Just two fatalities will cost taxpayers $1 million
DES MOINES, DETROIT, SYRACUSE––What does the “bully breed” advocacy mantra “punish the deed, not the breed” really cost society?
Punishing just three people whose “bully breed” dogs recently ran amok, causing two human fatalities, may cost the taxpayers of Iowa, Michigan, and New York state upward of $1 million, according to the Vera Institute of Justice’s 2012 estimate that the annual cost of incarceration in the U.S. is $31,286 per inmate.
If the four convicted dog owners each serve the maximum time under their sentences, the total cost of their prison time could potentially be several times higher.
Total cost to society
The total cost to society from the loss of the victims might be upward of $7 million, according to an actuarial calculator used by the Environmental Protection Agency to assess the damages resulting from accidental deaths.
The annual cost to society of the 40-odd fatal dog attacks in the U.S. per year is presently upward of $147 million, according to that actuarial calculator, of which about $100 million results from fatal pit bull attacks, and most of the rest from attacks by other “bully breeds” including Cane Corsos, Presa Canarios, bull mastiffs, Dogo Argentinos, and Rottweilers.
The cost to insurers of payouts in dog attack cases in 2014 came to $531 million, according to Insurance Institute of America data.
The cost to taxpayers of enforcing breed-specific legislation prohibiting pit bulls and other dogs of recent fighting ancestry is by contrast about 2% of animal control expenditure, in counties that enforce such legislation: about 67¢ per household per year, or potentially about $77 million per year, barely half the present cost of fatal attacks, if pit bulls and other fighting breeds were banned throughout the entire United States.
In Newton, Iowa, Jasper County District Court Judge Richard Clogg on July 13, 2015 sentenced Jena Wright, 26, to 10 years in prison for neglect of a dependent person, plus 10 years for child endangerment, one year for assault on a police officer and two years for interference with official acts.
‘The sentences will run concurrently,” reported MacKenzie Elmer of the Des Moines Register, “but it’s still unclear just how long her total sentence would last, according to a Jasper County court clerk. Wright faced up to 35 years in prison when a jury found her guilty on May 14, 2015.”
Babysitting Jordyn Arndt, 4, while Arndt’s mother was at work on April 22, 2013, Wright left the child unattended with her pit bull Brutus.
“Wright’s defense attorney argued his client didn’t knowingly put the girl in danger,” wrote Elmer, “but testimony throughout the week-long trial revealed someone had previously been bitten by the dog in Wright’s presence. Another witness testified that Wright had mentioned that she thought the dog was aggressive.
“Court papers say Wright assaulted Prairie City Police Chief Louis Modlin during her arrest and ‘inflicted bodily injury’ while Modlin was in the performance of his duty,” Elmer added.
In Michigan, Lapeer County chief judge Nick Holowka on July 14, 2015 sentenced Valbona Lucaj, 45, and Sebastiano Quagliata, 46, to a minimum of 57 months and maximum of 15 years in prison for the July 23, 2014 death of jogger Craig Sytsma, 46.
Lacaj and Quagliata had pleaded guilty to harboring a dangerous animal in April 2015, rather than face second degree murder charges.
“The couple will be required to serve at least the minimum sentence before they are eligible for parole,” explained Mike Martindale of the Detroit News, “likely within four years because they were also given credit for 346 days of time served.”
“The two 100-pound Cane Corsos dragged Sytsma into a ditch and mauled him to death,” recounted L.L. Brasier of the Detroit Free Press. “The dogs had a history of attacking people,” reported to police and animal control in 2012 and 2013,” but were running loose when Sytsma was killed.
“Lucaj was in Boston visiting family and Quagliata was working as a house painter,” Brasier wrote. “Investigators say the dogs may have broken out of a chain link kennel.
“The dogs were euthanized after the mauling,” Brasier continued. “Several puppies believed to be offspring of the killer dogs were sent to a Texas rescue league, where they were reportedly adopted out to families.
Followed 2008 plea bargain
“The Metamora case is similar to a 2008 case in Iosco Township,” recalled Brasier, “where a dog owner was also allowed to plead to a 15-year felony, rather than murder, after her dogs mauled an elderly neighbor and a woman walker to death.”
Diane Cockrell, 52, of Fowlerville, was convicted of allowing four pit bulls to escape from her property by digging under the wall of a barn.
“The dogs killed Edward Gierlach, 91, of Fowlerville at his cottage across the street and Cheryl Harper, 56, of Iosco Township, who had been taking a walk,” reported Valerie Olander of the Detroit News.
Livingston County Circuit Judge Stanley Latreille ordered Cockrell to pay more than $30,000 in restitution and to serve from 43 months to 15 years in prison. All ten of her pit bulls were euthanized.
13 years for Bacon
Earlier, in Syracuse, New York on May 29, 2015, State Supreme Court Justice John Brunetti sentenced Eric Bacon, 30, to 13 years in prison for releasing his pit bull from a van to attack Steven Cruse, 51, on May 12, 2014. Cruse suffered multiple permanent injuries including the loss of half of one finger.
The incident started, the court heard, after two free-roaming pit bulls attacked Cruse’s elderly German shepherd. Bacon arrived, collected the pit bulls, then released one of them after Cruse threatened to call the police.
While heavy by the traditional standards of sentencing in dog attack cases, the Wright, Lacaj, Quagliata and Bacon sentences were all somewhat lighter than the 15-years-to-life sentence handed to Alex Donald Jackson, 31, on October 3, 2014 in Los Angeles County, California, for the May 9, 2013 pit bull mauling death of jogger Pamela DeVitt, 63.
Trial testimony established that four of Jackson’s eight pit bulls inflicted from 150 to 200 puncture wounds on DeVitt. Jackson was on August 29, 2014 convicted of second-degree murder for having allowed the pit bulls to roam unattended.
Convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Steven Hayashi, 55, of Concord, California, by contrast in July 2014 received just a year in prison plus three years on probation. Three of Hayashi’s five pit bulls in July 2010 killed his grandson, Jacob Bisbee, age two. Supposed to have been babysitting Bisbee, Hayashi had instead left him unattended, with the pit bulls in an unlocked garage.
Pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter in a similar case, Javon Dade, 31, of Goulds, Florida, was sentenced to serve four years in prison for the August 13, 2014 fatal pit bull mauling of his son Javon Dade Jr., age four. The attack occurred in Dade County, where pit bulls have been banned since 1989, but the ban had not been enforced.
Two notoriously light sentences for a dog attack resulting in human death came in October 2014 in Saline County, Arkansas, after the November 21, 2013 fatal mauling of Joan Kappen, 75. The bull mastiff who killed Kappen was a littermate of the bull mastiff who killed Ayden Evans, 5, in May 2013.
Brande Mitchell Coy, 50, and Emily Coy, 25, of Hot Springs Village, were respectively convicted of misdemeanor negligent homicide and participating in an unlawful dog attack. But Brande Coy was sentenced to serve only 60 days in jail plus a year on probation, and to pay a $2,500 fine. Emily Coy, whose bull mastiff killed Kappen, was sentenced to serve 120 days in jail plus a year on probation, and was also fined $2,500.
There are precedents for much stiffer sentencing in comparable cases.
In probably the best known case, the California First District Court of Appeal on August 20, 2010 upheld the 15-years-to-life sentence given to former Presa Canario keeper Marjorie Knoller, whose two dogs in January 2001 killed Diane Whipple, 33, at the door to her San Francisco apartment.
Knoller was convicted by jury of second degree murder. Her husband and law partner Robert Noel was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Noel served four years in prison and was released. Knoller at last report was still incarcerated.