Public records requests reveal how cops killed Joseph Lee Pettaway; threatened Steve Hindi
MANCHESTER, Kentucky; MONTGOMERY, Alabama––“White privilege,” in parts of the rural South, could be defined as being able to find out through public records requests that corrupt and sadistic cops might want to kill you before they actually do it.
This, anyhow, appears to be the major difference in outcome between public records requests submitted by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness founder Steve Hindi in Clay County, Kentucky, and those submitted by survivors of Joseph Lee Pettaway, a black man who was killed by a police dog in Montgomery, Alabama, on July 8, 2018.
“The Pettaway family, after a two-year court fight, “successfully subpoenaed the bodycam footage of the incident, according to new filings in an ongoing lawsuit,” disclosed Niara Savage of the Atlanta Black Star on October 3, 2020. “The Montgomery Police Department had previously refused to confirm that footage of the incident existed.”
Attacked as “burglar” in mother’s house
Joseph Lee Pettaway, 51, “was at a house owned by his mother,” Savage recounted. “He had been caring for her, helping her fix up the home,” which had been temporarily vacant, with the electricity turned off, “and had a key and permission to sleep there.”
Homeowner Lizzie Mae Pettaway, now 87, lived in another house about a block away, and all ten of Pettaway’s brothers and sisters also lived in the neighborhood.
A person whose identity has not been disclosed observed Pettaway entering the home, called 911, and reported that a burglar was inside.
“Police K-9 handler Nicholas Barber and his dog Niko arrived on the scene to search the premises,” Savage explained. “Niko ran inside and found Pettaway, lunged at him, and clamped down on the man’s body.”
Police dog training––and police officer training, or lack thereof
The Montgomery Police Department told Jennifer Horton of WSFA-12 News that the homeowner had “approved a K-9 unit entry,” a point that the Pettaway family lawsuit disputes.
The attack itself raised issues pertaining to police dog use and training that were extensively reviewed in a January 2015 ANIMALS 24-7 guest column, Police dogs should be trained as officers, not equipment, by Dutch behaviorist Alexandra Semyonova.
But inappropriate police dog training was much less the issue than allegedly inappropriate police officer training and response, both before Niko was sent into the house to apprehend a “suspect” who had every right to be there, and after Pettaway was bitten on the femoral artery.
Bled to death while cops did nothing
“Barber stood by and failed to remove the dog from Pettaway for almost two minutes, according to court documents,” said Savage. Her account was supported by other journalists who have seen the Pettaway family lawsuit, in public statements by Pettaway’s sister Yvonne Pettaway-Frazie, who was a witness to the police dog attack and the death of her brother, and by local media reportage published soon after Pettaway’s death.
“Niko tore an artery in Pettaway’s groin. He ultimately bled out and died,” Savage summarized.
Alleges the lawsuit, “Despite Mr. Pettaway’s obvious and profuse bleeding and his apparently going into shock, no policeman examined or evaluated [Pettaway’s] wound and no policeman administered any of the most basic, essential, obvious and immediately required care to stem or reduce his bleeding.”
“Annoyance” and “embarrassment”
Removed by police from his mother’s home after the fatal bite, Pettaway was allegedly left to lie on the pavement outside until an Emergency Medical Services team arrived. Pettaway was pronounced dead soon after he was transported to a hospital.
“The officers allegedly stood by joking and taking pictures of Pettaway as he bled out. There had been no indication that he was armed or attempting to flee,” wrote Savage.
“The family is now fighting the ‘confidential’ designation of the footage” obtained through the public records request, “and wants it to be released to the public,” Savage finished, “but the city [of Montgomery] is fighting to keep the video under wraps, saying it would create ‘annoyance’ and ‘embarrassment’ for the officers involved,” and might spark ‘civil unrest.’ The matter will be addressed at a hearing sometime this month.”
Affirmed the USA Today reporting team of Abbie VanSickle, Challen Stephens, Ryan Martin, Dana Brozost-Kelleher and Andrew Fan, “The city is fighting to keep the video from going public, arguing in court that it would cause “annoyance, embarrassment” for officers who were acting in good faith and could end up “facilitating civil unrest.” Officials did not respond to requests for comment.”
Arson destroyed the scene
The scene of the fatal attack, and possibly important primary evidence, went up in smoke the night after Joseph Lee Pettaway died..
“Less than 24 hours after Pettaway’s death,” reported Melissa Brown of the Montgomery Advertiser on July 11, 2018, “the home burned in a house fire that Montgomery fire officials said caused ‘total loss.’
Montgomery Fire/Rescue Lieutenant Jason Cupps told Brown that the fire was believed to have been arson, “though an investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made,” Brown said.
“My agents had completed the scene processing well before the fire occurred,” State Bureau of Investigations captain Joe Herman told Brown, insisting that, “In no way did the fire have any effect on our ongoing investigation.”
“Shark guys gonna go missing”
Meanwhile in Clay County, Kentucky, WTVQ television news reported on September 30, 2020, Showing Animals Respect & Kindness is “calling on the FBI to investigate and Governor Andy Beshear to pursue action,” after documents obtained by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK) through a public records request were found to include a written statement by Clay County Sheriff’s Department public affairs officer Trent Baker that “Shark guys gonna go missing.”
Undercover video investigations conducted by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK), funded by the Humane Farming Association, in June 2020 exposed and shut down illegal cockfighting venues in three Kentucky counties: Clay, Butler and McCreary.
“As part of its undercover work,” a SHARK media release explained, SHARK “submitted public records requests to the [Clay County] sheriff’s office to find out what officers knew about” the cockfighting operation, at the Laurel Creek Game Club in Manchester.
“The deputies did nothing”
Two sheriff’s deputies were on June 20, 2020 videotaped in attendance at the Laurel Creek Game Club during a series of cockfights, in uniform.
“The deputies did nothing to stop the illegal cockfighting or gambling,” SHARK alleged.
Documents obtained through the public records request “suggested law enforcement from state trooper Logan Wolfe to Clay County Sheriff Patrick Robinson knew about the fights,” the SHARK release said.
Robinson contended in a July 2020 interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader that the deputies had been unaware that cockfighting is a criminal offense.
Emails obtained by SHARK show Wolfe saying, “we all have a black eye no matter what we do,” as result of the SHARK exposés. He [the owner of the cockfight venue] asked me if it was illegal, and what to do,” Wolfe continued.
Hindi: “I take it very seriously”
“He more or less wanted to know what we could do to continue to let him fight chickens…he said we’ve done it for years, and always gotten away with it. He led the conversation to believe that the SO [Sheriff’s Office] and KSP [Kentucky State Police] has let him do it. Now, that’s true,” Wolfe acknowledged. “We don’t stop it, because no one knows for sure what the crime is. Other than gambling.”
The Trent Baker remark that “Shark guys gonna go missing” appears to have been made on July 22, 2020.
Said “SHARK guy” Steve Hindi, “I take it very seriously when a member of the sheriff’s office makes a threat, and an individual in the sheriff’s office saying someone is going to disappear is as direct as it gets. I take the man at his word, and intend to take appropriate legal action,” for which purpose SHARK has retained a Kentucky law firm.
Commented Humane Farming Association national director Brad Miller, “Law enforcement officials have acknowledged allowing a major criminal enterprise to operate unimpeded. Shockingly, they also make threatening and incriminating statements about the lives of SHARK investigators. We believe the FBI should immediately investigate possible criminal acts and civil rights violations.”