And pit bull-pushing trainer honored by ASPCA & HSUS gets nearly 10 years in prison
FORT WORTH, Texas––Deadly pit bull incidents re-erupted during the last three days of April 2021, killing two little girls and a 32-year-old man.
The pit bull death toll had apparently been indirectly suppressed during the first three months of 2021 by the restrictions on human mobility imposed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The seven U.S. and Canadian dog attack fatalities in 2021 before the last week of April, six of them inflicted by pit bulls, represented the slowest pace for fatal attacks and pit bull attacks since 2009. But that changed in only 72 hours.
Cook Children’s Medical Center
The most recent victim, four-year-old Elayah Brown, was mauled in her own south Fort Worth home by a dog believed to be her family’s pit bull. Brown died soon after her arrival at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.
Cook Children’s Medical Center, where three-month-old Rayden Bruce died on September 26, 2012, after his parents’ pit bull mauled him in his crib, is now among the most experienced hospitals in the world at treating pit bull attack victims.
Already at Cook Children’s Medical Center when Brown arrived was two-year-old J’Kai DeVaughn, mauled by a family pit bull on April 16, 2021 in Wichita Falls, Texas, 115 miles to the northwest.
DeVaughn, who reportedly suffered severe injuries to the back of his head, is expected to require multiple reconstructive surgeries over the next two years.
His mother, Kimberley DeVaughn, reportedly also received hospital treatment for injuries received in the attack.
The pit bull attack on the DeVaughns occurred in the same semi-rural block where convicted child molester Otis Seamster was fatally shot on February 13, 2016, but there is no known connection between the incidents.
South Carolina legislators consider “Jayce’s Law”
The pit bull attack that killed Elayah Brown came just three days after two pit bulls on April 27, 2021 killed seven-year-old Jayden Belle Henderson and severely mauled her mother, Heather Travaskis, 39.
The Henderson death, extensively reported throughout both North and South Carolina, may lend momentum to “Jayce’s Law,” South Carolina state bill H. 4094, which would require pit bulls in South Carolina to either be sterilized or microchipped and registered with the state.
“Jayce’s Law” is named after Cameron Hatfield, age six, who was nicknamed Jayce. Hatfield was killed on January 20, 2021 by a pit bull whom his mother, Victoria LaBar, 23, had found running at large. After trying for two weeks to identify the pit bull’s owner and return the pit bull to his home, LaBar arranged for someone else to adopt the pit bull, but her son was killed that morning, before the prospective adopter could arrive.
Breaking with nationals, local humane societies favor pit bull sterilization mandate
“Jayce’s Law” was filed on March 17, 2021 by state representative Chip Huggins, a Republican from Lexington, on behalf, Huggins told media, of animal shelters across the state.
Testifying in favor of “Jayce’s Law” on April 22, 2021 at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, were LaBar, Beaufort County Animal Services director Tallulah McGee, Charleston Animal Society president Joe Elmore, Sand PCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare president Barbara Nelson.
Testifying in opposition were the pro-pit bull advocacy group Animal Farm Foundation, the American Kennel Club, and the Best Friends Animal Society. The same three organizations lobbied successfully against a similar but much stronger South Carolina bill in 2019, which would also have required pit bulls to be sterilized, but would have allowed fertile pit bulls to be registered for a fee of $500.
South Carolina shelter data
Elmore pointed out that available data indicates that at least 30% of the dogs received by South Carolina shelters are pit bulls, who are more than half of the dogs euthanized.
Elmore also mentioned that according to South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control data, 2,433 of 7,499 dog bites from dogs of known breed in 2019 were inflicted with pit bulls. This was three times as many bites as were recorded by Labrador retrievers and their mixes, the dog next most often involved in a bite case.
Nelson told the hearing that a local differential licensing ordinance, including a fee of $100 for keeping a fertile dog, had cut dog impoundments in Aiken County from 635 in 2005 to 217 in 2020.
Deputy shoots pit bull & knife-wielding owner
The death of Jayden Belle Henderson somewhat overshadowed the death the following day of Oscar Herrera, 32, in Reading Township, Michigan.
Herrera, according to the Hillsdale Daily News, was arrested in March 2021 “after a complaint about him firing shots into the woods near his home and yelling,” Associated Press summarized.
At about 7:45 p.m. on April 28, 2021, a Hillsdale County Sheriff’s deputy responded to a complaint that Herrera’s pit bull was running at large.
Arriving at Herrera’s home, reported Nathan Clark of MichiganLive, the deputy “was immediately attacked by the dog and bitten, leading the deputy to fatally shoot the animal, police said.”
Herrera, “upset the deputy shot his dog, confronted him armed with a knife, according to police. The deputy shot Herrera as well, police said,” Clark finished.
The deputy, who remains on administrative leave pending completion of the official investigation of the shooting, was hospitalized for about a day and a half for treatment of multiple injuries.
Three-year-old mauled by three pits in Alaska
The confrontation was reminiscent of events reported from Chevak, Alaska, after three-year-old Amaya Santillana was attacked on April 18, 2021 by three pit bulls belonging to a neighbor.
The three pit bulls were allegedly running at large.
Santillana’s aunt, Aaliyah Paniyak-Hill, 16, screamed for Santillana’s mother, LaVerna Paniyak, who was breastfeeding her two-month-old second daughter. Her ten-year-old son was outside with the victim.
Paniyak, a Chevak police officer and interim police chief from 2012 to 2019, told Anchorage Daily News reporter Tess Williams, Williams summarized, that when she first called for help, “no one answered the phone at the public safety office. After several calls, the dispatcher who answered the phone hung up on her, she said. Eventually, an officer arrived at the home after prompting from a health aide” sent by the Alaska State Troopers.
Wrote Williams, “Tensions between Paniyak and her neighbor had escalated recently, Paniyak said. She said his dogs have previously acted aggressively toward her children and he has made violent threats toward her and her family.
“Paniyak said she is certain the neighbor owns the dogs that attacked her daughter and has seen them with him countless times, but the neighbor told [the local radio station] KYUK that the dogs were not his. The neighbor hung up” when Williams called him.
Continued Williams, “While she waited for health aides to arrive, Paniyak said, the neighbor returned home. She said she angrily confronted him,” saying she would shoot the dogs, according to Greg Kim of KYUK, “but that he threatened her family and eventually grabbed a pistol and fired four shots into the air toward her home.”
Paniyak told Williams that she filed a police report and included photos of her daughter’s injuries, which required treatment first in Bethel and then in Anchorage, “but she said she has not heard from the police department since,” Williams added.
“Messages left with the department seeking comment for this story have not been returned,” Williams finished.
Pit bull trainer Bradley Lane Croft sentenced
Hours before the fatal pit bull attack on Elayah Brown in Fort Worth, and 268 miles south through the Texas hill country in San Antonio, senior U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra sentenced Bradley Lane Croft, 49, to serve two months short of ten years in prison “for scheming to defraud the federal government of more than $1.5 million in Veterans Affairs GI Bill benefits to train service canines and their handlers,” announced the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.
“In addition to the prison term,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office media release said, “Ezra ordered that Croft pay $1.5 million in restitution and be placed on supervised release for a period of three years after completing his prison term.”
Croft, owner of the Universal K-9 Inc. dog training center in San Antonio, was funded by the Animal Farm Foundation from 2013 to 2017 to prepare pit bulls for police work, and had been honored for his work by both the American SPCA and the Humane Society of the U.S.
Convicted of 16 charges
Ezra on November 6, 2019 convicted Croft of eight counts of wire fraud, four counts of aggravated identity theft, two counts of money laundering and two counts of making a false tax return.
Elaborated the U.S. Attorney’s Office “Testimony during trial revealed that beginning in 2015, Croft provided false information in applications to the Texas Veterans Commission, including instructors’ names, certifications and training documents to receive GI Bill educational benefit payments. Croft and others solicited veterans as students indicating that they could use their GI Bill benefits to pay for a dog handler’s courses that cost between $6,500 and $12,000.
“During the scheme, Universal K-9 filed approximately 185 fraudulent claims relating to the education of about 132 veterans.
“Trial testimony also revealed that Croft submitted fraudulent income tax returns, showing his 2016 reported income as $2,000 and his reported income as $2,000 for 2017.”
How many pit bulls & where did they go?
How many pit bulls were allegedly trained by Croft for police work is somewhat hazy, since various agencies are known to have furnished 26 pit bulls to the program, 29 police agencies reportedly received them, the Animal Farm Foundation claimed to have placed more than 30 with police agencies, and Croft told media that the program included more than 100.
Among the organizations whose pit bulls the Animal Farm Foundation sponsored for “detection dog” training at Universal K-9 were Austin Pets Alive, which sent six pit bulls eventually placed with police departments; Texas Star Rescue, which sent five; and Balanced Training Rescue, which sent three.
The Dallas County Animal Shelter, the Harris County Animal Shelter in Houston, and the Kirby Animal Shelter in Kirby, Texas, sent two pit bulls each.
Other shelters furnishing pit bulls to the “Sector K9” program included the Boerne Animal Shelter, the Buster Foundation, the Canyon Lake Animal Shelter Society, Chicago Animal Care & Control, the Dutchess County SPCA in upstate New York, and Metro Animal Care & Control, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Agencies known to have received pit bulls from the program are identified in Convicted of G.I. Bill fraud: trainer who prepped pit bulls for police work.