RISING SUN — A woman scheduled to stand trial in January in connection with 121 animal cruelty charges filed against her had another brush with the law on Monday, when investigators seized 45 animals “found living in neglectful conditions” inside her downtown Rising Sun residence, according to police officials and a written statement issued by Cecil County Government.
As of Thursday, the suspect — Crystal Lorrain Romine, 38 — had not been formally charged.
“We have applied for charges against her,” Rising Sun Police Department Chief Francis “Chip” Peterson told the Cecil Whig, explaining that his investigators are waiting for a Cecil County District Court commissioner to review that application and take action.
Officers with the Animal Welfare Division of Cecil County Animal Services (CCAS) removed the animals in question from what formerly had operated as the Eden Rehab and Rescue on Queen Street, where Romine reportedly had been living, on Monday afternoon, Jennifer Lyall, a CCG spokeswoman said.
The agents transported the seized animals to CCAC’s headquarters near Chesapeake City, where they are “actively receiving appropriate care including medical, behavioral, and enrichment therapy,” she added.
Specifically, the confiscated animals included 17 cats, three dogs, three snakes, one guinea pig, two turtles, one tarantula, two birds, 13 goldfish, and three beta fish, according to Lyall, who further reported that CCAS agents also removed two dead animals from the place.
“The animals were found to be kept in deplorable conditions, including limited access to fresh food and water,” Lyall said.
Abigail Bingham, director of CCAS, commented, “Our hearts are absolutely broken for the agony these animals endured. They are innocent victims in this tragedy. We will do everything in our power to speak on their behalf to ensure their story is heard and they are protected from any future suffering.”
A domestic assault investigation by RSPD officers led to the discovery of the alleged neglected animals and to their seizure, according to Peterson.
RSPD officers responded to an apartment across the street from Romine’s residence at approximately 2 p.m. on Monday, after Romine’s mother called authorities and reported that Romine had assaulted her on the previous night, Peterson reported.
After interviewing the mother, officers went to Romine’s residence at her former pet shop to interview Romine about the alleged assault, he said. They also went there to check on Romine’s welfare, because her mother had expressed concern regarding Romine’s mental health, Peterson added.
Once inside Romine’s residence, officers discovered the animals and the alleged squalid conditions in which they were living and dispatched CCAC agents to the scene, Peterson reported.
An ambulance crew transported Romine from her residence to an area hospital, according to Peterson, who explained, “(Officers) could tell she was having some sort of mental health issue.”
The incident on Monday marked the second time since January 2019 that CCAS agents had seized animals in the care of Romine, who is the founder of Eden Rehab and Rescue, an animal welfare nonprofit, according to court records and Cecil Whig archives.
The first case
Relating to the oldest incident, investigators arrested Romine on April 4, 2019, two months after officers took a total of 63 animals while conducting two search and seizures, one at her storefront space at 10 S. Queen St. in Rising Sun — the same place the seizure of animals occurred on Monday — and at a kennel space she rented from Captain’s Quarters on Deaver Road near Elkton.
Those seizures were the result of an initial investigation that started Jan. 5, 2019, after CCAS had received a complaint alleging that the animals in the care of the rescue were not being fed or cared for properly, the agency reported at the time.
At the time of Romine’s April 2019 arrest, investigators filed 44 counts of animal cruelty against Romine relating to her care of 30 dogs and 14 cats sheltered by her organization, according to initial charging documents, which allege that she committed those offenses from Dec. 10, 2018 through Jan. 17, 2019.
Romine told the Cecil Whig, however, that the animals were in better physical condition at the time of those seizures than when she had received them as rescues, providing emails detailing the medical needs of several of the animals she rescued.
She also provided the Whig with dozens of photos and videos of animals under her care taken in the months prior to the seizures, showing them at play, receiving training instructions from her or being groomed.
According to Eden’s website — which was taken down at some point after investigators seized the 63 animals — Romine founded Eden Rehab and Rescue in 1997 to help sick, injured and aggressive animals.
She reportedly became interested in rescues as a teen after she rehabilitated an emaciated horse named Frenchie, who was about to be shipped off to a glue company, the website indicated. Afterward, according to the website, she spent time at the SPCA in Florida.
The rescue primarily dealt with dogs and cats, but would also tend to exotic pets that were injured, sick or no longer wanted.
“Here at Eden Rehab & Rescue, we believe every animal should have a second chance and medical issues should not play a part in helping. Over the years, we have never turned down a sick animal and will always stay true to that,” the website stated. “We firmly believe, just because it looks less than perfect, does not mean it is. Everything deserves a second chance.”
Shortly after her arrest in the original case, Romine also maintained to the Whig that the number of seized animals was fewer than reported by the county, contending that more than a dozen were turned over by her to various rescue groups.
New case, more charges
In October 2019, after further investigation relating to the first criminal case against Romine, the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office filed 121 animal cruelty charges against Romine — nearly triple the number of charges she initially had faced — and it did so by way of what is known as a “criminal information” charging document, according to court records.
Making way for the criminal-information case to move forward against Romine, prosecutors dismissed the original 44 criminal charges that had been filed against her in April 2019.
Romine was not arrested but, instead, she was charged by way of a criminal summons. (As for her arrest in April 2019, Romine was released on personal recognizance after spending one night in the Cecil County Detention Center in lieu of $3,500 bond, court records show.)
Three of those 121 charges filed against Romine are felonies — aggravated animal cruelty — and the charging document alleges that she “did intentionally torture” three dogs named “Bodie,” “Jules” and “Apollo” between Dec. 10, 2018 through Jan. 17, 2019.
Aggravated animal cruelty is is punishable by up three years in prison and a $5,000 fine, court records show.
Romine also is facing 118 misdemeanor animal cruelty charges due to her alleged failure to provide “nutritious food in sufficient quantity” and, or, proper amounts of water (“drink”), space and “necessary veterinary care” for 27 dogs in her care – including Bodie, Jules and Apollo – as well as 15 cats with names and approximately four others identified only as “No Name,” according to the charging document.
Animal cruelty relating to failure to provide those basic needs carries a maximum 90-day jail sentence and a $1,000 fine.
Those misdemeanors also occurred roughly between early to mid December 2018 through mid to late January 2019, court records allege.
In some cases, dogs and cats listed in the charging document allegedly lacked ample nutritious food, drink and space while, in other cases, dogs and cats lacked some or one of those staples, court records show.
The charging document alleges that Romine failed to provide necessary veterinary care to 15 dogs, including Bodie, Jules and Apollo, within that time frame.
It names “Lydia,” “Max,” “Moe,” “Bristol,” “Zoey,” “Diesel,” “Sugar Bear,” “Mama Duke,” “Blade,” “Cookie,” “Baby Blue,” and “Smiles” as the other dogs that allegedly did not receive necessary veterinarian care.
Romine’s jury trial is scheduled to start on Jan. 11 and is expected to last three days, court records show.