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.  

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 Gran ­ger, that Chevy was simply defending a human being.  

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 dan ­gerous.

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.   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”?  

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.   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.  

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.   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?  

Do you see why administrative hearings are wholly unconstitutional?   They completely negate a dog owner’s due process rights.   Do you see why administrative hearing judges are a poor substitute for a proper judge in a proper court of law?   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.  

In fact, what happened to poor Chevy and his owners is a perfect example of what I mean when I say that  dangerous dog laws can be just as deadly and unconstitutional as breed-specific legislation (BSL).  


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2 responses to “Lakeland, Florida Hearing Officer Overturns Dangerous Dog Ruling for “Pit Bull””

  1. And here’s another incident from North Platte, Nebraska where a woman’s dog was declared dangerous with little proof offered and little investigation done. They did try to coerce her into signing a waiver declaring her dog was dangerous in order to get her dog back, however.

    Where is the due process? And you call “appealing” to the local city council an appeals process? Again, that is not proper due process; it’s not even a proper court of law! And Ms. Burkholder clearly cannot afford an attorney and so North Platte gets away with an unconstitutional deprivation of Ms. Burkholder’s property, the enjoyment of her dog.

    So in North Platte some Animal Control Officer/commission can just carte blanche declare your dog dangerous with no more “proof” than one eyewitness claim and that’s all it takes? Sounds like Jaz was stereotyped because someone thought she looked like a “pit bull” and what was simply her being a playful puppy was misconstrued as threatening behavior by a flinchy, knee-jerk person walking her dogs. Jaz needs a trainer; not a dangerous dog declaration:

    …”[Kendra] Burkholder was at work when the incident that led to an animal control officer declaring Jaz [a boxer, Labrador, pit bull mix] potentially dangerous and taking the dog off to the animal shelter, so she has only the reports of those who were there. All she knew was that she received a call from her son that the police were taking Jaz away.

    According to Burkholder she and her sons were in the process of moving in with Ron and Roxanne Lauber, senior pastors at her church.

    Burkholder has had financial struggles since her accident and was unable to keep her home. The Laubers offered a place to live.

    On Nov. 14, when Jaz escaped from the Laubers home, there was an altercation between Jaz and two other dogs that were being walked. Animal control was contacted.

    ‘The lady said that Jaz attacked her dogs,’ Burkholder said. ‘I know no dog or no person [that] was bit or injured.’

    Lauber was cited for obstructing a police officer, arguing with police that the dog was not aggressive and not providing any information about the dog.

    ‘I had checked the fence when we moved in, trying to make sure there was no way she could get out,’ Burkholder said. ‘After I heard what happened, I called the police and said I was the owner and would take full responsibility.’

    Jaz was current on her vaccinations, had been spayed and had never been any problem, she said. She was good around small children and playful around other dogs.

    When Burkholder went to the shelter to claim Jaz, she was told she would have to sign paperwork agreeing that Jaz was potentially dangerous before she would be released.

    ‘I didnt think she was dangerous, so I didnt sign,’ she said.

    Jaz remained at the shelter while the animal control commission met to determine her fate. Several people testified on Jazs behalf during the hearing, Burkholder said, but the commission voted to declare the dog potentially dangerous. Burkholder appealed the decision to the city council. The council voted to uphold the commissions ruling, leaving Burkholder with few options.

    ‘I know that something did happen,’ she said. ‘I need to deal with it.’

    Burkholder has contacted a dog trainer to work with Jaz.

    ‘She is only 18 months old, and she is able to learn,’ Burkholder said. ‘Shes a good dog.

    It will cost Burkholder about $800 to comply with all the restrictions. Those costs include a $250 registration fee and the cost of Jazs stay at the animal shelter. She will also have to pay to have Jaz implanted with a microchip and build a proper enclosure to house the dog whenever she is outside. If she is not in the enclosure, she must be on a leash and muzzled and accompanied by an adult. Signs declaring the presence of a potentially dangerous dog must be posted where Jaz lives.

    Burkholder feels like she has been victimized by the system, including by animal control and the city council.

    ‘The council asked good questions, but said they had to vote to support the commission,’ she said. ‘I thought it was a farce. Why let me appeal’?”…

  2. Hello,

    I am a resident of Lakeland, Florida and I am having the same issue. I own a pitbull and a couple months ago my pet was involved in an altercation with my neighbor. The neighbor initiated a “Dangerous Dog” investigation which the Polk county sherrif’s animal control department conducted. I learned on Friday that they were going to move forward to having her deemed dangerous based solely on the evidence presented by my neighbor and without hearing my side of the story. I had to request a court date in writing where I doubt a judge will preside. I feel like I’m being railroaded as my voice is not being taken into consideration. Please contact me via email with any help you can give.



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