Lakeland, Florida Hearing Officer Overturns Dangerous Dog Ruling for “Pit Bull”
I have long written about the unconstitutionality of administrative hearing provisions in dangerous dog laws, but a Lakeland, Florida Administrative Hearing Officer recently illustrated why administrative hearings are unconstitutional and adversely affect owners of certain breeds more than others. Â
On Monday, December 16, 2013, Lakeland Administrative Hearing Officer Maria C. Gallo overturned her own ruling from November 15 that a 3-year-old “pit bull” named Chevy was ‘dangerous.’ Gallo determined that when Chevy bit James Wilson, who lived next-door to Chevy’s owners, Nicholas Pilcher and Stephanie GranÂger, that Chevy was simply defending a human being.Â
The Ledger reported that,
Monday’s order hinged on Gallo’s determination that Chevy was protecting a human being when it bit Wilson.
The order gave a narrative in which Wilson made an “unjustified attack” on a pit bull puppy named Duke near the fence line between Pilcher’s and Wilson’s properties. It says Wilson slammed the dog’s head into a metal fence post, a charge Wilson has denied.
Gallo’s order says Wilson and his wife, Shawna Wilson, made an “unjustified attack” on Stuart Vaughn, a friend who was visiting Pilcher. She ruled that Chevy was reacting to protect a human in his vicinity when the dog bit James Wilson, and therefore the dog could not be declared danÂgerous.
Forget for a minute that Mr. Wilson is alleged to have abused a puppy and that he and his wife are also alleged to have attacked a visitor to the home of Chevy’s owners, Nicholas Pilcher and Stephanie Granger.Â Could it be that the Administrative Hearing Officer, Maria Gallo, made a hasty decision that Chevy was a ‘dangerous’ dog simply because Chevy was a so-called “pit bull”?Â
And suppose Mr. Pilcher and Ms. Granger could not have afforded to hire their attorney, Ted Weeks, who filed a motion on their behalf for a re-hearing.Â It’s not so difficult to conclude that Chevy would have remained under the ‘dangerous’ dog stigma had his owners not been able to afford proper legal representation to challenge Gallo’s arbitrary ‘dangerous’ dog ruling.Â
It should also be noted that Ms. Gallo now believes that the supposed bite marks on Mr. Wilson’s neck were actually punctures caused by his sliding under Pilcher’s and Granger’s chain-link fence.Â So, could it be that Admin Hearing Officer Maria Gallo just made a knee-jerk assessment that Chevy was a supposedly ‘dangerous’ dog simply because Chevy was a “pit bull,” and that once Chevy’s owners’ attorney forced Ms. Gallo to properly investigate the situation like she should have initially, that she found, as she should have at the outset, that a dog attack most likely didn’t even occur?Â
Do you see why administrative hearings are wholly unconstitutional?Â They completely negate a dog owner’s due process rights.Â Do you see why administrative hearing judges are a poor substitute for a proper judge in a proper court of law?Â Admin hearing officers/judges are wholly unqualified and clearly make knee-jerk decisions without even properly weighing the evidence or allowing the accused and their complaints to be properly heard.Â
In fact, what happened to poor Chevy and his owners is a perfect example of what I mean when I say thatÂ dangerous dog laws can be just as deadly and unconstitutional as breed-specific legislation (BSL).Â