Norwich pit bulls’ owner fights ruling to destroy dogs after 2013 attack
Norwich - Two pit bulls allegedly involved in a vicious attack on two young children and their grandmother in October 2013 have now been in city custody at the Norwich dog pound for 14 months as the dogs' owner continues to appeal the destruction order, arguing the city has fingered the wrong dogs.
Pit bulls Skyler, now about 6 years old, and her daughter, Dolly, now 2, have been held at the city dog pound in Mohegan Park with minimal human interaction since the attack occurred on Oct. 8, 2013. City Animal Control Officer Michele Lombardi issued the destruction order for both dogs Oct. 15, 2013, after a police investigation into the attack.
Owner Sheri Speer appealed the order to the state Department of Agriculture, claiming her dogs were secured at the time of the attack and city officials are ignoring evidence that other pit bulls roam the Talman Street neighborhood where the attack occurred.
Department of Agriculture hearing officer Dr. Bruce Sherman issued an 18-page ruling Nov. 20, 2014, recommending Commissioner Steven Reviczky affirm the city's destruction order. Speer has appealed that proposed decision, asking the commissioner to hold oral arguments in the case.
Reviczky agreed to hold a session, which has not yet been scheduled, department spokesman Steven Jensen said.
Dogs in limbo
Lombardi said both dogs have suffered from the long confinement. The older dog has "pretty much given up," and acts depressed and uninterested, Lombardi said, while the younger dog is "bouncing off the walls." She said Dolly is aggressive toward anyone who doesn't regularly feed her and toward other dogs coming through the kennel area. The dog throws feces in its kennel run, rolls in feces and destroys toys and bedding.
Lombardi said Speer has only visited the dogs once since they were impounded, and Lombardi said the owner would not be allowed personal contact with the dogs. She could visit through the glass-walled enclosure only.
The city is paying the cost of the confinement.
Speer could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
According to the police record and testimony at the Aug. 25 Department of Agriculture hearing, the attack occurred on the afternoon of Oct. 8, when grandmother Lisa Hall was escorting her three young grandchildren from their home at 123 Talman St. - a rental house owned by Speer - to the Bishop School playground.
When the family walked along the street in front of 151 Talman St., Speer's home, two large pit bulls charged from the yard. One dog attacked the baby stroller carrying then-9-month-old Marquice Downing, knocking the stroller over and causing a minor bite wound on the baby's forehead.
The baby's sister, Marlena Downing, then almost 5, stuck her arm out to protect the baby. The dog latched onto her arm, shaking it, tearing flesh and breaking her arm. Hall kicked at the dog and a passerby who stopped to help grabbed a stick and struck the dog. At one point, the dog bit Hall's leg.
While the attack occurred, Marlena's twin sister, Audrena Downing, ran screaming from the scene toward her home. The second dog chased her. She banged on the door of another tenant in the house, and the woman let the child enter. She hid behind the couch until police arrived.
Police investigated and took testimony from witnesses and a maintenance worker, Carlos Rivera, working at Speer's home and took the dogs into custody. Lombardi said the two dogs are so similar in appearance that witnesses could not determine which dog attacked Hall and the two children and which dog chased the third child.
Police said both dogs behaved extremely aggressively as they were taken to the pound that night. Lombardi issued the destruction order on both dogs.
Speer was charged with two counts each of allowing dogs to roam, having nuisance, vicious dogs and unlicensed dogs and one count of failure to vaccinate against rabies. The older dog, Skyler, was not vaccinated.
Speer pleaded guilty to all charges in Superior Court and paid a fine, but during the dog destruction appeal, she and attorney Edward Bona contended that Speer attempted to plead under the Alford Doctrine, under which she would have disagreed with the allegations but pleaded to avoid a trial. However, the state did not allow the Alford Doctrine plea, and Speer pleaded guilty to the charges.
In his proposed decision, Sherman said there is "ample evidence" supporting the city's claim that Speer's dogs attacked the family, including Speer's guilty plea.
He said testimony by maintenance worker Rivera was contradictory. Witnesses said Rivera made statements the day of the attack and the following day, apologizing to the family and telling the family that he thought it was Skyler who bit the children and grandmother. During testimony at the appeal hearing, Rivera said he never made those statements and only said he was sorry in general that the children and grandmother were hurt.
In his three-page challenge to Sherman's recommended decision, Bona said there were deficiencies in the hearing officer's report, including omitting that Speer had asked to enter an Alford Doctrine plea. Bona also argued that the deck where the dogs were confined is too steep for them to have jumped out - a claim disputed by witnesses and police, who testified that the deck is low to the ground at one end. Bona asked to submit photos during the upcoming oral argument.
Bona also contended that the city and the proposed decision ignored the possibility that other dogs in the neighborhood could have attacked the family. He said the state risked acting on a rule of thumb to "simply execute the first dogs in sight whenever an attack occurs," allowing the actual offending dog to "roam free."
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