Judges & prosecutors weigh dog attacks

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2002:

Civil law

Issuing one of the first court verdicts to weigh a conflict
between the right of a legally disabled person to keep a companion
animal and the duty of landlords to protect tenants from dangerous
dogs, U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled on August 8, 2002
that the San Francisco landlord of Guy Lowe, 38, met the
requirements of federal law and the California Fair Employment and
Housing Commission by allowing legally disabled persons to keep small
dogs, and that Lowe, whose claimed disability is severe depression,
acted unreasonably in demanding to keep a pit bull terrier. “The
potentially catastrophic consequences of a pit bull attack must be
considered, even if the risk of that attack is remote,” Judge Alsup

The Board of Supervisors in Tehama County, California, on
August 20 rejected a wrongful death claim by Antonio and Laura
Novach, parents of Genoe Novach, age 6, who was killed on February
7 by three Rottweiler/pug mixes who had escaped from the yard of
retired Red Bluff police officer Charles Schneider. The Novach
family contends that the county negligently ignored neighborhood
complaints about the dogs. The supervisors’ action allows the family
to proceed with a lawsuit.
Mauled in Brookfield, Connecticut, by a neighbor’s
110-pound bull mastiff, Dawson Stout, age three, in July 2002 won
an out-of-court damage award of $902,400. Malcolm Piper, however,
who was six when severely mauled by a neighbor’s 125-pound English
mastiff in Waco, Texas, won a settlement of just $330,000 a month
later in an otherwise very similar case.
A jury in Pierce County, Wash-ington, on July 24 ordered
building contractor George Stegmeier, his wife Virginia, and his
sons Jonathan and Aaron, all of Tacoma, to pay $1.34 million to
realtor and musical booking agent Mary Kay Moisio, 66, for knee
injuries Moisio suffered in 1999 when knocked down by Jonathan
Stegmeier’s Rottweiler. Moisio was showing a home under construction
by George Stegmeier, whose sons were living at the site. The
Rottweiler was tethered at a length that enabled her to reach the
driveway, where the incident occurred. The Stegmeiers reportedly
filed immediately for a reduction of the award and a new trial.
The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled on July 12 that dog
groomer Kathy Jordan, as temporary custodian of a chow belonging to
Kevin Lusby, could not sue Lusby for a facial bite in absence of any
specific evidence that Lusby knew the dog was vicious and misled her
about the risk. Wrote Judge Julia Tackett, for a three-judge panel,
“When Jordan accepted the dog for grooming, she assumed the risk of
being bitten. ‘Owner’ in this case does not simply mean a person
with a property interest in the dog. The statute does not make a
distinction between the legal owner or a second party owner; we see
no reason to create one here.”

Criminal law

Marie Kessler, 33, of Lake Wales, Florida, on August 22
drew two years on probation after pleading guilty to owning a
dangerous dog who caused severe injury or death. The felony
conviction will be reduced to a misdemeanor if Kessler completes
probation. Steven Avery Coleman, 39, of Waverly, Florida, is
scheduled for trial in September on the same charge. Kessler owned a
50-pound pit bull mix named Roscoe who was declared dangerous after
biting an 11-year-old boy in June 2001. Coleman took Roscoe, but in
August 2001 the dog escaped from Coleman’s yard and mauled Summer
Henson, age 2, who was hospitalized for nine days. Her father,
Dale Henson, shot Roscoe but failed to kill him. Coleman then shot
Roscoe dead.
Attorney Marjorie Knoller, 47, convicted of allowing two
Presa Canario dogs to escape from her control and kill neighbor Diane
Whipple, 33, in January 2001, on July 15 drew the four-year
maximum sentence for manslaughter from San Francisco Superior Court
Judge James Warren–the same penalty that Warren earlier imposed on
Knoller’s husband, fellow attorney Robert Noel. With credit for
time served and time off for good behavior, both are expected to
spend about one more year in custody. Warren on June 17 voided the
March 21 jury conviction of Knoller for second degree murder.
As the Knoller sentence was pending, former pit bull terrier
owners Carl and Kim Smith of Cagelsville, Arkansas, were charged
with manslaughter for the death of Carolyn Joann Shatswell, 50, of
Scottsville, whose mauled body the Smiths found in woods near their
home in October 2001.
Circuit Court Judge John Brady of Juneau County, Wisconsin,
on August 20 refused a defense motion to dismiss three felony counts
of being party to homicide and first degree reckless endangerment
brought against Wayne Hardy, 24, whose six Rottweilers killed
Alicia Lynn Clark, 10, in February 2002. Hardy’s companion Shanda
McCracken, 32, faces the same charges. No trial date has been set.
McCracken could get up to 38 years in prison if convicted of all
charges. Hardy could get 72 years because he has a prior felony
Christopher Fettes, 21, of Springfield, Massachusetts, on
August 12 drew six months in jail, with two years suspended and
three years on probation, for unleashing his pit bull terrier
against his cousin’s 65-year-old landlady in June 2001. Fettes was
also ordered to pay restitution of $1,193, perform 200 hours of
community service, apologize in writing to the victim, and undergo
anger management counseling.
Mary Graham, 49, of Huntington Station, New York, was
charged with reckless endangerment and misdemeanor assault on July 15
after her three allegedly free-running pit bull terriers mauled a
leashed Siberian husky belonging to Richard Robbins, 44, of
Melville, N.Y., and then severely bit Robbins, who bit back.
Police Lieutenant Kenneth Fasano told Long Island Newsday that Graham
knew her dogs were potentially dangerous when she unleashed them at
the Birchwood Elementary School in Melville for a Saturday morning
run. Although July 15 was not a school day, the schoolyard is
heavily used by neighbors for recreational activities.
Ottumwa, Iowa police sergeant Mike Tupper announced on
August 28 that no charges would be filed against Richard and Darcy
Shepherd in connection with the August 27 fatal mauling of their
youngest of three children, CharLee, 21 months, by their two pit
bull terriers. The Ottumwa health department, however, ruled the
Shepherd house unfit to live in pending completion of 26 specific
repairs to the wiring and plumbing.

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