By Daniel Langhorne
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office will charge two Chapman students with entering an animal enclosure at a zoo, circus or traveling animal exhibit without consent, in connection with the theft of Tim the Turkey from Orange High School.
Steven Thomas Koressel, 23, and Richard Brenton Melbye, 21, were arrested by Orange police on April 18 after a relatively short investigation by officers and Chapman Public Safety.
The students and their attorneys are working with the District Attorney on a probation and community service arrangement. Once the students accomplish these requirements, their misdemeanor will be reduced to an infraction, said Jerry Price, vice chancellor of student affairs and dean of students.
Even though Chapman officials have not received official notice of charges from the District Attorney’s office, the University plans to proceed with its own disciplinary process but the results of that process are confidential due to federal regulations.
Patti Williams, the teacher that oversees the Panther Farm at Orange High, said a misdemeanor for a stolen, tortured animal is a slap on the hand. She said it’s likely she’ll have to euthanize Tim because of his poor health.
“The turkey was ruined,” Williams said. “He doesn't digest food properly. I have to physically burp him to release the gas build up. He looks awful. We are most likely going to put him down. Not to mention the vet bill. I had hoped that justice would be served. These young men did an awful thing. They abused an animal and got away with it. What did they learn? That they can do it again.”
Sgt. Phil McMullin of the Orange Police Department said the investigation lacked sufficient evidence to prove animal cruelty. However, they did suggest the District Attorney charge Koressel and Melbye with theft but that recommendation was not followed.
“We carefully reviewed the detailed reports of Orange Police Department and filed the charge we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt at jury trial,” Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Malone said. “That is the Orange County District Attorney’s Office filing standard for filing charges.”
The charges come at a challenging time for Chapman. The University’s plan to add at least a couple thousand students in Orange over the next decade is facing stiff resistance from community leaders in Old Towne.
Parties hosted by students living in single-family homes are at the top of the list of grievances voiced by neighbors.
Orange City Councilman Mike Alvarez said he is working with the City Attorney and Chapman to make sure the turkey’s veterinary bills are paid for.
“I know how disappointed Patti is and the kids because I was [at the farm,]” Alvarez said. “It wasn’t the first time this happened and it was such a blow. The kids see it as being violated because the animals are defenseless and they can’t get away because they’re fenced in.”
Alvarez said that Chapman has an opportunity to show the community it cares by helping improve security at Orange High’s farm.
“I don’t understand why the university doesn’t step and do what’s right,” he said. “What do you value here. Do you value the trust of the community, and if you do, you should do something to make it right?”
A Chapman University spokeswoman declined to comment on the charges.
Koressel and Melbye will be arraigned in Orange County Superior Court at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 1 at Courtroom C54.
Steven Thomas Koressel (Courtesy of Orange County Sheriff's Department)
Richard Brenton Melbye (Courtesy of Orange County Sheriff's Department)