 2½ years, have always had a rooster to mate with the hens, and raised their first rooster from an egg in an incubator in their house.
Neighbors did not have to be told that there was a rooster in the backyard. The sound, they say, filled the air. Anvi Vu, who lives two lots behind the house, on Wolf Rock Road, said a lot of noise came from the coop in the morning. “It was a little bothersome when you were outside, but inside I didn’t hear it too much,” she said.
Another neighbor, who declined to give her name, said she could hear the rooster every morning at 3:30, sometimes earlier, and seemed to sympathize with Sargent.
“You can have chickens, but I don’t think a rooster is a good idea in a neighborhood like this,” she said. “People need to sleep. And I don’t think you can blame someone if they can’t sleep. This isn’t a farm. I don’t think he should go to jail.”
DeFreest said the rooster that was allegedly poisoned by Sargent left behind baby chicks that they are raising inside their house, and they have no plans of getting rid of their backyard flock.
“God, no,” she said. “That would mean he won.”Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.