Mauling death of Tyler Trammell-Huston, 9, was handled differently from similar cases in Virginia, Colorado, & Michigan
ACCOMACK, Virginia; MARYVILLE, California––Accomack County General District Court on March 20, 2016 arraigned Edna Lenae Parker, 38, on two felony counts of owning a vicious dog and committing “a willful act or omission in the care, control of containment of such animal so gross, wanton, and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life,” and referred the case to the Accomack County grand jury.
The grand jury issued the indictment on April 5, 2016, ensuring that the case will be criminally prosecuted.
Dog Bite Law blogger and renowned personal injury attorney Kenneth Phillips, of Sherman Oaks, California, believes the January 3, 2016 pit bull attack death of nine-year-old Tyler Trammell-Huston should likewise have been sent to a grand jury for further consideration of an indictment.
Sister of victim not charged
Yuba County, California district attorney Patrick McGrath instead announced on March 25, 2016 that Alexandra Griffin-Heady, 24, would not be criminally charged for the death of Trammell-Huston, her brother, who was killed by at least two of her three pit bulls.
Though appearing to be distraught at Trammell-Huston’s death, Griffin-Heady has continued to advocate for pit bulls on her Facebook page.
The Virginia case
Parker’s two pit bulls on January 4, 2016 attacked two sisters, Mariana Hernandez, age 11, and Victoria Hernandez, 17, as they waited at a bus stop. Mariana Hernandez suffered severe injuries to both legs. Victoria Hernandez fought the pit bulls off, but was also injured.
The Eastern Shore News reported that a neighbor believed Parker’s pit bulls had previously killed her ducks, and that the pit bulls were also suspected of killing other animals who had disappeared since Parker moved to the neighborhood in mid-2015.
In January 2016, days after the attack on the Hernandez sisters, Parker was convicted of four misdemeanor accounts of letting her pit bulls run at large. The infractions were incurred on Christmas Day 2015, December 28, 2015, and New Year’s Day.
The Colorado case
McGrath’s decision to not prosecute Griffin-Heady came opposite to judicial opinion not only in the Parker case, but also in two other recent dog attack cases involving circumstances similar to those in the Trammell-Huston case.
Judge Edward Casias, of Summit County, Colorado, ruling on March 23, 2016, dismissed two felony counts against Fort Collins dog owner Alex Peyton, 23, but referred a felony child abuse charge to Summit County District Court for prosecution.
Peyton’s dog, said to be a golden retriever, on December 10, 2015 allegedly inflicted facial injuries on a six-year-old girl in the nearby town of Breckenridge.
“The original warrant for Peyton’s arrest included charges of child abuse, reckless endangerment and unlawful ownership of a dangerous dog,” reported Elise Reuter of the Summit Daily.
On March 25, 2016––earlier on the same day that McGrath announced Griffin-Heady would not be prosecuted––Circuit Judge James Callahan of Wayne County, Michigan ordered that Geneke Lyons, 42, must stand trial for second degree murder, among other charges, in connection with the death of four-year-old Xavier Strickland.
Geneke Lyons’ pit bulls squeezed under a fence, pulled Xavier Strickland from his mother’s grasp as they walked––on the far side of the street––toward a nearby school, and reportedly dismembered and disemboweled him.
The entire attack was recorded on video by a security camera.
Wrote Oralandar Brand-Williams, for the Detroit News, “Callahan said it will be up to a jury to determine whether Lyons should be held responsible for the boy’s death. The judge, who has seen the video of the fatal attack, noted modifications were done to the fencing, so someone had to have known the dogs had escaped the yard previously.”
District attorney “failed to follow the law”
Posted Phillips on March 30, 2015, to his Facebook page Dog Bite Law, “The District Attorney of the County of Yolo, California, failed to follow the law in deciding not to prosecute Alexandria Griffin-Heady.
“Griffin-Heady left the boy alone in her mobile home with three pit bulls,” Phillips continued, “two of whom were confined in a wire cage. She knew the cage was breaking apart, the two dogs were mischievous and dangerous, and the 9-year-old boy did not know how to safely handle them. Those dogs fatally mauled the child while Griffin-Heady was absent.
“Obvious abuse of discretion”
“The District Attorney failed to consider applying California Penal Code section 399(a),” Phillips charged, “which makes it a felony to keep a mischievous animal without ordinary care if it kills a person. Failing to exercise discretion is an obvious abuse of discretion. The goals of achieving justice and ensuring public safety require that Griffin-Heady be charged under section 399(a).
“There is a remedy for this,” Phillips explained. “California Attorney General Kamala Harris has the constitutional authority to take over the prosecution of Griffin-Heady. The Attorney General’s intervention is appropriate in any case where there was an obvious abuse of prosecutorial discretion. The California Constitution makes the Attorney General the chief law officer of the state and the supervisor of every district attorney.
“Therefore,” Phillips said, “I am calling upon the California Attorney General to exercise her constitutional authority to take over the prosecution of Alexandria Griffin-Heady for the violation of California Penal Code section 399(a) in connection with the killing of Tyler Trammell-Huston.”
Yuba County’s district attorney McGrath on March 25, 2016 released a seven-page letter explaining his decision not to prosecute Griffin-Heady.
Narrated McGrath of the circumstances leading to Trammell-Huston’s death, “The dogs resided in the trailer and had access to an outside fenced area which enclosed the trailer area.
“[The victim] was asleep on a bed located at the back of the trailer adjacent to the bathroom. Per [Griffin-Heady’s] practice, the two younger dogs were left in a wire kennel crate, which was located on a long plywood bench directly across the trailer interior from the bed used by [the victim]. The older female was unsecured and was reported by Griffin-Heady to be on Griffin-Heady’s bed located at the front of the trailer when she left.
Dogs found loose
“Three dogs, later confirmed to be Griffin-Heady’s pit bulls, were loose within the fenced area,” McGrath continued.
When first responders arrived, McGrath said, “Griffin-Heady was reported to be hysterically screaming and directing deputies to shoot one or more of the dogs.
“Two of the dogs––the older female and the younger male––were noted to have bloodied facial and body fur,” McGrath wrote.
Urine & feces
“An examination of the interior of the trailer was conducted. The interior was noted to be in a state of disrepair and general uncleanliness, and smelled of urine and animal feces. Blood evidence was located on and about [the victim’s] bedding, with additional blood evidence leading to the front of the trailer. Significant blood evidence was located in the area where [the victim] was originally found. It appears that [the victim] had attempted to take refuge in an approximately 18-inch wide and four foot long area between the foot of Griffin-Heady-bed and the side wall of the trailer,” McGrath said.
Contrary to much speculation by pit bull advocates on social media, there was no evidence that Trammell-Huston had released the two caged pit bulls. The cage doors were securely fastened and locked. Instead, the pit bulls had broken through the wire of the cage itself.
“According to Griffin-Heady, this damage did not exist prior to her leaving the trailer that morning,” McGrath noted.
“Typical dog behavior”
Much criticism of McGrath’s decision not to prosecute Griffin-Heady, from others as well as Phillips, centers on McGrath’s interpretation that “Witness statements generally described canine activities associated with typical dog behavior. There were no reported biting incidents,” McGrath claimed, “and no reported specific pattern of conduct on the part of the dogs that could be characterized as a regular display of aggression or unpredictable behavior.”
The latter statement by McGrath overlooks that “unpredictable behavior” inherently does not follow a “specific pattern” or constitute a “regular display”; rather, it emerges sometimes, but not at all times.
Killed Griffin-Heady’s cat?
Wrote McGrath, “The two female dogs were generally characterized as not aggressive; the male was generally characterized as high energy, prone to barking, and protective of his territory. Griffin-Heady volunteered that she suspected the male dog had killed her cat in December, but had not actually witnessed anything.”
Further, McGrath wrote, “It was reported that one or more of the dogs had on occasion dug out of their fenced area and were difficult to catch. Consequently the dogs were often kept in the trailer, with the two younger dogs crated when Griffin-Heady was absent to prevent them from causing any damage to the interior furnishings or from urinating on the bedding. The dogs had escaped from the crate previously by pawing at the latches, causing Griffin-Heady to padlock the latches.”
In other words, Griffin-Heady herself recognized the dangerous propensities of her pit bulls, and the need to keep them securely confined.
This is not, as McGrath wrote, “associated with typical dog behavior,” though it might be associated with typical pit bull behavior.
Chased one child, scratched another
Continued McGrath, “One neighbor described an occasion in July  where one of the dogs was out and aggressively chased her son, frightening both her and her son,” another instance of activity not “associated with typical dog behavior,” exclusive of pit bull behavior.
In addition, McGrath narrated, “Both Griffin-Heady and other family members described an incident occurring at the residence in July or August (2015). A visiting four-year-old relative was descending the trailer steps into the fenced yard when one or more of the dogs jumped on her and knocked her down. She received scratches to her face. Witnesses described the event as a play injury. The father of the child stated he had no concerns about the dogs’ behavior.”
But this again was not activity “associated with typical dog behavior.” Further, regardless of the father’s opinion, it was district attorney McGrath’s duty to independently assess the evidence.
Definition of “criminal negligence”
Recited McGrath, “California law defines criminal negligence as conduct which is more than ordinary negligence, and not the result of inattention, mistaken judgment, or misadventure.
“In order to secure a criminal conviction, prosecutors would be required to prove that Griffin-Heady’s conduct––in this case leaving [the victim] with the dogs, two of which were kenneled––was ‘incompatible with a proper regard for human life’ or demonstrated ‘an indifference to the consequences’ of her behavior.”
McGrath and two other prosecutors who reviewed the Trammell-Huston death, McGrath said, determined that Griffin-Heady probably could not be convicted.
Yuzon v. Collins
“In that regard,” McGrath wrote, “prosecutors noted that while public opinion is significantly split depending on one’s experience and/or prejudice toward pit bulls, California case law holds that it is ‘improper to take judicial notice that all adult male pit bulls are dangerous.”
McGrath cited the 2004 California appellate court Yuzon v. Collins, but appears to have cited it out of context, not least because Yuzon v. Collins was a civil case involving third party liability, not a criminal case involving the duties and responsibilities of a person actually in direct custody of a dog, presumably with complete knowledge of the dog’s history and behavior.
Landlord was sued
Summarized Orange County, California dog bite attorney Arnold Hernandez of Yuzon v. Collins in a September 2015 blog posting, “On April 30, 2001, plaintiff Brian Yuzon, a minor, was bitten by a dog, a pit bull or pit bull mix named Kemo. The dog was owned by defendants Tracy Blackburn and Fin Blackburn. The incident occurred at the Blackburns’ Long Beach residence, which they were renting from their landlord, defendant Gerald Collins.”
Both Collins and the Blackburns were sued for damages.
Collins had authorized the Blackburns to keep a springer spaniel on the property eight years earlier, but the springer spaniel had died seven years before the attack. Collins and the Blackburns agreed that Collins had no knowledge of there ever being another dog living at the home.
The case against Collins was therefore dismissed.
Assessed Hernandez of the outcome, “Can a landlord be held liable for injury caused by a tenant’s dog, if the landlord does not know the dog is vicious? No. Can a landlord be held liable for a dog bite, if the landlord knows his tenant is keeping a vicious dog? Yes.”
McGrath and the two other prosecutors he consulted “also determined,” McGrath wrote, “that the evidence did not support a showing that the manner in which the two younger dogs apparently broke out of the wire kennel would be found to be ‘foreseeable’ by a jury.
“Finally, prosecutors also reviewed Griffin-Heady’s subjective mental state and motivations. Although not a legal factor to be considered by a jury,” McGrath acknowledged, “there was a significant likelihood the emotional aspects of this case would color the deliberations of one or more jury members in her favor.”
Victim’s mother was deceased addict
Reported Peter Hecht of the Sacramento Bee, citing information from Trammell-Huston’s aunt, Laura Badeker, “Tyler was the youngest of five children left behind” by his mother, Natalie Griffin-Trammell, who “spent years homeless and addicted to drugs. The mother’s criminal record included an arrest for felony child abuse in 1999. She died on the streets of Sacramento in 2011 at age 44.”
Trammell-Huston’s siblings “range in age from 17 to 27,” Hecht wrote. “Two of his siblings lived with their adoptive parents on property adjacent to where Griffin-Heady was living, Badeker said. Tyler’s father, she said, is mentally disabled and was unable to care for his son.”