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MESA, AZ (CBS5) -
Mesa police said Monday they've tossed animal cruelty charges against a man accused of stealing and mutilating dozens of cats in Mesa, sparking outrage from a group of citizens.
The group, comprising residents and owners of the mutilated cats, has scheduled two protests against Scott Andrew Graham, 39, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Saturday at Alma School Road and Pecos Avenue, the entrance to Marlboro Mesa neighborhood in Mesa.
"Anyone that's going to abduct 30 to 40 cats isn't doing it just to play with them and let them go," said protestor Lenetta Leger.
"I mean, I don't think it takes a rocket scientist or a psychologist to see there's obviously something wrong with this man," she continued during Tuesday's protest.
The Maricopa County attorney's office had referred the case back to police on Sept. 6 to gather more evidence.
"Investigative efforts have been exhausted," Mesa police spokesman Sgt. Tony Landato said in a news release. "The decision was made to continue with only the theft charge."
Landato cited an investigation by detectives that called into question some initial facts of the case.
"Any additional or future charges are unlikely until additional evidence is developed or received that would allow the investigation to continue," Landato said.
Tuesday, CBS 5 asked Landato for more information as to why the animal abuse charges were dropped.
"As it turns out, when we sat down with the photos of the mutilated cats and the (owners) and the photos they had, everyone was in agreement that although similar, this is not the victim's cat," explained Landato.
"So that's a critical piece of evidence that now we've lost," he continued.
Mesa police said Aug. 8 home surveillance video caught Graham taking a cat from the top of a person's vehicle in the 900 block of West Natal.
Several days later, the cat was found dead and mutilated behind a nearby strip mall where another mutilated cat was found.
On Aug. 23, police said a member of the neighborhood watch, Ben Smith, said he saw the vehicle again and tried to catch him on his bike. The suspect allegedly threw the cat out the window and fled.
On Sept. 3, the same neighbor spotted the vehicle again, took photos and got his license plate number.
Graham was arrested on South Spruce in Mesa where he was staying with relatives.
Friday, CBS 5 News confirmed Graham was not in jail and tried to contact him at the home in Mesa. A relative answered the door and said, "No comment."
Police said without the neighbor's help, the arrest might not have ever happened.
"There would not have been an arrest and possibly never resulting in this case had he not had that... not just the one time but both times," Landato said.
"I was dead set on not losing this guy and getting as much photographic evidence as possible," Smith said.
Police said Graham admitted to the theft charge and taking between 30 and 40 cats from the area. He denied harming the cats, stating he just played with them and then dropped them off at a different location.
Friday, a neighbor said she found another dead cat on Thursday.
"The neighbors think that maybe some antifreeze or something was given to the cats, so I don't know. It was dead," said Yolanda Fletcher.
Smith said Friday, "As soon as we found out in the neighborhood that the charges were getting dropped, we went right back up to boosting patrols and adding surveillance cameras throughout the neighborhood."
The suspect and his family told police he is deathly allergic to cats.
Graham was initially charged with one count of mistreatment to animals and two counts of cruelty to animals, along with one theft charge.
Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.