Fresno County, California and Montgomery County, Ohio lead U.S. in fatal dog attacks since 2005
Q– What did five recent victims of nearly fatal or fatal pit bull attacks identified during the last week of April 2017 have in common?
A – All five victims were killed or suffered critical injuries in communities that are hotbeds of pro-pit bull advocacy. All five attacks occurred at addresses that were reportedly the scene of previous pit bull mayhem, where pit bulls remained despite neighbor complaints, violations of licensing requirements, and in one instance, evidence of having already killed a man.
Safety agencies intimidated & co-opted
Involving only about as many pit bull attacks as any week in recent years, but more fatalities, the week of bloodshed illustrates the extent to which public safety agencies have become intimidated and co-opted by organized pit bull advocacy.
Some of the agencies involved in the recent string of nearly fatal and fatal pit bull attacks have for whatever reason failed to effectively enforce laws meant to protect the public.
Obfuscating bloody realities
Some, especially animal care and control agencies, have gone farther, helping pit bull advocates to obfuscate the bloody realities by not accurately identifying the dogs involved in attacks by breed and description, and by issuing statements such as that “Any dog can bite.”
Suzette Laughton, 52, and Michael Mager, 51, of Roseville, Michigan, were in critical condition, the man listed as “very critical,” after a pit bull belonging to their 29-year-old son Robert Laughton mauled them about about 9 p.m. on the evening of April 30, 2017. Laughton was charged with two counts of owning a dangerous animal causing serious injury.
Said Robert Laughton to Ann Zaniewski and Christina Hall of the Detroit Free Press, “My dog was a very fun-loving dog. He was very playful. He loved my mom. …They’re like human beings. Sometimes they have mental illnesses, and it’s very possible he had one, and he snapped.”
Suzette Laughton and Michael Mager were critically injured two weeks after the same pit bull mauled both victims in a separate attack, causing Robert Laughton to be ticketed for allegedly harboring a dangerous animal.
Why didn’t the cops shoot?
At the scene of the attack, wrote Detroit News reporter James David Dickson, “Outside of the home, officers met a bloody 52-year-old woman. Her husband was still in the house, the woman said. And he had been attacked, too.”
The male victim was seen “unconscious on the living room floor, suffering from horrific bites to his arms and face,” according to the police incident report.
“But the dog ‘was present and was extremely aggressive,’” Dickson continued, “to the point the emergency personnel didn’t feel safe entering the home. It was only when an officer went to the back door and pounded on it to distract the dog, who walked toward the noise, that paramedics were able to enter and remove the man. When the dog returned to the front of the home, a firefighter used a taser, which kept the dog neutralized long enough to remove the man.”
Both victims were downlisted to serious condition within a few days, but the major questions raised by the incident remained unanswered. First among those questions was why the neither the first responding police officer nor a second veteran officer who soon reached the scene shot the pit bull to save the male victim?
Why did both police officers reportedly leave the taser use to a firefighter?
Why did the firefighter not use a fire extinguisher, the most effective weapon against dog attacks other than firearms, according to ANIMALS 24-7 analysis of attack data?
Local protest over taser use
The answer may have been in broadcasts six weeks earlier.
Reported Matthew Smith of WXYZ News/Detroit on March 12, 2017, “A police department is facing questions from the public following a dog capture that was caught on camera. A pair of police officers from the Roseville Police Department appear on camera attempting to capture a dog that had been running through the streets. You can hear a taser being used repeatedly up until the dog is placed inside of a Roseville Police Department cruiser.”
Video of the tasering infuriated the local organization Detroit Pit Crew, and brought a barrage of complaints and criticisms that appears to have inhibited the first responders on April 30, 2017 from immediately using the lethal force that the situation required, if the male victim was to be rescued with the least possible delay.
Roster of casualties
The Roseville attack concluded a week in which U.S. Air Force veteran Maurice Brown, age 60, of Dayton, Ohio, was on April 25, 2017 killed by a pit bull outside a home at 345 Middle Street; Lisa Green, 32, of Upper Macungie Township, Pennsylvania, was on April 27, 2017 killed by her own adopted pit bull on the back deck of her home; and Robert Lee Simonian, 74, of Fresno, California, was revealed by court proceedings to have allegedly been killed on July 5, 2016 by the same three pit bulls who were earlier impounded by law enforcement but released, after allegedly killing Valente Lopez Aguirre, 58, on April 14, 2016.
Fourth death on chief’s watch since he won law change
Brown became the fourth dog attack fatality in Montgomery County since Montgomery County Animal Resources Center director Mark Kumpf, working closely with the pro-pit bull Animal Farm Foundation and Best Friends Animal Society, was instrumental in 2011 repealing an Ohio state law defining “any breed commonly known as a pit bull dog” as inherently vicious.
Kumpf used his influence as a longtime board member with both the National Animal Control Association and the Ohio Dog Wardens Association to help secure the repeal of legislation which the Ohio Dog Wardens Association under earlier leadership had always defended.
Court ruled that Kumpf can be sued
Had the law remained in effect, it might have saved the lives of Dawn Juergens, 75, killed by her own two cane corsos, commonly considered “pit bull-type dogs,” on September 1, 2012; Klonda Richey, 57, killed by her neighbors’ two cane corsos on February 7, 2014; and Jonathan Quarles, seven months, killed on July 20, 2014 by a pit bull in the home of his grandmother, Kimiko Hardy.
The Ohio Second Appellate District Court of Appeals on July 29, 2016 ruled that a lawsuit for alleged negligence brought against Kumpf by Barbara Schneider, executor for the Richey estate, may proceed. The case is apparently still pending.
Kumpf has made no public statements concerning the Maurice Brown fatal mauling and prior pit bull history at the scene of Brown’s death.
59 complaints without effective response
Richey, an employee of Montgomery County Children Services, had filed 13 complaints with the Animal Resource Center about the dogs who eventually killed her, and had called the Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center 46 times between December 27, 2011, and her death.
Many of Richey’s complaints alleged that the dogs had chased her. Two complaints specifically alleged that the dogs’ owners, Andrew Nason and Julie Custer, had directly threatened her with attack.
Nason and Custer were in in April 2015 convicted on two counts each of failure to control dogs.
Hardy, 38, on August 4, 2014 was convicted of allowing a pit bull to attack another dog, in an incident occurring about a month before the Quarles attack. Euthanized a month later, the pit bull had also previously attacked a mail carrier.
Convicted on June 9, 2016 of six counts pertaining to the attack that killed her grandson, Hardy was sentenced to serve three years in prison.
Multiple complaints at 345 Middle Street
“Multiple times in 2008 and 2012, a dog owner at the same 345 Middle Street address [where Maurice Brown died] was cited for not having a license for his two dogs, both listed as male pit bulls, according to the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center,” reported Cornelius Frolik and Katie Wedell of the Dayton Daily News. “We are not identifying that dog owner,” Frolik and Wedell said, “because it is not known if he is the same owner or dogs involved” in Brown’s death.
“In 2015,” Frolik and Wedell continued, “a complaint was made regarding the welfare of the man’s dogs. An animal resource center employee checked and found both dogs healthy. He was again warned that he needed to get a dog license.”
Attack involved multiple dogs
At that same address, Frolik and Wedell learned, “In 2011, 9-year-old Dynver Lovett was playing in the yard there [345 Middle Street] when a loose dog from down the block ran up and began to fight with the multiple dogs at that address. The girl was bitten by that loose dog on her arm and leg. She needed 50 stitches and has permanent scarring from the experience.
“Her mother, Kaneika Lovett, said she was never contacted by the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center and the county has no record of the incident. Dayton police also didn’t pursue any charges against the dog’s alleged owners, James Hastings and Carla Whitt.
Victim never got court-awarded compensation
“Hastings told police that he got rid of the dog by dropping it off near the Humane Society office,” Frolik and Wedell summarized. “Kaneika Lovett said he told her he had the dog put down.”
The Lovett family in 2013 won a $179,000 civil judgement against Hastings and Whitt, but never collected any of the money, Frolik and Wedell explained, because Hastings died in 2015, while Whitt’s whereabouts are unknown.
Hambone did not stop adopted pit
In Upper Macungie Township, responding to pit bull owner and victim Lisa Green’s screams, neighbor Loretta Ottinger rushed to the scene with a hambone, tried unsuccessfully to distract the pit bull from the attack with the ham, then fought the dog with the bone and a fence slat, until a second neighbor, off-duty Slatington police Chief David Rachman, arrived and ended the attack by wounding the pit bull with his personal handgun. WFMZ TV-69 News reported that Green’s pit bull had previously attacked a husky, and on another occasion bit a child’s face.
ANIMALS 24-7 received a tip from a well-placed source close to the scene that Green had adopted the pit bull in 2014 from an organization called Peaceable Kingdom in nearby Allentown. Peaceable Kingdom did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Peaceable Kingdom board member and attorney Ken Petrini on May 3, 2017 e-mailed that “The dog in question was adopted direct from foster so it was not in our shelter. We have no knowledge of prior aggression, simply a single report from the decedent that the animal was reactive to children. We offered to take the dog back, but she did not wish to return it, as no children lived in her home. Sadly, the decedent was the one with the greatest knowledge of this dog.
Aggressive dog policy
“We do have an aggressive dog policy in place,” Petrini continued. “It relies upon reports from volunteers, staff, fosters and adopters. Nothing was reported as to this dog to trigger the policy. There were no reports from the foster family and a single report of reactiveness to children.”
Added an accompanying Peaceable Kingdom media statement: “We urge those who may surrender animals to the shelter, those who may interact with the animals at the shelter, our foster homes and those who adopt to be completely transparent as to any aggressive behavior shown by a dog. Dogs who are unreasonably aggressive are not suitable pets and are not suitable for adoption. We do not know if this dog exhibited an unreasonable aggression after the dog was adopted and before this attack, but the attack does show the dangers involved with aggressive dogs. We will continue to reinforce our existing policy regarding aggressive dogs so that we only adopt out dogs into our community that are believed to be safe.”
Fox against pit bulls
In Fresno County, California, the only county in the U.S. with more dog attack fatalities since 2005 than Montgomery County, Ohio, the suspected identities of the three pit bulls who allegedly killed Robert Lee Simonian were disclosed, reported Pablo Lopez of the Fresno Bee on April 29, 2017, at a hearing that “pitted Wayne Fox, director of environmental health, against one of Fresno’s best criminal defense lawyers, E. Marshall Hodgkins, who represented dog owner Harold Matthews, 70, and his five dogs.”
Three of Matthews’ dogs are pit bulls, two of them smaller dogs not believed to have participated in Simonian’s death.
Two men died 100 yards from pit owner’s home
“The key witness,” Lopez continued, “was sheriff’s homicide Detective Hector Palma, who testified that Matthews’ dogs were suspected in the April 14, 2016 killing of Valente Lopez Aguirre, 58, of Kerman,” as well as in the Simonian death.
“Lopez and Matthews died about 100 yards from Matthews’ home,” Lopez wrote. “Testimony revealed that the five dogs were taken to the county dog pound after Lopez was killed. They remained in the pound until mid-June, when they were returned to Matthews. The dogs went back to the pound after Simonian’s death. They remain there until a decision is made on whether to kill them.”
The Fresno County district attorney’s office ruled in March 2017 that there is insufficient evidence to charge Matthews with any offense related to the Lopez and Simonian deaths.
Simonian suffered extensive bite wounds before drowning in a nearby canal, apparently while trying to escape the attack.
Pit bull advocates won pound contract
The current Fresno County pound contractor, Fresno Humane Animal Services, in October 2015 took over from California Animal Control, about three months after the previous contractor, Liberty Animal Control Services, filed for bankruptcy.
“Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve the contract,” reported Marc Benjamin of the Fresno Bee, “but want benchmarks in place to ensure” not enhanced public safety in a community that has had five fatal pit bull attacks since 2005, but rather “that euthanasia is reduced, and adoption and pet reunification are increased.”
Fresno Humane Animal Services is headed by Brenda Mitchell, who is also president of the no-kill organization Animal Compassion Team. The Animal Compassion Team web site as of May 2, 2017 appeared to offer mostly pit bulls among dogs listed for adoption, albeit that many were identified as other breeds, including “Terrier–mixed” and “Cattle dog.”
The award of the $3.76 million pound contract to Fresno Humane Animal Services was lauded by pit bull advocates, including Fresno Bully Rescue board member Becky Holly.
Fresno County victims
Fresno County victims of pit bull fatalities, besides Aguirre and Simonian, have included Tyler Babcock, age six, of Clovis, killed in January 2005 by two pit bulls and possibly a German shepherd in a field beside his grandparents’ home; field hand Estaban Alvarez, 34, killed by four free-roaming pit bulls in December 2012; and Susie Kirby, three days old, killed by two Sharpei/pit bull mixes at her uncle’s home in June 2016.
In addition, Sanjuana Caceres, 66, also known as Janey Garibay, lost her left arm and was left in “extremely critical condition” after an April 2016 attack by two pit bulls who were roaming at large. Both pit bulls were euthanized, but their owners were not criminally charged.