Lawsuit Filed in Federal Court against Richland, Mississippi “Pit Bull” Ban

I’ve included the following excerpts from the AP article about the lawsuit and will point-counterpoint address the City of Richland’s ridiculous comments about their breed-specific legislation (BSL), which include long-outdated urban mythology about that non-existent “breed” “pit bull.”

From the AP:

…The city of Richland, a Jackson suburb of about 7,000 residents, passed an ordinance in April 2006 that bans American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and mixed-breed offspring of those animals.

…Arthur Young, 21, said in a recent interview that he was walking his pit bull, Apollo, last year when someone called the police. A Richland animal control officer later contacted Young’s family and said the dog would be seized and possibly put down if he didn’t get it out of the city, Young said.

While the city’s ordinance lists actual breeds, were these the breeds responsible for the two attacks — one on a police officer, and one on a child — that prompted the city to ban these breeds in 2006?   And yes, simply listing “mixed-breeds” of the listed breeds as if the owners should automatically know if they have a mixed-breed dog of one of the banned   breeds is unconstitutionally vague.

….”The argument they are making is that pit bulls are aggressive. There’s no scientific evidence of that,” Young said….

Young is right.   There is no scientific evidence that any one breed is more aggressive than another.   The American Temperament Test Society has found for the breeds Richland bans — American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers — that they pass their temperament tests 86.8%,  90.7%,   and 84.5% of the time respectively, and are among some of the most often tested breeds.   These statistics are comparable with Golden Retrievers (85.2%) and Labradors (92.0%), dogs commonly and erroneously thought to be more mild-mannered.

Richland Mayor Mark Scarborough says [the argument that there’s no scientific evidence that “pit bulls” are more aggressive than other breeds] isn’t true.

“That’s not the argument we’re making. It’s not that they attack more than any other breed, it’s that when they attack, it’s the results of the attack.” Scarborough said. “If my lab bites you, he’s going to bite you, release and back away. Most dogs do. But when that pit bull or that type breed bites, it doesn’t back away, it continues to attack.”

This statement is patently false.   Dog bites/attacks are no more or less horrific depending on breed.   Even small-breed dogs have been known to kill infants, and medium- and large-breed dogs of any breed can do extensive damage in the rare instances when they attack simply because of their frenzied state.   For example, in 2005 a woman in France became the first successful recipient of facial transplantation after her dog, a Labrador, mauled her face unrecognizable.   Yet France did not ban Labradors, nor did any of its regions.   Because the mauling involved a Labrador and not the ‘usual suspects’ the media likes to report on like Rottweilers or the dogs they call “pit bulls,” we would probably not even have known about the Labrador mauling its owner had the victim not been a breakthrough in medical science.

As for the falsehood that so-called “pit bulls” do more damage when they attack, this is long-ago debunked urban mythology.   Indeed, the claim that “pit bulls” are more dangerous than the average canine is just another variant of the locking-jaws/more-powerful-jaws urban mythology of the “pit bull,” which is wholly false.   In 2005 Dr. Brady Barr in a show for National Geographic called “Dangerous Encounters” conducted bite-force tests for several kinds of animals.   Also included in the tests were three breeds of dog: the German Shepherd, the Rottweiler, and the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT). [And while the APBT is an actual breed, it is unclear if this is the breed to which the media and others are referring when they use the slang term “pit bull” to describe bites/attacks, though APBTs are almost always one of the breeds named when breed-specific legislation is passed.]   Of the three, the American Pit Bull Terrier had the least amount of bite force, which was found to be well below the average dog’s 320-pound bite pressure.

Further, I. Lehr Brisbin, Ph.D., who is a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and an expert in training, handling, behavior and the anatomy of bulldog breeds has said that,

“The few studies which have been conducted of the structure of the skulls, mandibles and teeth of [American Pit Bull Terriers] show that, in proportion to their size, their jaw structure and thus its inferred functional morphology, is no different than that of any [other] breed of dog. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of any kind of locking mechanism unique to the structure of the jaw and/or teeth of the American Pit Bull Terrier” (Source: American Dog Breeders Association, “Discover the American Pit Bull Terrier”).

Additionally, in testimony from the Toledo v. Tellings case in 2006, Dr. Brisbin also explained “gameness,” which many people incorrectly believe makes “pit bulls” more dangerous than other “breeds” of dog.   The court affirmed Dr. Brisbin’s findings that,

“Many pit bulls [which the court defined prior as meaning the American Pit Bull Terrier] may also exhibit a behavior or trait referred to as ˜gameness, which, simply stated, is the ability or willingness to continue doing an action once begun, i.e. stick-to-it-iveness. Gameness, in itself, is not a negative trait. For example, the ability to carry out duties or trained tasks, despite injury, distraction, or frustration, is desirable in [APBTs] which have been trained to be search and rescue dogs, protection dogs in the U.S. military, drug sniffing dogs, and therapy dogs.”

As ever, dogs of any breed can be trained to do good things, or, if left unattended like when an owner allows a dog to free-roam, dogs may do less than desirable things.   The less than desirable things are more conspicuous, certainly, but are still an indication of an owner problem, not a breed problem.   The irresponsible owner problem isn’t going to go away simply by banning or restricting the breed of dog they are thought to own since these types of irresponsible owners — who are in the extreme minority compared to the majority of responsible dog owners — typically demonstrate their unwillingness to abide by the law well before breed-specific legislation is even ever proposed.

Still, the City of Richland cited a study that supposedly proves the Mayor’s claim that the non-existent “breed” “pit bull” is associated with higher death rates, etc.:

…A 2011 study published in the Annals of Surgery said attacks by “pit bulls are associated with higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs.”

“Strict regulation of pit bulls may substantially reduce the US mortality rates related to dog bites,” the study found.

First of all, strict regulation of specific breeds has not reduced dog bites or dog bite-related fatalities, but I’ll address that later.   Second, any “study” that cites “pit bull” as if it were a real breed is automatically skewed and therefore worthless.   Again, there is no breed “pit bull” and so all that the study cited by Richland’s Mayor proves is that medium- and large-breed canines (both erroneously mislabeled “pit bulls” by a bloodthirsty media, et al) can potentially do a lot of damage, including killing, in the extremely rare instances when they attack.   And medium- and large-breed canines can be anything from Airedale Terriers and Boxers to Labradors and English Mastiffs.   So, if, for instance, the media mislabels mastiffs as “pit bulls,” which they do quite often, don’t you think a mastiff, a typically 100+ pound dog, could do a lot of damage in an attack?

A mastiff is quite different from the breeds listed in Richland’s “pit bull” ban, and yet the Mayor is citing a study that almost certainly mislabels mastiffs and other actual breeds as the all-inclusive “pit bull.”   In other words, all kinds of breeds of dog are responsible for attacks, but when the media mislabels a majority of dogs in attacks as “pit bulls,” then when municipalities seek to pass BSL, a “pit bull” can be anything the city or county wants it to be.   So, while it sounds highfalutin to cite a study from the Annals of Surgery, doctors and those conducting biased studies are not experts in canine breed determinations (particularly since they are referring to a “breed” of dog that doesn’t exist), and therefore their specious “study” should be outright dismissed.

The CDC, who partly negated their own study by acknowledging their “statistics” were based on mere media reports and were therefore skewed and worthless where their stats on “pit bull-type dogs” were concerned, concluded about BSL that,

“Breed-specific legislation does not address the fact that a dog of any breed can become dangerous…From a scientific point of view, we are unaware of any formal evaluation of the effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in preventing fatal or nonfatal dog bites.   An alternative to breed-specific legislation is to regulate individual dogs and owners on the basis of their behavior.”

The AP then went on to cite supposed BSL “success” stories:

…Regardless of whether it’s based on science or perception, many communities across the country have passed laws banning or restricting pit bulls, including big cities like Denver and Miami.

It’s not science but it may very well be misperception.   One thing is for sure, BSL proponents outright lie or simply tell half-truths.   For instance, when Assistant City Attorney Kory Nelson claims that Denver is a BSL success story, he fails to mention that  in the 2004 case of Margolius v. The City of Denver, it was shown that Mr. Margolius’ due process rights were violated when Denvers own animal control Officers could not discern what was and was not a “pit bull” as defined by their own ordinance.   Denver violated dog owners’ due process rights again when the Denver Daily News reported that in January 2011 (and in 2009) Denver’s animal control officers could not tell the difference between a Boxer mix and what Denver’s own ordinance defined as a “pit bull.”   The findings in these cases are a wake-up call for those who claim that Denver’s “pit bull” ban has been successful.

Likewise, one can hardly ignore the racial aspect that often surrounds breed-specific legislation.   To put that another way, is Miami’s BSL trying to control dogs in Miami, or their Latino and African-American owners?   Judging from an opinion editorial from Broward County Sun-Sentinel‘s Gary Stein, I’d say it’s to control minorities.   Stein wrote:

“I’m resigned to the fact nothing is going to change, and pit bulls will still be in neighborhoods where they shouldnt be. And the next time you hear about a cop being called to a neighborhood to shoot an out-of-control cocker spaniel, let me know.”

We all know to which neighborhoods Mr. Stein is referring.   So when BSL advocates have historically referred to thugs, gangbangers, or drug dealers as being the supposed predominant owners of so-called pit bulls, they have meant African-Americans and Latinos.   They used to be outright racist instead of vaguely racist, but now with political correctness, the racism is still there, just perhaps a little more veiled.

Even if we suspended reality long enough to suppose that Miami-Dade’s breed ban didn’t have some racial component to it, the claimed success of Miami-Dade’s BSL is not at all evident via its dog bite statistics, which are higher than the rest of the state of Florida.   In fact, the National Canine Research Council notes that,

In 1998, ten years after the breed ban had been enacted, [Miami-Dade] county’s population was 14% of the total population of Florida; yet it had 18% of the dog bite hospitalizations. In 2007, Miami-Dade’s population was 13% of Florida’s total population, but it had 16% of the state’s dog bite victim hospitalizations. Miami-Dade is the only Florida county with a breed ban.

In other words, Miami-Dade County has a disproportionate number of dog bite hospitalizations despite its 24-year long breed ban.

So, if Richland, Mississippi, was looking to pattern itself after Denver and Miami-Dade in terms of animal control officers not being able to discern what a “pit bull” is as defined by their own ordinance, and using BSL as a tool to manage dogs’ minority owners, well, they’re well on their way.   Because ACO subjectivity and racism are about all that BSL produces since breed-specific legislation, in any form, has a long-standing history of not reducing dog bites.

Arthur Young’s attorney William Featherston Jr. likewise acknowledged the subjectivity involved in animal control officers’ breed determinations claiming that,

…the Richland ordinance allows animal control officers to make subjective and arbitrary decisions on what constitutes a pit bull.

“Under the ordinance, the animal control officer, in his discretion, if he deems the animal dangerous, can put the dog down,” Featherston said.

And if you don’t think breed-specific ordinances leave breed determinations up to the subjectivity of ACOs who typically cannot discern what is and what is not a “pit bull” as defined by their own ordinances, then I refer you again to the failures of Denver and Miami-Dade cited above.

Featherston also points to the unconstitutionality of what has been referred to as an “administrative hearing” for owners of specific breeds of dog to contest the ACO findings that their dog is a restricted breed, adding,

The lawsuit argues that the ordinance violates animal owners’ 14th Amendment right to due process. Featherston said in a telephone interview that the 14th Amendment provides that people have the right to a hearing before the seizure of property.

Yet Richland’s Mayor doesn’t see it that way:

Scarborough said the ordinance doesn’t violate due process because pet owners can go before the board of aldermen to challenge the determination that a dog is a pit bull. He also said the ordinance doesn’t deprive people of their property because they can keep their dogs, just not in the city.

The Board of Aldermen do not constitute a proper court of law, nor are they experts in breed determinations (but then, neither are animal control officers), which is why indeed BSL has repeatedly been found to violate the 14th amendment due process clause which states that,

“No State shall…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Dogs are property and as such cannot arbitrarily be taken away based on spurious “evidence” that an ill-defined “breed” is supposedly dangerous based on nothing more than massively skewed statistics. Nor is a mere administrative hearing or an appearance before the very entity, the board of aldermen, that is illegally and unconstitutionally depriving the dog owner of his property, his dog, due process.

The lawsuit likewise points to the vagueness of Richland’s breed-specific ordinance:

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson, seeks a preliminary injunction to prevent the city from seizing Young’s dog. It also seeks a declaratory judgment that the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague.

The ordinance bans any dog “commonly recognizable and identifiable” as any kind of pit bull. The lawsuit says that kind of language leaves pet owners to wonder: Commonly identifiable by whom, “by dog wardens, by animal control officers, by the general public, by dog enthusiasts, by dog breeders, etc.

“Commonly recognizable and identifiable” is indeed unconstitutionally vague, leaving a reasonable dog owner in Richland unsure of how to abide by the city’s law.   As a result, Richland may find itself in the same boat as its crony, Denver, whose animal control officers literally could not pick a “pit bull,” as defined by their own ordinance, out of a line-up.   So a logical question to ask cities who unfathomably waste tax-payers’ hard-earned money upholding ineffective, unenforceable, and unconstitutional legislation like breed-specific laws is: If you can’t even tell what a “pit bull” is as you define it, how are your constituents supposed to know whether they have a restricted breed or not?

Indeed, breed-specific legislation continues to be proven ineffective, costly, and burdensome legislation, so why do municipalities like Richland (or Denver or Miami-Dade for that matter) continue to burden their tax payers by legally defending impotent legislation that doesn’t even keep their citizens safer?   And while few will publicly talk about it, there has always been a corrupt element behind the scenes of breed-specific legislation who endeavor to uphold this ineffective legislation at any cost, which has meant at least one or two kangaroo court rulings, and even public claims of evidence tampering.   Why some will go so far, including engaging in corruption, to ensure the continuance of ineffective legislation I cannot say, but the corruption is nonetheless evident.

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One response to “Lawsuit Filed in Federal Court against Richland, Mississippi “Pit Bull” Ban”

  1. Here is the Denver Daily News article I cited in the above post. It no longer exists on the net, but here it is excerpted:

    More innocent dogs targeted?
    Judge rules that city mislabeled another innocent dog as a pit bull
    Peter Marcus, DDN Staff Writer
    Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    Denver animal control officers mislabeled another dog as a pit bull, raising additional questions over the departments credibility when handling the lives of both the dogs themselves and the families they come from.

    An administrative-law judge this month ruled that animal control officers mislabeled a 10-month-old boxer-mix puppy as a pit bull.

    Despite being identified by three independent animal control officers as being a pit bull, the administrative-law judge heard testimony from experts stating otherwise, and ruled that the animal control officers had mislabeled the dog.

    …The incident unraveled on Jan. 3 when Mufasia, the boxer-mix, escaped from his owners yard on South Sheridan in south Denver. Mufasia ended up at a nearby school playground where he was playing with children.

    Animal control officers were called about the loose dog, and he was impounded.

    Mufasia was not wearing tags, but his owners, Amee Blauwkamp and Robert Atencio, started calling around to local shelters. None of the shelters seemed to have him, not even the Denver Animal Shelter on Jason Street.

    But to their surprise, when a relative went down to the shelter, Mufasia was in fact there.

    In the 48 hours while Mufasia was at the shelter, he was identified as a pit bull, despite the owners pointing out that when he received his vaccinations, the dog was never identified as a pit bull. Both Blauwkamp and Atencio say they wouldnt have adopted the dog had it been a pit bull, well aware that the breed is banned in Denver.

    But animal control officials maintained that Mufasia was a pit bull. The owners had two choices: let animal control officers kill the dog, or release him to a friend outside the city. They chose the latter.

    Blauwkamp says she asked animal control officers what her options were, but was never told that there was an appeals process. She found that out after contacting the Wheat Ridge-based Animal Law Center, who ended up representing Blauwkamp and Atencio during the appeals process.

    During the Feb. 2 hearing, testimony was presented by two experts, an American Kennel Club judge and a United Kennel Club judge, who both agreed that Mufasia was not a pit bull. The judge agreed that there was not conclusive evidence suggesting that the dog was a pit bull.

    Blauwkamp and Atencio learned on Friday of the ruling, and Mufasia is now back home in Denver.

    The incident mirrors a situation in 2009 when Denver animal control officers misidentified another boxer-mix, Dexter, as a pit bull, according to the ruling in that case.

    Such misidentifications raise concerns over whether innocent dogs are being killed or banned in Denver.

    Time and time again we have seen that the city relies on poorly trained employees to determine which dogs in their possession are pit bulls, said Jennifer Edwards, an attorney with the Animal Law Center who represented Blauwkamp and Atencio. Their inability to single out pit bulls from other breeds has meant a death sentence for thousands of dogs in the years that the citys pit bull ban has been in place.…

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