The owners of a Morgan Hill pit bull accused of mauling a Chihuahua are still fighting the case in Superior Court, and are crying foul at the police department’s handling of their case.
The defendants, who attended an administrative “dangerous dog” hearing last month, are also circulating a petition asking for accountability for officers who process animal control complaints. The petition, titled “Morgan Hill Police: Stop intimidating, harassing and forcing families to euthanize their dogs,” is posted on the Internet and has so far been signed by 297 people.
Morgan Hill police Capt. Jerry Neumayer denied accusations that officers who handled the case tried to deprive the defendants of their due process, which includes the right to a hearing. He noted the defendant has not filed a formal complaint, and the suggestions of harassment or intimidation by the officers are “not typical” of how Morgan Hill police would respond to an incident.
The complaints started Dec. 22, 2011, when a 1-year-old pit bull on East Edmundson Avenue allegedly attacked a Chihuahua that lived next door.
The Chihuahua survived the bite wounds and was checked out at the Morgan Hill Animal Hospital, but its owners could not afford further surgery to treat it, according to Ash Sundaram, a volunteer at the animal hospital and witness to the post-incident fallout.
The pit bull, Lilly, was eventually quarantined by court order and her owners – Esequiel Martinez and Lori Lewis – were cited for three infractions of the city’s animal code and two misdemeanors – animal bites causing injury and animals running at large.
At an administrative hearing Jan. 6, Lilly was classified as a level two, potentially dangerous dog. The highest and most dangerous classification for a pet in the city ordinance is level three, and usually requires the animal to be euthanized.
Lilly was tentatively classified as a level three dog before the administrative hearing, but police decided to reduce her to level two based on the evidence. Neumayer said it is common practice for dogs accused of biting another animal or person to be charged with a level three violation.
Sundaram brought the defendants’ complaints to the city council meeting Wednesday, where she handed each council member of the petition. She said that officers who initially responded to the incident tried to verbally order Lilly’s owner to euthanize the dog, without a court order or any other documentation. And the officers told them the city was not required to allow a hearing to contest or prove the charges.
Police eventually secured a warrant for the dog’s impoundment.
“We ask for accountability for the actions of the officers, and an investigation into the operations of Morgan Hill animal control to make sure such incidents do not happen again,” Sundaram said.
As a level two dog, Lilly does not have to be euthanized, but she must be restrained and securely confined at all times.