Disappointed in accuracy of report
September 18, 2014
The Willits News
By Linda Williams
The Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster responded to Mendocino County Grand Jury Report on animal control services by expressing disappointment with the accuracy of the findings and recommendations.
"This report – on its face – manifests a wholly inadequate and incomplete investigation, yet still seeks to make recommendations regarding the District Attorney's scope of oversight, duty to review crime reports, and responsibility where appropriate to initiate the prosecution of a certain category of defendant," said Eyster in his response. "From the District Attorney's perspective, this is a cursory and incomplete work in progress. How could it be possible that the Grand Jury failed to seek input from the District Attorney or his staff prior to making "findings" and "recommendations" that directly comment on and relate to the business of the District Attorney?
"Moreover, the Grand Jury did not attempt to investigate whether one or more witnesses it may have heard from had personal agendas and/or may have provided inaccurate or incomplete information, which in the final analysis seems to be the case. The accuracy of information received by the Grand Jury, or lack thereof, could have easily been fact-checked based on available electronic records maintained in the District Attorney's two record management systems, in public records maintained by the courts, or in the Sheriff's data management system. The District Attorney has had a professional and cordial business relationship with the Grand Jury since taking office in January 2011 and hopes that relationship continues.
However, that relationship notwithstanding, this report is lacking."
For a number of the findings, especially those dealing with internal Animal Control Services procedures and policies, Eyster advised these issues were the responsibility of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.
Eyster had plenty to say on several of the findings and recommendations.
•"Finding 22. Veterinarians and Animal Control Officers are concerned about the District Attorney's lack of prosecution of animal abuse or neglect cases," in the Grand Jury report.
Eyster's response: "The District Attorney disagrees with this finding because there is no information provided to agree with."
In the response Eyster expressed surprise the Grand Jury failed to ask his office to provide details on his office's handling of animal abuse cases. He stated he has never received communication from any state licensed veterinarian involved in an abuse investigation. He also stated neither the sheriff nor any animal control officer has come to the DA with any concerns about the review of, or lack of prosecution of any animal abuse case. Eyster then provided the following statistics:
"In calendar year 2011, Animal Control submitted only one (1) report for charging consideration by the DA. That single report was declined for prosecution by the Deputy District Attorney who reviewed it, noting that the rejection was in the interests of justice. Animal Control personnel did not seek further review of this declination by the District Attorney or his management-level attorneys, as is allowed.
"In calendar year 2012, Animal Control submitted no reports for charging consideration by the DA.
"In calendar year 2013, Animal Control submitted four (4) reports for charging consideration by the DA. Two reports were declined for prosecution based on the insufficiency of the evidence developed by Animal Control in the course of its investigation. The third report was combined with a separate Sheriff's Office report and approved for combined charging in a single accusatory pleading. The charged defendant was ultimately convicted of misdemeanor animal neglect and is currently on court probation. The fourth report was approved for filing and the District Attorney has already obtained a felony conviction against that defendant for his misconduct.
"During the first six months of 2014, Animal Control has submitted one report. That report was approved for charging.
"In summary, Animal Control has submitted only six (6) reports in the last 42 months to the DA. Three reports were accepted for prosecution. Three reports were declined for prosecution – two of those three were returned for lack of evidence having been developed during Animal Control's investigation so that any crime could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury with admissible evidence."
•F23. The District Attorney's reluctance to prosecute animal abuse cases, for whatever reason, has led to abusive owners keeping the abused animals longer.
"Had the Grand Jury exercised due diligence and actually reviewed available public and in-house records, it would have discovered that the District Attorney has indeed been diligent in the prosecution of animal abuse or neglect cases, and has been winning convictions on these cases since taking office in January 2011. The Grand Jury would have also learned that Animal Control is not the only law enforcement "game" in town. Other law enforcement agencies – perhaps more experienced in investigations, evidence collection, and report writing – have had their animal abuse or neglect cases reviewed, approved, and prosecuted.
"Examples of actual animal cases that the Grand Jury should have reviewed to determine whether the District Attorney's Office has actually been prosecuting animal abuse or neglect cases with no hint of reluctance are the following:
"Defendant Culpepper (14-76063) was sentenced to two years probation July 28, 2014, having pled no contest to misdemeanor animal abuse on June 2, 2014. The defendant was ordered to serve 180 days in the county jail as a condition of a two year term of probation (Submitted to the DA by Animal Control)
"Defendant Gitchel (13-74286) was prosecuted and he is participating in rehabilitative Drug Court, as authorized by law, having pled no contest to felony animal abuse on November 5, 2013. (Submitted to the DA by Fish and Wildlife)
"Defendant Phillips (13-75117) was convicted of misdemeanor maintaining a public nuisance relating to animals. She is now on 36 months probation, as of June 17, 2014, with court-ordered limitations on the number of animals she may possess and other terms and conditions. (Submitted to the DA by the Sheriff's Office and Animal Control)
"Defendant Lane (13-72623) was prosecuted and sentenced to state prison for felony animal abuse, having been convicted of that charge by jury. (Submitted to the DA by the Fort Bragg Police Department).
"Defendant O'Brien (12-70506) was prosecuted and he is currently on supervised probation for felony animal abuse. (Submitted to the DA by the Sheriff's Office).
"Defendant Keiley (12-23121) was taken before a jury on misdemeanor animal abuse charges. He was found not guilty by that jury of his peers. (Submitted to the DA by the Fort Bragg Police Department).
"Defendant Aceves (12-22933) was prosecuted and he is currently on supervised probation for misdemeanor animal abuse. (Submitted to the DA by the Willits Police Department).
"Defendant Clemons (12-22404) was prosecuted but the magistrate refused to hold him to answer on the felony animal abuse charge. The court dismissed the case. (Submitted to the DA by the Fort Bragg Police Department).
"Defendant Shamhart (12-2144) was prosecuted and convicted of misdemeanor animal neglect. (Submitted to the DA by Animal Control).
"Defendant Lawrence (10-12531) was convicted by the prior administration of felony animal abuse and placed on supervised probation. The current District Attorney caused that supervised probation to be permanently revoked in 2011 and successfully argued for Lawrence to be sent to state prison in 2011 for violating probation. (Submitted to the DA by the Sheriff's Office)"
•Finding 24. Lack of prosecution leads to Animal Control putting more emphasis on working with abusive owners longer in an attempt to alter owner behavior before proceedings with removal of the animals.
"The District Attorney does not agree with the overall premise that the District Attorney is somehow forcing Animal Control to do things it does not otherwise want to do. While the District Attorney has his own in-house investigators, Animal Control has never sought assistance from these more experienced investigators."
•Recommendation 10. The District Attorney and the County Sheriff meet to establish guidelines setting forth the standards necessary to refer a case to the District Attorney's Office for prosecution. (F22, F23, F24)
"The District Attorney does not agree with this recommendation because guidelines and standards already exist and no additional or special guidelines and standards need be established for Animal Control."
The full text of the District Attorney's response can be found at www.co.mendocino.ca.us/da/pdf/Animal_Control_Services.pdf; the Grand Jury Reports are available at www.co.mendocino.ca.us/grandjury/13-14/index.htm.