Emma Hernandez, 9, was the latest sacrifice to dangerous dogs
DETROIT, Michigan––The “Motown sound” today, sixty years after Detroit music entrepreneur Berry Gordy Jr. formed the Motown Record Corporation, is all too often the bloodcurdling shriek of a child fighting a dog of notoriously dangerous breed for her life, the wail of parents finding her body, and the short-lived hiss of public outrage each time it happens, soon muted by howls from dangerous dog advocates at any hint of legislation to realistically address the problem.
Emma Hernandez, 9, of southwest Detroit, on August 19, 2019 became the latest fatality while bicycling in a quiet alley beside her home.
$2 million bond
Neighbor Pierre Cleveland, 33, whose three pit bulls escaped from his yard to kill Hernandez, was charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and having a dangerous animal causing death.
Cleveland “was given a $2 million cash surety bond,” to be posted in full, according to Fox 2 News. “Prosecutors allege his dogs also killed multiple puppies two weeks before the mauling,” the report continued, “and that Cleveland left the dogs alone in a backyard that he knew was not secure. The prosecutor also said that after Cleveland learned what happened, he texted a friend from his cell phone, asking him to ‘come get my keys and come get those plants,’ referring to marijuana plants.”
Detroit Animal Care & Control, with just ten full time officers to cover 138 square miles inhabited by more than 673,000 people, had in March 2018 responded to neighbors’ complaints about Montgomery’s pit bulls by leaving a “notice of dog laws” on his front door. As there were no further complaints, Detroit Animal Care & Control did not follow up.
The death of Emma Hernandez reprised the October 16, 2017 mauling of five-year-old Tyrell Thomas, who was pulled off of his bicycle in his own front yard on the east side of Detroit by a stray pit bull running amok––except that Thomas survived with injuries requiring 45 stitches.
As in the Hernandez case, neighbors––and the local mail carrier––had repeatedly complained about pit bulls running loose, but Detroit Animal Care & Control did nothing effective to contain the threat. This partially explains why Detroit, the 18th largest city in the U.S., ranks 13th in dog attacks on mail carriers.
Tyrell Thomas’ father, Tyrone Thomas, two days after his son was mauled, pointed out to Charlie Langton of WJBK News several other dangerous dogs roaming the neighborhood, most of them pit bulls.
Hernandez’s uncle, Jesse Lopez, two days after his niece was killed, used a handgun to fight off two German shepherds, who fled after Lopez wounded one of them.
The death of Emma Hernandez also reprised the July 12, 2010 fatal mauling of Kyle Holland, 5, of Lincoln Park, by a dog variously identified as either a wolf hybrid or a German shepherd/husky mix, in that his mother, Debbralyn Holland, 31, and her boyfriend, Earl Dwayne Adkins, allegedly also tried to conceal their marijuana plants before police responded.
Holland eventually was sentenced to serve from 29 months to 15 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter, second degree child abuse, and being an accessory after the fact. Adkins was sentenced to serve from two to 15 years in prison for causing death by a dangerous animal.
Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley, however, remembered after Hernandez was killed how on December 2, 2015, “4-year-old Xavier Strickland was pulled away from his mother while they were walking on Bayliss Street in Detroit,” to a nearby school, “and dragged under a fence by four pit bulls.”
The same four pit bulls had previously attacked Strickland’s nine-year-old sister.
Convicted of involuntary manslaughter for Strickland’s mauling death, the pit bulls’ owner, Geneke Lyons, 42, was sentenced to serve 12 months in jail with work release, followed by four years on probation.
The Strickland attack “should have prompted a sweep of the entire city to round up and destroy every dangerous dog,” Finley wrote. “It should have resulted in an iron-clad policy that every neighborhood complaint about a vicious animal receives an immediate response. It should have made animal control a fully staffed 24-hour-a-day operation.
“But in Detroit, there apparently are bigger priorities than protecting children from being eaten alive,” Finley observed. “Varieties of pit bull fill three-quarters of the animal control cages in Detroit, a city that records more than 800 dog bites a year.”
Stiff sentences have no deterrent value
Detroit when Strickland was killed had only two animal control officers. In March 2017 the Detroit City Council unanimously approved animal control ordinance amendments increasing the animal control officer staff to nine, and forbidding tethering dogs to fences with metal chains.
What the Detroit City Council did not do is recognize that hiring more animal control officers to impound dogs after they kill or disfigure someone, or kill other animals, does not prevent the harm from occurring. Neither does throwing the book at the dogs’ owners.
Lapeer County chief judge Nick Holowka on July 14, 2015 meted out two of the stiffest sentences rendered against dog owners in Michigan history to Valbona Lucaj, 45, and Sebastiano Quagliata, 46, for the July 23, 2014 death of jogger Craig Sytsma, 46, who was fatally mauled by their Cane Corsos.
Each is to serve a minimum of 57 months and maximum of 15 years in prison. Their Cane Corsos had a history of escaping, while Lucaj and Quagliata had histories of ignoring warnings.
But those sentences seem to have had no deterrent value whatever, since dog attack deaths of Michigan residents have continued at the rate of more than one per year.
What can be done?
A look at which dogs have killed 15 Michigan residents since 2004, however, twelve of whom were killed within the Detroit metropolitan area, should suggest to the Detroit City Council––and to the Michigan state legislature––what could be done to cut the mayhem at least by half:
Emma Hernandez, 9, Detroit, August 19, 2019. (Killed by three pit bulls.)
Sharon Lee Daniels, 77, Big Prairie Township, November 13, 2018. (Killed by three pit bulls.)
Susannah Jean Murray, three weeks, Grand Rapids, May 8, 2017. (Killed by three pit bulls.)
Kiyana McNeal, 4, Sherman Township, October 23, 2016. (Killed by one Doberman.)
Elizabeth Rivera, 71, Detroit, July 16, 2016. (Killed by one pit bull.)
Rebecca Hardy, 22, Port Huron, December 3, 2015. (Killed by a pit bull and a husky.)
Xavier Strickland, 4, Detroit, December 2, 2015. (Killed by four pit bulls.)
Craig Sytsma, 46, Metamora Township, July 23, 2014. (Killed by two Cane Corsos.)
Kyle Holland, 5, Lincoln Park, July 12, 2010. (Killed by a probable wolf hybrid, possession of which would have been illegal, identified by the owners’ attorney as a German shepherd/husky mix.)
Lylie Cox, 4, Warren, September 13, 2007. (Killed by two Rottweilers.)
Edward Gierlach, 91, Iosco Township, September 13, 2007. (Killed by four pit bulls.)
Cheryl Harper, 56, Iosco Township, September 13, 2007. (Killed by four pit bulls.)
Mary Stiles, 91, Detroit, December 5, 2005. (Killed by one bullmastiff.)
Samantha Black, 2, Oakdale, May 6, 2005 (Killed by a Malamute and a husky.)
Cassidy Jeter, 6, Hamtramck, April 5, 2005. (Killed by two pit bulls.)
Two more victims
To this list might be added two more victims:
- Patricia Crosby, 53, of Detroit, was accidentally shot dead on October 9, 2017 by neighbor Michael Williams, 61, a lifelong friend who was trying to protect her from an attacking pit bull.
- An unidentified woman who was found dead of unknown causes in her Detroit home on June 7, 2017. Police removed 32 dogs from the home, among them an unknown number of aggressive pit bulls.
Even if the latter two deaths are not counted, of the 31 dogs involved in 15 fatalities by dog bite, 21 were pit bulls.
Four of those pit bulls participated in killing both Edward Gierlack and Cheryl Harper. Livingston County Circuit Judge Stanley Latreille ordered owner Diane Cockrell, 52, of Fowlerville, to pay more than $30,000 in restitution and to serve from 43 months to 15 years in prison for the Gierlach and Harper deaths, but as in the Kyle Holland case three years later, the stiff sentence appears to have had no deterrent effect.
5.8% of the dogs caused 60% of the Michigan dog attack deaths
Altogether, pit bulls, who currently make up 5.8% of the U.S. dog population, were involved in 60% on the Michigan fatal dog attacks.
Of the other 10 dogs involved in Michigan fatal attacks, the two Cane Corsos, two Rottweilers, and the bullmastiff were also of “bully” breeds.
Among the rest were two huskies, a Doberman, a probable wolf hybrid who might also have been half-German shepherd, half husky, and one Malamute.
Every one of those dogs has ranked among the 10 breeds or breed types most likely to kill someone, among more than 150 breeds recognized by major kennel clubs, for at least the 38 years that ANIMALS 24-7 has tracked the data.
The same is also true of non-fatal disfiguring injuries, and of dog attacks on animals.
Though Michigan is only the tenth most populous U.S. state, it ranked seventh in the U.S. with 781 dog attack insurance claims in 2018, the most recent year for which Insurance Information Institute data is available. Payouts totaled just under $27 million, up from $16 million as recently as 2015.
“Lawmakers choose pit bulls over safety”
Unfortunately, as the editorial board of the Port Huron, Michigan Times Herald pointed out after the December 2016 deaths of Xavier Strickland and Rebecca Hardy on successive days, “Lawmakers choose [the] pit bull lobby over safety.”
Wrote the Port Huron Times Herald editorial board, when Michigan state senator David Robertson introduced a bill to strip communities of their right to enforce breed-specific legislation, just ten months following the Strickland and Hardy deaths, “The physical attributes of the dogs that attacked Xavier Strickland in Detroit did not kill the 4-year-old. The dog’s looks are not what caused the death of Rebecca Hardy, 22, in Port Huron.
“State Senator David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, said dogs should not be banned based on their looks. We agree. Pit bulls and their variations should be banned because they were bred to kill and to inflict as much damage as possible.
“We are judging pit bulls on the evidence”
“We are judging pit bulls on the evidence. They kill more people and send more people to hospital emergency rooms than any other breed. Yes, it is true that any dog can be dangerous. It is also true that your neighbor’s golden retriever or Pomeranian very probably isn’t going to injure someone. And it is also true that pit bulls were created to cause gruesome injuries in the dog-fighting ring.
“Our legislators are not going to protect us from these hazardous animals,” the Port Huron Times Herald editorial board concluded. “They are domesticated, tamed by lobbyists representing an industry making money off this four-legged extortion.
“But they must not prevent local authorities from ensuring the safety of their communities. Prohibiting local control of dangerous breeds is wrong.”
The Port Huron Times Herald editorial board confirmed the views earlier expressed by many other leading Michigan media.
“Where is JoAnn Watson when we need her?”
Asked Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley on December 5, 2015, “Where is JoAnn Watson when we need her?
“Nine years ago, Watson, then one of the Detroit City Council’s strongest children’s advocates, proposed a ban on pit bulls. The ordinance would have required owners to spay or neuter their dogs, license their dogs and obtain $100,000 worth of liability insurance for each dog. It would have required visitors to get permits for pit bulls. It would have mandated that puppies older than eight weeks be put to death or removed from Detroit.
“So why has it been so hard to do something about roaming monsters that people complain about regularly?
“Cowardice,” Riley answered herself.
“Detroit leaders have talked about a pit bull ban for nearly three decades. As recently as 2006, Watson and other council members acted after a spate of deaths that included that of Cassidy Jeter, a 6-year-old Hamtramck child killed by two pit bulls as she walked home with her brother.
“I’m a dog-lover,” Riley stipulated. “My dog is my best friend and has his own Facebook page. He eats off stoneware because he doesn’t like aluminum bowls. I would cover him with my body if we were attacked on a street.
“But until we decide that children and families are more important than dangerous dogs, someone else is going to die,” as five more Michigan residents have since then.
One a month
Editorially agreed the rival Detroit News the following day, “Detroit cannot lay claim to being a comeback city, nor can it hope to attract large numbers of new residents to its neighborhoods, as long as children are at risk of being mauled to death by vicious dogs on its streets.”
Along with the deaths, there have been many close calls, at the rate of about one a month.
For example, 2-year-old Ariel Harrison in April 2017 reportedly lost both ears and most of her lower face when mauled by a pit bull in her grandmother’s backyard in Calvin Township, southwest of Kalamazoo.
A one-year-old pit bull belonging to Robert Laughton, 29, of Roseville, in May 2017 critically injured both Laughton’s mother, 52, and her boyfriend, 51.
The pit bull, had attacked them both previously, injuring both and sending Laughton’s mother to the hospital.
Laughton escaped charges when the victims were held to be co-owners of the pit bull, whom Laughton called a “retriever bully mix.”
A pit bill left 11-year-old in June 2017 left Monet Shaw in critical condition after attacking her in her aunt’s Detroit back yard. The aunt was also injured.
Looking the other way
Other incidents underscoring the threat from dangerous dogs occur practically daily in Detroit, ignored all too often by the very authorities who logically and by law have a clear duty to respond.
On September 08, 2016, for instance, WDIV Local 4 of Detroit aired video of three pit bulls menacing both students and teachers at J.E. Clark Preparatory Academy on Detroit’s east side.
“They were seen attacking anyone they could,” WDIV reported, including “a teacher who was trying to protect the children from the dogs. Cars and minivans tried to separate the teacher from the dogs, and some people tried to run over the dogs.
“Local 4 showed the video to a Detroit Public Schools official, who said she knew nothing about the attack until after seeing the video.”
Mobilized pit bull advocacy
Even if authorities promptly respond to emergencies, however, no legislation, no matter how strongly worded, can protect the public if the community lawmakers lack the guts and the know-how to back up strict and effective enforcement, against very well-funded and mobilized pit bull advocacy.
In August 2016, for example, Michigan Political Action Committee for Animals representative Carey McGovern boasted to Detroit Free Press reporter Bill Laitner that pit bull advocates had come from as far away as Indiana to help her kill an ordinance in Hazel Park, Michigan, which had protected the community, animals and humans, from pit bull attacks.
The “American bulldog” dodge
Then, in October 2016, Waterford Township dropped the prosecution of local resident Jessica Arnold for violating that community’s pit bull ban, after Arnold produced “a signed affidavit from her veterinarian, Mark Herne, that said the dog was an American bulldog mix, and not predominantly or substantially a pit bull,” explained Anne Runkle of the Oakland Press, in Pontiac, Michigan.
Continued Runkle, “Waterford Township recently amended its ordinance to allow a veterinarian, even the dog’s own doctor, to declare that the animal isn’t a pit bull. Previously, it was up to township police officers to decide a dog’s breed. Police officers double as animal control officers. The township changed the ordinance after a resident, Dan Tillery, adopted a dog from Detroit Dog Rescue, and posted a photo of the dog on social media. The dog appeared to be smiling and the image went viral. Township officers, responding to complaints, said Diggy was a pit bull, but two veterinarians disagreed,” also claiming Diggy was an American bulldog.
“The citation against Tillery was dropped after the ordinance was amended,” Runkle reported.
What an “American bulldog” really is
What Waterford Township failed to realize is that an “American bulldog,” also known as an “Ambull” or “American bully,” is a pit bull, period, descended from a fighting line developed by John D. Johnson in the 1940s-1970s.
Wrote Johnson of his dogs, to Stodghill’s Animal Research Magazine in 1980, “The American Bulldog is the same dog that was developed in England in the 12th century by the meat packers, to catch large bulls to kill for meat… Then they started bull baiting with them, and they then were called ‘Bull Baiting Dogs.’ Later, they were registered as ‘English Bulldogs.’ They also were ‘pit’ fought over there [ England ], against each other, badgers, lions, and anything that would fight. They were brought over here [America] in the 17th century…In the 18th century, England outlawed all types of fighting, and they were no longer needed in their present form, so they bred them down in size…We kept our bulldogs in the [original] large state, and I have developed them even larger.”
Getting no meaningful help against pit bulls and other dangerous dogs from lawmakers, Detroit police have often resorted to shooting dogs: 54 in 2017, twice as many as were shot that year in Chicago, which has nearly four times as many human residents.
But the shootings have come at a cost, as lawyers representing pit bull owners have apparently become better at winning payouts.
In May 2015, for example, a Detroit police officer shot and wounded an apparent pit bull belonging to country singer Alison Lewis, whom he said barked, charged, and jumped at him at the former site of Tiger Stadium, demolished in 2008-2009.
Lewis, contending the dog is a “cattle-dog mix,” won an $8,000 settlement.
A police officer shooting a Dogue de Bordeaux, also in 2015, cost Detroit $100,000. The Dogue de Bordeaux owner contended the dog was secured on a 10-foot cable at the time.
Shooting three pit bulls each during raids on alleged marijuana dealers cost $60,000 and $225,000, respectively.
Since then, Detroit police sometimes seem to have avoided responding promptly to situations in which a dog might have to be shot.
Recounted WDIV Local 4 reporter Larry Spruill on March 18, 2018, “A Detroit family wants answers after a stray pit bull attacked their dog Sunday in their own back yard. The family called for help, but the family said the help was delayed. Zelda West ‘asked if I could shoot the dog. They said no. Channel 4,” apparently alerted by monitoring the police scanner, “beat the police here.’”
Continued Spruill, “The family called the police again in an hour. Police didn’t show up while Local 4 was on the scene and the pit bull was still in the back yard.”