LIVERPOOL, U.K.––Liverpool Crown Court Judge Mark Brown on June 3, 2014 sentenced female housemates Hayley Sulley, 30, and Della Woods, 29, to serve 12 months in jail apiece for violations of the Dangerous Dogs Act that led to the May 25, 2013 live dismemberment of retired hospital porter Clifford Clarke, 79, by a rampaging Presa Canario. Clarke bled to death after one of his arms was effectively ripped from his shoulder and the other was severely bitten.
Neighbors also identified the dog to the Daily Mail as a “a Staffordshire bull terrier [pit bull] crossed with a bull mastiff,” which is the lineage of a Presa Canario. The court found that Sulley and Woods left the dog unattended in their garden without water or shade, while they attended a barbecue.
Neighbor Selina Hagan, 59, testified that circa 6:30 p.m. she called the Liverpool dog warden’s office to report that two large dogs, one of them the killer, had entered her garden. “My two grandchildren were here,” Hagan told the Daily Mail. “They weren’t interested. We were told it would be four hours until they arrived. I called again an hour later to say it was too late––they’d got a man. If the dog wardens had listened to what we were saying, Cliff’s life could have been saved,” Hagan said.
Slow animal control response
Recounted the Daily Mail, “According to a council statement the animal warden service received a call from a resident reporting the two stray dogs in her garden at 7:39 p.m. Wardens were in the process of making their way to the property when they received a further call from the resident at 8:42 p.m. to say the animals had left.”
Clarke, who had complained to the dog warden’s office earlier about dogs damaging his fence, at 7:29 p.m. opened his back door while cooking, according to the Daily Mail reconstruction of events, and by 7:40 p.m. had been fatally mauled.
The Clarke case was among many recent dog attacks involving allegations that animal control officers were indifferent to complaints about dangerous dogs until after someone was killed or badly injured.
Most notoriously, Klonda Richey, 57, of Dayton, Ohio, was fatally mauled by two Cane Corsos, another pit bull/mastiff cross, on February 7, 2014. The dogs belonged to her neighbors Andrew Nason, 28, and Julie Custer, 23. Nason and Custer were held for three days on suspicion of reckless homicide, but were eventually released without charges pending further investigation. Richey had called the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center about the dogs 13 times in two years, had called the Dayton 911 emergency response system 16 times, had installed a security camera system to document her complaints, had built a security fence, and had unsuccessfully sought a court order to require Nason and Custer to keep their dogs more securely.
Only three days after Richey’s death, 11-month-old Ava-Jane Corless was fatally mauled in her bedroom in Blackburn, Lancashire, by a pit bull whom Royal SPCA inspectors had left in the home despite repeated complaints from neighbors and a history of having killed a cat and chased a man into his house.
Echoes of 2001 Presa Canario case
The Sulley and Woods convictions in Liverpool echoed the 2002 convictions of former San Francisco attorneys Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel for the January 2001 mauling death of athletic coach Diane Whipple, 33, by two Presa Canarios. Knoller was convicted of second degree murder; Noel, who was not present during the mauling, was convicted of of involuntary manslaughter. After nearly a decade of appeals, the California First District Court of Appeal in August 2010 upheld Knoller’s 15-years-to-life sentence. Noel had already been released on probation after serving two years of a four-year prison term.
During the sequence of appeals the California Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that a fatal dog mauling is murder if the owner knew the animal posed a risk to human life and exposed others to the danger.
Pending California cases
While the ruling somewhat eased the difficulty of winning murder-by-dog convictions, prosecutors did not again seek murder charges in a California dog attack fatality case until May 30, 2013, when Alex Donald Jackson of Littlerock in Los Angeles County was arraigned for the May 9, 2013 death of jogger Pamela Devitt, 63. Devitt was killed by as many as four pit bulls who left Jackson’s property to attack her. Four other pit bulls had been impounded from Jackson and subsequently killed for attacking a flock of emus in 2006. The Jackson trial is pending.
In Stockton, California, Superior Court Judge George Abdallah on May 1, 2014 ruled that there is sufficient evidence to try Brian Hrenko, 60, for involuntary manslaughter and failure to control a vicious animal, in connection with the April 11, 2013 pit bull mauling of Claudia Gallardo, 36.
Gallardo, who had three children and two grandchildren, “was contracted by a property management company to clean the two-unit residential property where Hrenko lived,” reported Jennie Rodriguez-Moore of the Stockton Record.
Defendant has history
Hrenko had considerable prior history involving pit bulls.
Reported San Jose Mercury News staff writer Betty Barnacle on May 29, 1987, “San Jose police tossed a cherry bomb-like device into a fortified Santa Cruz Mountains cottage to storm the house, shooting a pit bull to get to the ex-felon they were seeking on drug charges.”
The cottage was “surrounded by what appeared to be dog skulls,” Barnacle wrote, as well as “a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire,” and contained an arsenal of loaded weapons. Hrenko “was booked into the Santa Clara County Jail for investigation of possession of phencyclidine (PCP) for sale and for being an ex-felon with firearms,” Barnacle said.
Nearly eight years later, on March 7, 1995, Hrenko came to police attention again after his pit bull Nitro jumped off the San Mateo Bridge and Hrenko jumped after him. The dog apparently drowned. Hrenko, rescued by the Coast Guard, “had to be doused with pepper spray before police apprehended him and booked him on suspicion of possessing a loaded firearm in a vehicle, having a silencer, possessing drugs for sale, and resisting arrest,” Lieutenant Ross Roberts of the Foster City Police Department told San Francisco Chronicle staff writers Benjamin Pimentel and Teresa Moore.
Shelter pit bull & litter
Another high-profile California pit bull attack death case is expected to conclude on June 13, 2014, when Steven Hayashi, 55, is sentenced for involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. Hayashi was convicted on April 11, 2014 in Contra Costa Superior Court. Living with his son’s family in Concord, California, Hayashi left his grandsons, ages 2 and 4, unattended on July 22, 2010, and left three pit bulls with prior history of killing other animals, including an Akita, in an unlocked garage. Hayashi’s wife was home but asleep after working a night shift as a nurse. The two-year-old wandered into the garage and was fatally mauled.
Hayashi kept five pit bulls in all, four of them the offspring of one named Sadie who was adopted from the Lake County Animal Shelter in April 2008. Sadie was not sterilized before adoption, Lake County Animal Control deputy director Bill Davidson said in 2010, because the California law that has since 1990 required dogs and cats adopted from public shelters to be sterilized allows counties of under 100,000 human residents to collect a spay/neuter deposit from adopters instead of actually mandating the surgery. The deposit is to be refunded when the shelter receives proof that the animal has been sterilized, but Hayashi never submitted the proof.
Pending in the U.S. South
Elsewhere, a trial date of October 7, 2014 was set on May 27, 2014 for mother-and-daughter Brande Coy, 50, and Emily Coy, 25, of Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, in connection with the November 2013 fatal mauling of neighbor Joan Kappen, 75, by a pit bull/mastiff mix. Belonging to Emily Coy, the dog had been left in care of Brande Coy. The dog had allegedly injured people on at least three previous occasions, and was a litter mate of the pit bull/mastiff mix who killed Ayden Evans, age 5, on June 9, 2013 in Jessieville, Arkansas.
In Pell City, Alabama, wife and husband Jacqueline and Jerry Lenton, both 57, on March 19, 2014 pleaded guilty and received negotiated sentences for the September 2012 fatal mauling of Don Thomas, 83, by two of their Rottweilers.
“Police shot the two attacking dogs and seized 33 others from the Lentons’ home that day,” recalled Kent Faulk of the Birmingham News.
Pleading guilty to criminally negligent homicide, Jacqueline Lenton received a 12-month suspended jail term and two years of unsupervised probation. Pleading guilty to manslaughter, Jerry Lenton received a split 10-year sentence, requiring him to spend 366 days in jail, followed by five years of probation, including two years under supervision. A violation of the terms of probation would require serving the full 10 years.
In Columbia, South Carolina, the state attorney general’s office on April 15, 2014 asked the state Supreme Court to reinstate the 2007 involuntary manslaughter conviction of Bentley Collins, 61, whose six pit bull/boxer mixes on November 3, 2006 killed John Matthew Davis, 10. whose body was found in Collins’ yard. Davis’ house was less than a mile away.
“Collins was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered not to own any more dogs,” summarized Meg Kinnard of Associated Press. “But the Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that a trial judge had been wrong to allow prosecutors to show the jury gruesome photographs taken by a pathologist who did the boy’s autopsy.”
The victim’s mother, Caroline Davis, 33, was in June 2009 charged with neglecting two chained dogs, four others found loose on her property, and a rabbit found dead in a cage. ANIMALS 24-7 found no information about the disposition of the case.
(See also Shelters sued for attacks by rehomed pit bulls; U.K. amends Dangerous Dogs Act but fails to close Staffordshire loophole; Weak dog laws blamed for deaths in Ohio & U.K.; and The science of how behavior is inherited in aggressive dogs, by Alexandra Semyonova.)