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Tag: courts

After 38 years in prison, innocent man freed — and gets to bring his dog home, too

At first glance this story made no sense — a man who spent the past 38 years in prison wins his freedom when his innocence is finally proven and is reunited with his dog.

No dog — no matter how loyal to his owner — lives that long.

Turns out though, that Malcolm Alexander came into possession of the dog while serving his sentence at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a facility which, while it has a reputation as a tough place, offers several dog programs and even breeds its own guard dogs.

Alexander, 58, had been proclaiming his innocence since he was convicted of sexual assault and sent to prison at age 20.

On Tuesday, he was welcomed home by his 82-year-old mother, his son and his grandson – both named Malcolm, and other relatives.

Earlier in the day, A Jefferson Parish judge vacated Alexander’s 1980 aggravated rape conviction and his mandatory life sentence after finding that Alexander had not been provided with adequate legal assistance, and that DNA evidence discovered in 2013 excluded Alexander as a suspect in the sexual assault.

After the ruling, Alexander did not return to the prison, where both his belongings and his dog remained.

innocenceThe next day, he was reunited with the huge black Lab, Nola.com reported.

“You ain’t got nothing to worry about no more,” he told the 9-month-old pup upon reuniting with him. “I told you we gonna be free. I told you they was gonna get us out.”

Alexander’s case was undertaken by The Innocence Project, which helped him gain his freedom.

Alexander had raised the dog since shortly after his birth. He named the dog Innocence, and calls him Inn for short.

Inn was born at the prison to another dog at the facility, according to Vanessa Potkin, an attorney with The Innocence Project.

Potkin and other staffers traveled to Angola Wednesday to retrieve Inn and Alexander’s property and return them to Alexander.

(Photo: Michelle Hunter \ NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Brain-damaged lawyer in Iowa continues to fight — and fight roughly — for dogs

mcclearyA Des Moines attorney known as “the dog lawyer” has been creating some major headaches since unleashing himself on the judicial system.

Jaysen McCleary, who has a mental disability linked to a trash can falling from a garbage truck onto his head, won a $2.1 million settlement from the city of Des Moines.

And he has gone on to fight for dogs in the area, often challenging local ordinances that regulate pit bulls. In the process, though, his critics say, he has filed frivolous claims, made a “farce” of the judicial process and offended countless judges and fellow attorneys.

He was profiled last week in the Des Moines Register — in an article whose publication he sought to block through a lawsuit.

The Register portrayed the 47-year-old former investment adviser as a man of above average intellect, with a law degree, 10 years of legal experience and the support of many of his clients — including the 10 whose dogs whose lives he helped save.

To do that, though, he has resorted to dragging his cases out, filing numerous ethics complaints against judges and demanding extra time and support because of his disability. He has made criminal allegations against another lawyer, and once told a Polk County judge he was “no better than the scum” sitting in the county jail.

McCleary has tied up his opponents with litigation and overlapping lawsuits that have cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal fees, the article said.

He blames his outbursts on attention deficit disorder and an acute working-memory deficiency, both a result of the brain injury that was caused when a trash can full of frozen dog feces fell off a truck and landed on his head.

“My disability has caused me to be extremely misunderstood and, as a result, less effective,” McCleary told the Register in November.

Over the past six years, he has filed at least 34 lawsuits, many of which include overlapping claims. In 26 lawsuits in which he has been involved, a city, county or their animal-control unit is named as a defendant.

Des Moines officials say that over the past 16 months, the city’s legal department has devoted at least 500 hours of staff time, all at taxpayers’ expense, to litigation involving McCleary.

In September, the chief judge of Iowa’s 5th Judicial District sanctioned McCleary for using the courts to harass Des Moines city officials and needlessly increase the city’s legal expenses.

In the past five years, McCleary or his co-counsel, Cami Eslick, have asked at least 18 judges to recuse themselves from cases in which McCleary is involved, in some cases citing the judges’ alleged bias, “personal animosity” or “deep hatred” of McCleary. The two attorneys also have filed ethics complaints against 10 judges.

Eslick said McCleary believes the city isn’t following its own laws and policies when it comes to euthanizing dogs it considers dangerous.

“These animals don’t have a voice,” she said. “He wants the court to take these cases seriously, and sometimes they don’t. … He’s incredibly smart, and he has a passion to help these animals.”

(Photo: Jaysen McCleary)

He wanted a lawyer, dawg, not a lawyer dog

entrapmentClearly, there’s a bit of a cultural divide between the gritty streets of New Orleans and the plush chambers of the Louisiana Supreme Court.

And that might explain why the state justices denied a request to hear the appeal of a man awaiting trial who says remarks he made to police after he asked for “a lawyer dog” were used against him.

Apparently the state Supreme Court, didn’t buy his contention that he was asking for “a lawyer, dawg.”

So, for the lack of a comma in a transcript, he’s facing a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Asking for “a lawyer dog,” the state’s high court said, was an “ambiguous” request.

Here, based on police transcripts, is exactly what Warren Demesme told a detective:

“This is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog cause this is not what’s up.”

In an attempt to suppress what police said was a confession, Demesme contended that police denied his constitutional right to an attorney when they questioned him two years ago.

But to the Supreme Court, asking for a “lawyer dog” wasn’t a clear enough request to make clear he was attempting to exercise his Miranda rights.

Apparently, under the courts thinking, he could have been asking to be represented by an actual lawyer dog — maybe an F. Lee Beagle or a Johnnie Cockerspaniel, or that lawyer dog who appears in recurring dog memes. (That’s him, above)

All of this would be laughable (or mildly amusing) if not for the serious of the case.

Warren DemesmeDemesme, 24, was arrested in October 2015 on allegations that he sexually assaulted two juvenile victims, including the rape of one preteen girl. He faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of the rape charge, NOLA.com reports.

Justices voted 6-1 last week to deny the writ application of Demesme, who awaits trial in Orleans Parish on charges of first-degree rape and indecent behavior with a juvenile under 13.

Demesme was seeking to suppress a purportedly incriminating statement made to NOPD sex crimes detective Nijel Baddoo. Demesme admitted to sexually assaulting one of the child accusers, but denied doing so to the other, according to arrest documents.

State Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton concurred with the majority opinion issued late Friday that Demesme did not clearly invoke his right to counsel.

Crichton cited a 2002 state Supreme Court decision that requires a certain level of clarity in a suspect or defendant’s request for counsel.

“As this court has written, ‘If a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that is ambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable police officer in light of the circumstances would have understood only that the suspect might be invoking his right to counsel, the cessation of questioning is not required,'” Crichton wrote.

In both recorded interviews with police, Demesme was read his Miranda rights, said he understood them and waived those rights, Crichton said.

“In my view, the defendant’s ambiguous and equivocal reference to a ‘lawyer dog’ does not constitute an invocation of counsel that warrants termination of the interview,” he wrote.

$1.26 million awarded to family of dog shot and killed by police officer in Maryland

vern

A jury has awarded $1.26 million to a Maryland family whose dog was shot and killed by police in 2014 — the largest award ever in the U.S. for such a case, according to the law firm that represented the family.

According to a press release from the Hansel Law firm in Baltimore, the verdict came after a three-day trial in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County.

“The duty to serve and protect extends to our animal family members as well,” said Cary J. Hansel, the attorney for Michael Reeves of Glen Burnie.

Reeves’ four-year-old retriever, Vern, was shot by an officer responding to a burglary call in Reeves’ neighborhood.

Anne Arundel County police officer Officer Rodney Price claimed he was attacked by Vern, but forensic evidence presented at the trial led the jury to conclude otherwise.

vern2Vern was a Chesapeake Bay retriever. The breed is the state dog of Maryland.

The officer encountered the dog in the family’s front yard, and the officer said the dog barked and ran toward him.

During the trial, the officer admitted that the dog did not bite or injure him before he fired his weapon. The officer also said no other steps were taken to deal with the dog before the dog was shot two times, the Capital Gazette reported.

A necropsy performed at the request of Anne Arundel County police showed that one bullet entered the dog’s sternum, and another bullet entered the dog’s side, at a time when the dog’s body was perpendicular to the gun.

Attorney Hansel said that evidence contradicted Price’s testimony regarding how the shooting occurred.

An internal investigation by the police department earlier determined the dog had behaved aggressively. Price remains with the police department.

The jury found that Price was not attacked by the dog, that the shooting violated Reeves’ constitutional rights, and that it was committed with gross negligence.

Reeves got Vern in 2009 and took a year off work to train him. He declined to comment after the verdict.

The $1.26 million verdict includes $500,000 in monetary damages and $760,000 in damages for the anguish caused by the shooting.

The firm says the award was the largest ever in a case of a dog shot and killed by a police officer.

The Department of Justice estimates that about 10,000 dogs are shot by law enforcement officers every year in the United States.

Deaf dog helps abused children be heard

karl2

A deaf boxer in Florida is helping abused children be heard, by helping them get through the trauma of testifying in court.

Karl, a 5-year-old therapy dog, was born deaf, but that might actually assist him in calmly and quietly performing his duties with the Orange County K-9th Circuit Program.

“He doesn’t hear all the noise,” said Karl’s owner and trainer Joanne Hart-Rittenhouse told News 13. “So he’s not going to react to yelling, banging, all the other things that can happen during a case.”

karl1Children who are testifying at a trial enter the courtroom before the jury is seated, with the dog on a leash. The dog lies at their feet, hidden from the jury’s view, while they testify.

Karl’s presence helps children summon the courage to face the microphone and speak — usually as the accused watches.

“One of the questions a child had asked me, the person who had hurt her that was in the courtroom with her, If he comes over and tries to hurt me, will Karl protect me?’

“I doubt very much that he would do anything,” Hart-Rittenhouse said. “But if that’s what made the child feel better, then absolutely, he’s going to protect you.”

“Most of them won’t testify, won’t go through a deposition, if they don’t have a dog beside them,” she added.

Karl’s owner stays in the courtroom, hearing the testimony that Karl will never hear, and Karl stays available to the children even after the court case is over.

“We’ll be there as long as the child wants Karl to stay in their life,” Hart-Rittenhouse said. “He’s helped a lot of children.”

Karl is one of six therapy dogs providing support through the non-profit Companions for Courage that works in courtrooms and hospitals.

The Ninth Circuit is the first Florida circuit to utilize both pet therapy dog teams and professionally trained handlers.

(Photos: Amanda McKenzie, News 13)

With his dog facing euthanasia, owner adopts another to use as a decoy

A Cincinnati area man whose dog was ordered put down after it attacked another dog tried to pull a fast one on the local SPCA.

Jason Dotson, as ordered by a court, turned over a pit bull mix for euthanization alright — but it was not the one court ordered to be put down.

Instead it was one he adopted just days earlier.

Dotson, 32, of Springfield Township, was sentenced to 28 days in jail for trying to get the SPCA to euthanize the decoy dog.

“In my 10 years as a judge, I can’t recall a more cold and heartless act,” said Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Brad Greenberg.

According to FOX 19, Dotson’s original dog was not on a leash when it attacked a therapy dog and its owner as they were walking.

Police say the pit bull caused severe injuries to the therapy dog, who has been recovering for the last few months.

Dotson was charged with failing to confine his animal and he was ordered to put the dog down. But when he brought the substitute dog to the SPCA to be euthanized an “alert” worker spotted the difference in the dog’s coloring.

Through a microchip, the SPCA confirmed it was a different dog.

“Defendant brought a dog that wasn’t his dog, said it was his dog, and turned that over to the SPCA so they would destroy an innocent dog that hadn’t done anything to anybody,” said Ryan Nelson, assistant Hamilton County prosecutor.

Dotson had adopted the dog nine days earlier according to Fox 19, two days earlier according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

He was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

The original dog has since been put down, according to SPCA officials.

Baby, the pit bull puppy who Dotson tried to pass off as his other dog, remains with the SPCA and will be getting a second chance at adoption.

One very brave piece of “property”

mickNormally, we would call Mick, a Portland, Oregon, police dog killed in the line of duty this week, a hero.

Or maybe even a life-saver, which is how his partner, Officer Jeff Dorn, referred to him while recuperating in a hospital  from two gunshot wounds fired by the same burglary suspect who fatally gunned down Mick.

But according, at least, to an Oregon Court of Appeals decision — issued the very same day Mick died while trying to apprehend the fleeing, gun-firing suspect — Mick, being a dog, was merely “property.”

The court ruling wasn’t about Mick — instead it stemmed from an abuse case — but the timing and juxtaposition of the two stories serve to make a point that society, and lawmakers, and law enforcers, and courts, ought to start heeding.

Dogs aren’t toasters.

Mick joined the Portland Police Bureau K-9 Unit in March. After only a few days on the job, police, he captured three suspects within a 10-hour period. On Wednesday, he was with Dorn, chasing down a fleeing burglary suspect, when he was shot.

“Officer Dorn would like the community to know that ‘Mick saved my life,’ ” Portland police Sgt. Pete Simpson said in a press release.

“The dog was doing its job. He was out there protecting our community, and it’s tragic that we lost the dog,” said Portland Police Chief Mike Reese.

dornandmickAfter Mick’s body was recovered, a procession of police cars followed him to a veterinarian’s office, according to a report in Wednesday’s Oregonian, but it was too late.

On the same day Mick died, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a ruling declaring — in line with what all the law books say — that dogs are “property.”

As such, the three-judge panel ruled, dogs can’t be seized and examined without a warrant, even if the purpose is to save a dog’s life.

The legal view of dogs as — above all else — property both degrades and endangers man’s best friend, and can make it difficult for animal-cruelty investigators to provide help to beaten, starved or neglected pets.

Changing that age-old view would require throwing away a lot of law books, and it would require judges to finally start showing half the backbone Mick did.

It’s time to make a legal distinction between inanimate “property” that has no soul, and “property” (if we must call them that) that does have a soul.

The Court of Appeals Wednesday did the opposite, throwing out the conviction of a 28-year-old woman who, based on evidence from a veterinarian who tested and treated the animal without a warrant, was found guilty of starving her dog, the Oregonian reported.

After an informant told the Oregon Humane Society that Amanda L. Newcomb was beating her dog and failing to properly feed it, an animal-cruelty investigator went to Newcomb’s apartment in December 2010 and saw the dog in the yard “in a near emaciated condition.”

Newcomb told the investigator she was out of dog food and that she was going to get some more, but the investigator  determined the dog likely needed medical care and brought the dog to a Humane Society vet for an examination.

That exam, according to the appeals court ruling, constituted unreasonable search and seizure of property — namely, Newcomb’s dog.

While the investigator had probable cause to seize the dog without a warrant, the court said, the “search” — i.e. medical exam — of the dog violated Newcomb’s privacy rights because the authorities hadn’t obtained a warrant.

The ruling effectively overturns her conviction on charges of second-degree animal neglect, and the original judge’s orders for her to serve one year of probation and not possess animals for five years.

It could also serve to hamper animal cruelty investigations across the state.

Maybe worst of all, it confirms the foolish concept that dogs — despite their heroics, despite their loyalty, despite their having character traits that we humans can only envy — are, first and foremost, property, a wrongful designation that legally, if not in reality, seems to trump all else.