Norwich pit bull bite case resolved with guilty plea, fine

Norwich — The owner of two pit bulls that attacked a family on Talman Street last fall, severely injuring a 4-year-old girl, pleaded guilty to seven infractions Tuesday as her trial was to begin in Superior Court.

Sheri Speer, 45, of 151 Talman St. cried as she entered her pleas before Judge Timothy D. Bates. To resolve the case short of trial, Speer agreed to pay a fine of $385 for two counts of permitting a dog to roam, two counts of possession of a vicious dog, two counts of failure to register a dog and one count of failing to vaccinate a dog for rabies.

Speer could have faced more than $600 in fines, fees and costs had she been found guilty after a trial. She and her attorney, Edward E. Bona, left the courthouse after paying the fine and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The fate of the dogs, which have been impounded at the city’s animal shelter since the Oct. 8, 2013, incident, will be decided following an Aug. 28 hearing before the state Department of Agriculture’s animal control division. Norwich Animal Control Officer Michele Kellough has ordered the animals destroyed, but Speer appealed to the state.

The guilty pleas brought little satisfaction to Lisa Hall, who was walking her three grandchildren, 4-year-old twins Marlena and Audrena Downing and 10-month-old Marquice Downing Jr., to the Bishop School playground when the two dogs attacked.

“My grandchild for the rest of her life has to deal with not liking dogs,” Hall said. “She (Speer) only got a lousy $385 fine.”

Hall said the incident left her feeling as if she couldn’t protect the children and deprived her of the joy of taking them on outings. She said she saw the dogs coming toward her family but thought the owner would call them back before anything happened.

One of the pit bulls chased Audrena, who had run away, and the other lunged at Marquice in his stroller, Hall said. The dog appeared to be going for the baby’s eyes when Marlena used her arm to block it from attacking her little brother, Hall said. She said the dog latched on to the girl’s arm, and the baby’s stroller fell over as Hall attempted to beat the animal off her granddaughter. A passer-by in a car used a broom to beat the dog away from Marlena, Hall said, and eventually, Speer’s handyman called the dogs back to the house.

Marlena suffered from 11 dog bites and two broken bones even though she was wearing a heavy coat, the grandmother said. She was taken to The William W. Backus Hospital and transferred to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, where she underwent emergency surgery.

The children’s father, Marquice Downing, said Marlena made a good recovery but will require plastic surgery for her scars.

“She actually saved my son,” the father said.

Attorney Randall A. Ortega is working with the family and said they would be filing a civil lawsuit.

Prosecutor Jennifer W. Cooper said that at an earlier trial, a magistrate had found Speer guilty of all seven infractions. She requested a new trial in Superior Court, and Cooper said she was prepared last month to elicit testimony from witnesses, including Hall and the animal control officer and to show the judge photos of Marlena’s mangled arm.

Speer asked for a continuance, saying she was undergoing dental surgery, Cooper said. The judge denied the continuance, but Speer failed to show up. The trial was rescheduled for Tuesday, but Speer accepted the state’s offer of a reduced fine before Cooper began presenting evidence.

The Hall/Downing family said they feel as if they have twice been wronged by Speer, a real estate agent, who they said rented them an apartment at 123 Talman St. that had been condemned by the city two years earlier, in 2011. Two months after the dog bite incident, the family called the city housing department to complain about exposed heating pipes and other issues and learned the property had been condemned.

Officials gave them 72 hours to vacate the property, and they scrambled to find another place to live just before Christmas.

k.florin@theday.com

Twitter: @kflorin

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