2018 law raised penalties for dog attacks, but also raised bars to preventing them
FORT MITCHELL, Alabama–– “Vicious dog attack warrants misdemeanor charge,” bannered Robbie Watson of WLTZ-38 First News on July 10, 2019, but the story focus was on the shock and frustration of victim Sandy Vogts that the attack itself actually brought no charges at all.
Worse, Vogts may be left footing the whole cost of treatment for more than 200 puncture wounds and scalp reattachment, because of a critical defect in Emily’s Law, an Alabama statute introduced to provide felony penalties for severe dog attacks that included a “one free bite” exemption.
Emily’s Law, introduced in memory of December 2017 pit bull attack victim Emily Mae Colvin, took effect on June 1, 2018.
ANIMALS 24-7 warning went ignored
ANIMALS 24-7 pointed out on March 26, 2018, under the headline New Alabama law increases penalties for dog attacks but does little to prevent them, that the “one free bite” exemption would render Emily’s Law ineffective, but Alabama Governor Kay Ivey had already signed the bill into law a week earlier.
“For too long, no one has been held responsible for the actions of their animals and we have had Alabamians who have been severely injured or killed,” exulted Emily’s Law co-author Steve Livingston, a Republican state senator from Scottsboro.
The other co-authors were Republican state representatives Tommy Hanes of Scottsboro and Nathaniel Ledbetter of Rainsville––and among them they could scarcely have crafted a bill doing more to protect pit bull owners from the consequences of first known attacks.
Latest victim lost scalp
Recounted Watson for WLTZ-38, based in Columbus, Georgia, but also serving the Chattahoochee Valley of east-central Alabama, “Sandy Vogts was taking an early morning stroll in her Fort Mitchell neighborhood when a pack of dogs approached out of nowhere. A pit bull and four other dogs [believed to be pit mixes] pounced on the victim as she fought for several minutes. The dogs knocked her down repeatedly, tearing into her flesh.”
Recalled Vogts, “They were biting my arms, my legs, my back, everything, and I was screaming, calling someone to come help me. My scalp was torn off and had to be sewn back on.”
“Finally the dog owner came out of her house,” Vogts said. “She did say ‘oh my God, I’m so sorry,’ but sorry doesn’t quite cover this.”
Reported Watson, “The dogs had escaped from their fenced back yard. Even as the owner attempted to help, a pit bill continued to attack, causing permanent damage to Vogts.”
“One free bite”
“Equally horrifying to the victim,” Watson added, “Alabama law allows ‘one free bite.’”
The dogs’ owner, who has not yet been named, “was cited for dogs roaming at large, a mere misdemeanor,” Watson said. “Russell County district attorney Ken Davis explained the law ‘means essentially if you are a dog owner and your dog has never had any propensity to be vicious, to be violent, has never bitten anyone before, you don’t have either civil or criminal liability if the dog does bite somebody.’”
Vogts may still be able to sue the dogs’ owner for damages, but her burden of proof is higher than if the dogs’ owner had been cited for possession of vicious dogs.
“Vogts main concern was having the dogs return to the neighborhood where several children reside,” Watson finished. “The prosecutor was prepared to step in and have the dogs declared vicious, but the dogs owners voluntarily had the five animals euthanized.”
Why Emily’s Law did not help
Assessed ANIMALS 24-7 in March 2018, “Emily’s Law does nothing at all to preclude the breeding, sale, transfer, or adoption of pit bulls like the five who killed Emily Mae Colvin, 24, of Section, Alabama, on December 7, 2017, and the four who killed vegan blogger Tracey Patterson Cornelius, 46, in nearby Guntersville, Alabama just eight days earlier, leaving fellow vegan blogger Valeria Hinojosa in critical condition.”
This is because the killer pit bulls in each case had no history of previous reported attacks––even though they did have previous history of menacing people and killing other animals, according to witnesses who came forward after Colvin and Cornelius died.
“They never even used to snarl, bark, or nothing,” a neighbor insisted of the pit bulls who killed Colvin to Sydney Martin of WAAY TV 31 News.
“They’d lick you to death”
“Those dogs were the most lovable of all dogs I’ve ever known,” the neighbor claimed. “If anything, they’d lick you to death.”
What Emily’s Law did do, summarized Alabama Media Group reporter Mike Cason, as well as creating “new penalties for owners of dogs who cause injuries,” is to “set up a process for people to file a sworn statement that a dog is dangerous, prompting an investigation by an animal control or law enforcement officer.
“If the investigator finds that the dog is dangerous,” Cason explained, “the dog will be impounded pending a decision by a municipal or district court.
“If a court determines that a dog is dangerous and has seriously injured or killed a person, the dog will be euthanized.
“If a court determines that a dog that has not seriously injured a person but is still dangerous, the court could order the dog to be euthanized or to be returned to its owner under strict conditions, including that the dog is microchipped, spayed or neutered and that the owner pay a $100 annual fee, post a $100,000 surety bond and keep the dog in a secure enclosure.
“The law is not breed-specific.”
Emily’s Law, in short, follows a blueprint pushed successfully by pit bull advocates in 21 other states to replace breed-specific state laws and community ordinances with legislation requiring protracted legal proceedings before any dog, no matter how menacing, can be impounded and euthanized for dangerous behavior.
Technically a dog could be impounded before a person is actually killed or injured, but only with difficulty, and only after the dog has had the opportunity to demonstrate dangerous behavior. Excluding pit bulls from a community because of their long history of killing or disfiguring people and other animals in their first known attack is in effect prohibited.
Breed-specific legislation seeking to prevent pit bull attacks by excluding pit bulls was introduced by more than 400 U.S. cities and towns during the 20th century to update older laws based on the “one free bite” standard dating back to English Common Law, which evolved during the Middle Ages.
Slave state legacy
That Alabama law in the early 21st century lacked even a procedure for dealing with dangerous dogs before they seriously injure someone appears to reflect the history of Alabama as a slave state, where pit bull ancestors called “Cuban bloodhounds” were used to hunt fugitive slaves before the U.S. Civil War.
After the Civil War, “Cuban bloodhounds” resembling bull mastiffs, and eventually pit bulls as we know them today, were used by the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate and sometimes lynch black citizens.
(See Why the Second Amendment does not protect hunting animals, SHARK fights pigeon shooters where black man was hunted for sport and A black-and-white issue that the humane community has yet to face.)
Brian Graden, 43, and Melody Graden, 45, owners of the pit bulls who killed Emily Mae Colvin, in August 2018 pleaded guilty to multiple related charges.
Brian Graden, convicted of criminally negligent homicide, was sentenced to serve 48 days in jail and two years on supervised probation.
Melody Graden, convicted of four counts of failure to vaccinate her dogs against rabies, was sentenced to 90 days suspended on each count, and is also to serve two years on supervised probation.
Meanwhile, on March 23, 2018, Marshall County deputies arrested Doyle Simpson Patterson Jr., 47, and Amanda Dawn Albright, 40, in connection with the pit bull death of Tracey Patterson Cornelius, after a grand jury indicted both on charges of manslaughter and second-degree assault.
Doyle Simpson Patterson Jr. was the older brother of the victim.
“Both posted a $20,000 bond and have since been released,” ABC affiliate WAAY-31 reported.
No further information on the progress of their cases appears to be available.