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Tag: jury

$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.

Why not just drive off, cable guy?

cleoOut of Monroe County, Michigan, comes the story of a cable guy who shot and killed a “threatening” dog while on duty.

We’ve come to expect this behavior from police officers, and regularly bash them for making snap judgments to end a life because a dog is running towards them in what they perceive — sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly — to be an aggressive manner.

But possibly even scarier than that is the idea of a cable guy who is toting a gun, and  making that judgment.

In this case, Martel Travis had arrived at a home when he was approached by Cleo, a three-year-old chocolate Lab mix who lived next door.

Travis told police, after the incident, that the dog was acting aggressively, so he walked away from the home and to his service truck, where he retrieved his gun and shot the dog.

We can’t help but ask, once he was back in his truck, why didn’t he just drive away?

Is installing cable so important that gunning down a dog is preferable to coming back another day, perhaps one when the neighbors have been called and asked to keep their dog inside?

To consider this a killing that occurred in the “line of duty” is a joke.

But somehow, a jury saw clear to acquit him of the charge the prosecutor’s office filed  — animal killing/ torturing, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.

The Monroe News reports that the jury deliberated about an hour before rendering their verdict.

“This has revived my faith in the criminal justice system,” said Marlon B. Evans, the Detroit lawyer who represented Travis. “… He was at work, doing his job and he had a right to defend himself.”

Monroe County Assistant Prosecutor Ronald Benore Jr. called six witnesses to testify in the one and a half day trial, and argued that Travis overreacted and shot the dog unnecessarily.

“The jury must have believed he was in fear of his life or in danger,” Benore said.

The dog’s owners, Brian and Melissa Doran, said they were shocked at the verdict.

Cleo was never aggressive and was merely trying to greet Travis, they added.

We won’t second guess the jury (much), but we will second guess the cable guy:  Once he returned to his vehicle to get his gun (which he has a license to carry), why didn’t he just remain inside and make a call, or drive off?

(Photo courtesy of the Doran family)

Phoenix case ends in mistrial

The  trial of Travers and Tremayne Johnson ended in a mistrial tonight.

Jurors were unable to come to an agreement about the brothers’ guilt or innocence on any of the four animal cruelty charges against the twins accused in the 2009 fatal burning of a dog nicknamed Phoenix.

The brothers, the Baltimore Sun reported, smiled as the result was read about 6:30 p.m., after a third day of jury deliberation.

Phoenix’s death outraged animal activists nationwide, who collectively donated thousands to find the dog’s attackers, and led to the creation of an Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force. The commission’s report found the city’s response to animal abuse was lacking — a finding the trial of the brothers seemed to reinforce.

Defense attorneys repeatedly pointed out the flaws in the investigation that followed the May 27, 2009 incident.

The dog had been doused with accelerant and lit on fire, burning until a police officer ran from her car and smothered the flames with her sweater.

But according to testimony, the crime scene was never secured, photographed or otherwise documented and it wasn’t assigned to police investigators for a week.

Jury, struggling to reach verdict, will reassemble Monday in “Phoenix” case

Jurors in the trial of the twin brothers Travers and Tremayne Johnson — accused of setting a pit bull known as “Phoenix” on fire in the summer of 2009 — will resume their deliberations Monday.

They were sent home Friday, unable to come to a consensus after a day and a half on whether Travers and Tremayne Johnson should be found guilty of the crime, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Twice on Friday, the jurors told Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill they were having trouble reaching a verdict. The judge urged them to continue deliberating.

“Do not hesitate to re-examine your view,” he said. “You should change your opinion if you are convinced you are wrong.”

The jury continued deliberating until about 6:30 p.m. before being excused for the weekend.

Trial resumes for two brothers charged in burning death of Phoenix, a pit bull

The much-delayed trial for Travers and Tremayne Johnson — two Baltimore  brothers charged with animal cruelty in connection with death of a pit bull named Phoenix — will resume Monday morning.

The opening of the trial was postponed Friday due to courtroom scheduling problems. In addition, one of the suspects, Travers Johnson, who is in custody on unrelated attempted-murder charges, was not transported to court in time, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Pretrial motions will be heard, and jury selection is scheduled to begin, on Monday.

The brothers are accused of dousing a pit bull puppy with gasoline and setting her on fire in 2009. The dog, nicknamed Phoenix by its rescuers, struggled several days to survive, but had to be euthanized when her organs began to fail.

Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill is expected to assemble a larger-than-average pool of potential jurors in hopes of finding some not familar with the case, which received national attention.

According to the Sun, attorneys expect the trial to last between two and six days.

Defense motions have been filed to suppress Travers Johnson’s statement to police, and certain witness identifications. Additional motions raise issues with city surveillance videos, a witness who has expressed a desire to recant, and whether the prosecution can include references to the teens’ tattoos and alleged gang involvement.

The Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS), which cared for Phoenix briefly, has asked animal advocates not to attend the trial as space is limited and “too much representation from the animal community could potentially hurt Phoenix’s case.”

Instead, BARCS suggested supporters wait until after a verdict and, if the brothers are found guilty, that they attend the sentencing hearing.

“If there is a conviction in this case, community participation will be needed and appreciated at the sentencing hearing,” BARCS said in a letter to supporters. “We will notify the community of this hearing if indeed these defendants are found guilty.”

Eckhart found guilty of animal cruelty

A jury has found the former owner of Pennsylvania’s Almost Heaven kennel guilty on several counts of animal cruelty.

Derbe “Skip” Eckhart was cleared on a number of other charges.

The jury, which began deliberating Monday afternoon, returned to the judge’s chamber twice and came back with a partial verdict just before 6 p.m.

Out of 13 total counts, Eckhart was found guilty of only four, WFMZ reported. Two of those were for animal cruelty; two were for license violations.

The jury found him not guilty on four other counts and could not make a decision on five more.

“We respect the jury, but we’re not satisfied,” said Eckhart defense attorney Jeff Conrad, when asked about the verdict. “We wanted a full acquittal.”

Prosecutors said Eckhart neglected hundreds of animals and kept them in deplorable conditions inside his Upper Milford Township, Lehigh County kennel. Eckhart and his attorney claimed the former kennel owner was well-intentioned, but got in over his head, and that televised raids which led to the trial were a ploy by overzealous animal law enforcement officials.

Eckhart’s sentencing is scheduled for May 18.

Trial for ex-owner of Almost Heaven begins

Testimony began yesterday in the trial for Derbe “Skip” Eckhart, accused of animal cruelty and dog law violations at the kennel he operated in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

The first witness, a state dog warden, described conditions at the Almost Heaven Kennel — shut down by authorities last year — as “foul,” according to the Allentown Morning Call.

“I couldn’t breathe. I wish I could give you what I smell in my mind right now. I’ll never forget it. Ever,” Kristin Donmoyer testified, recounting what she saw during an October 2008 raid at the kennel in Upper Milford Township

She said drains inside the kennel were filled with feces and stagnant liquid that could attract pests and promote disease. “This was foul,” Donmoyer testified. “You couldn’t walk past it without gagging.” She said she saw accumulations of feces, soiled and saturated animal bedding, “gunk” covered fencing, rusty pipes, exposed fiberglass and ripped up flooring.

The state Department of Agriculture found the violations to be so egregious, she said, that it revoked Eckhart’s breeding and boarding licenses.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Conrad, in his opening statement Monday, had warned the jury that they would see some excrement in the trial:

”Are you gonna see turds? You betcha,” he said.

”That fella right there is Derbe ‘Skip’ Eckhart,” Conrad said during his opening. ”This fella right here loves dogs, loves critters … The problem with this guy is that Skip can’t say no to any mutt. That guy right there is just dumb enough to take your ugly dog.”

The defense attorney said Eckhart is the innocent victim of officials seeking media attention: ”Those folks at the Department of Agriculture and the SPCA love money and they love headlines,” he said. “What we have here is a man that loves animals and a government that loves headlines.”