No arrests, no charges, but lawsuit in Petaluma shelter case

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1996:

PETALUMA, Calif.––Sonoma County district
attorney J. Michael Mullins on December 1 said there was no
evidence to support criminal charges pertaining to the operation
of the Petaluma animal shelter by Thunder and Lightning’s
Cause, but as 1995 ended, the shelter remained under interim
administration by the Humane Society of Sonoma County.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported on
December 22 that the Petaluma city council “is considering terminating
TLC’s contract because of lingering concerns over
finances and recent complaints of animal mistreatment.”
Attorney Richard Day, representing TLC, reportedly
demanded after charges were not filed that TLC be put back in
charge of the shelter, that Petaluma compensate TLC for lost
income and legal fees, and that the city apologize for ousting
TLC from the shelter on November 8. According to the Press
Democrat, “The city’s settlement proposal apparently does not
include putting TLC back in control of the shelter.”
TLC won a three-year contract to run the shelter in
July, bidding $200,700; HSSC bid $226,000. TLC backers
allege that claims of mismanagement were concocted by city
officials who favored HSSC, which resumed running the shelter
on November 9.
ANIMAL PEOPLE heard of the eviction on
November 13 from Patricia Zimmerman, of Petaluma, who
said she and other TLC backers were calling media and animal
protection groups on behalf of TLC director Janet Coppini.
Requesting coverage, Zimmerman stated repeatedly that
Coppini had been “arrested” without charges and the shelter
shut by police. Zimmerman acknowledged “severe overcrowding”
at the shelter, but said a mobile unit to house cats was to
have been “plugged in” on November 9, and blamed cases of
kennel cough on the previous administration by HSSC.
ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton advised
that Coppini and TLC should get legal counsel. Zimmerman
said they were having difficulty finding a local attorney who
didn’t have a business relationship with Petaluma. Clifton
asked if Coppini and/or TLC had called either animal law specialist
Larry Weiss, who has a background in criminal law, or
the Animal Legal Defense Fund, both with offices in nearby
towns. At Zimmerman’s request, Clifton provided their telephone
Clifton requested TLC’s IRS Form 990; shelter statistics;
copies of the shelter contract bids; local press coverage;
and copies of any statements from either Coppini or TLC.
Zimmerman said she would ask Coppini what items could be
sent. While she did, Clifton faxed Weiss, advising him that
Zimmerman or Coppini might call. Already aware of the case,
Weiss confirmed by fax the particulars as stated in Clifton’s
note. Zimmerman called back to say Coppini had found a
lawyer, and that as much of the requested information as possible
would follow. She declined to give Coppini’s telephone
number, saying Coppini had been advised not to talk to media.
The promised information from Zimmerman and/or
Coppini never came, but based on extensive discussion of the
“arrest” and surrounding circumstances with Zimmerman, both
before and after her interruption of the conversation to call
Coppini, together with confirmation of many of the circumstances
via other sources, ANIMAL PEOPLE took brief
notice of the situation on page 17 of our December edition.
ion which said Coppini’s “attempt at no-kill animal
control apparently ended with her arrest over unspecified
alleged financial irregularities amid complaints about overcrowding
and disease in the shelter.” According to Noel, “Ms.
Coppini was not arrested, either as your article states or for any
other charge.” Noel concluded, “Please have your insurance
carrier contact me immediately. If a satisfactory resolution is
not concluded by noon, San Francisco time, December 29,
1995, we will file suit against you for compensatory and punitive
damages in San Francisco Superior Court.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE had been contacted for other reasons
by other people claiming to represent Coppini and/or TLC,
including Day earlier the same day, and was aware that Mullins
had ultimately decided not to file any charges against either
Coppini or anyone else involved with TLC. However, Noel’s
demand was our first information from any source that contrary
to Clifton’s understanding from Zimmerman, Coppini had not
been arrested.
ANIMAL PEOPLE responded, “We welcome Ms.
Coppini’s written statement, including as to the particulars of
her apparent disagreement with the statements of Ms.
Zimmerman on her behalf to ANIMAL PEOPLE.”
At deadline, ANIMAL PEOPLE had received no
statement from Coppini, but was notified by fax that Noel did
on December 29 file a defamation suit claiming, “Plaintiff had
not been arrested; plaintiff had not been arrested over alleged
financial irregularities; plaintiff had not been arrested over
alleged financial irregularities amid complaints about overcrowding
and disease in the Petaluma Animal Shelter.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE has retained a nationally noted
attorney to defend if the suit is actually served.
An independent source has confirmed that Janet
Coppini was not arrested. We are pleased to correct the statement
that Janet Coppini was arrested, which, though erroneous,
was made in good faith, according to the best information
available to us at that time.
Recently obtained copies of coverage of the Petaluma
shelter dispute published by the Press-Democrat and the
Petaluma Argus-Courier confirm that the police seizure of the
shelter was due to unspecified alleged financial irregularities
amid complaints about overcrowding and disease. Both papers
discussed an ongoing criminal investigation of business practices
from their editions of November 10 until after Mullins’
December 1 decision not to file charges. Public discussion of
overcrowding and disease in the Petaluma Animal Shelter surfaced
in the A r g u s – C o u r i e r of November 10, and continued
intermittently in both papers at least through December 22,
when the Argus-Courier reported that according to a statement
by TLC veterinarian Jona Sun Jordan, “accusations by HSSC
director Dan Knapp that animals were improperly kenneled,
sick animals were put in with healthy ones, two dogs had kennel
cough, kennels weren’t cleaned and were overcrowded are
not true.” The Press-Democrat carried similar but briefer coverage
of Jordan’s statement.

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