Man allegedly sets cat on fire, gets into standoff with cops

Posted: July 03, 2012

A BIZARRE daylong standoff Sunday between a 40-year-old South Philadelphia man and police began when the man allegedly set his neighbor's cat on fire, hung it from a fence and then barricaded himself inside his house with his two young sons.

"The heat, it just went up a notch," said a 46-year-old neighbor who identified himself as "Swift." "The same way they make snow for the Poconos, they make heat for us."

On a day when temperatures soared into the mid-90s, SWAT-team members, firefighters and negotiators braved the heat in heavy protective gear to try to get the disturbed man to cool down without taking any lives. Meanwhile, residents pulled up lawn chairs, corner vendors sold crabs for $1.25 and the Salvation Army handed out Gatorade to police.

The standoff ended peacefully when the man, whose identity wasn't released, surrendered after seven hours of negotiations, police said. The man had doused himself in an unknown noxious liquid but he was not armed and had not harmed himself or his sons, ages 1 and 4, according to police. The only injury was to a SWAT-team member who was taken to a hospital for heat exhaustion.

When police responded to reports of a man burning a cat on Dickinson Street near 19th about 10:15 a.m. Sunday, the suspect ran into the house, refused to come out and threatened police.

Robert Thomas, 23, said the cat belonged to his grandfather and was named Anne-Marie. Several residents said the suspect owns and renovates real estate. Thomas said his dad had rented a house from the suspect, whom he called a "slumlord." He said his grandfather, who lives on the same block as the suspect, had been fighting with the man about the conditions of his father's rental property Sunday morning.

"That's how everything started this morning: Five or 10 minutes after the fight, the cat was missing," Thomas said. "He had hung it up on the fence and burned it with lighter fluid." Neighbors said the suspect had lived on the block about three years and had built a large fence encompassing not only his house but also the sidewalk.

Lorraine Peterson, 47, a neighbor who said she sometimes baby-sat for the suspect's children, said he was "a real private man" who designs and builds houses, including a seven-bedroom home in West Philly in which her daughter lives.

Police said the man was expected to be charged with cruelty to animals and other offenses. His children were placed in his wife's custody. 

Reach Stephanie Farr at farrs@phillynews.com or 215-854-4225. You can also follow her on Twitter @FarFarrAway and read her blog "Philly Confidential" at www.phillyconfidential.com

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