Workers face cruelty charges for allegedly cutting down tree filled with birds

Two construction workers charged with animal cruelty for allegedly knocking down a tree full of nesting birds in Newport Beach delayed their first court appearance Friday.

Stephen John Esser, 47, of Dana Point and David Roger Stanley, 40, of Downey each face up to a year and a half in jail for allegedly destroying eight or nine nests while doing demolition work, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.


Officials say the tree was home to migratory and protected birds, such as the snowy egret and black-crowned night heron.

Esser and Stanley were scheduled to be arraigned Friday morning, but neither appeared in court. Instead, a lawyer asked on their behalf for a postponement of the hearing until October.

Authorities say the men were working for Tim Greenleaf Engineering on May 28 when they used a backhoe to tear out a ficus tree on a Balboa Peninsula lot.

About a dozen young birds fell from the tree, five of which did not survive, according to prosecutors.

Neighbors said they had warned Esser and Stanley about the birds.

Some residents rushed in to rescue the surviving nestlings and took them to the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, where they were rehabilitated and eventually released.

Esser and Stanley are scheduled to return to court Oct. 8, when they are expected to enter a plea.

Each is charged with four misdemeanors for cruelty to animals, unlawful possession and destruction of bird nests or eggs, unlawful taking of migratory nongame birds, and harassing a bird or mammal.

In addition to possible jail time, the pair could be forced to pay a total of $20,000 in restitution, according to prosecutors.

Both men are free without bail.

Dobruck writes for Times Community News.