Dog owner not guilty after his two dogs killed an elderly woman and her small dog

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82-year-old woman killed by 2 American Bully dogs

NEWS AND COMMENT-OKLAHOMA, USA: Antwon Demetris Burks owned two large dogs, one female and one male. The breed was ‘American Bully dogs’. A name which indicates aggression and hostility. I have never heard of that dog breed before but the photograph indicates a stocky, strong dog a bit like a bulldog. The report in The Oklahoman is disturbing. It paints a confused picture with some neighbours saying that the two dogs concerned being a known hazard to people and companion animals while for others the dogs were well bred and had sweet natures.

82-year-old woman killed by 2 American Bully dogs

Cecille Short, 82, who was killed in a dog attack in April 2017. Photo: Her Facebook page.

Two American Bully dogs Delilah and Ice Cube. Are these the two dogs concerned?

Two American Bully dogs Delilah and Ice Cube. Are these the two dogs concerned? This picture was shown to the jurors in this trial. I presume that these are the killer dogs.

The two dogs attacked an 82-year-old woman, Cecille Short, as she was walking down the street with her small dog companion, Papillion. They attacked her and pulled her to the ground. She suffered broken bones and was dragged by the dogs into a yard where the dogs hovered over her. They had quickly killed her small dog. Mayhem broke loose with witnesses honking their car horns to try and force the dogs away.

The police and firefighters turned up who used their sirens to shoo the dogs away from the victim. A police officer giving evidence at the trial said that he shot both dogs. But staff Sergeant Dustin Wright explained that the dogs then charged back as they checked the victim’s condition. The female dog went down according to the report while the male dog did not. The female dog then got back up and was struck by a police patrol car. She then got back up again and went into Burk’s house where she was caught by an animal control officer.

The male dog was then killed with a shot gun fired by police Master Sergeant Bernie Alfred. The dogs’ owner, Burk, did not testify at trial and at the time of the attack he was in Ponca City.

As mentioned, the background to the story is confused because it is not clear in the report that I have read that the dogs were genuinely dangerous. Their behaviour indicates that they were dangerous but the breeder who testified in court said that the behaviour shocked her. She wept in court when she said that she was absolutely devastated and couldn’t believe what had happened. She said “This isn’t something that my dogs do. This isn’t something that my dogs do”. But she would say that wouldn’t she? She is trying to avoid culpability herself.

What she’s saying is that she trains well behaved dogs. They are bred to be well-behaved and companionable. If that is true, my comment on that is that the owner of the dogs, Antwon Demetris Burks, did something to them to make them dangerous. The way he related to them, his dog ownership skills and culture, appears to have had an effect on these dogs. That’s what I would question. And if it could be decided that he had an influence on the dogs’ behaviour to make them dangerous then clearly there is culpability.

We don’t know what was stated in court and what the arguments were. But he was acquitted after seven hours of deliberations by the jury. He had been charged with second-degree manslaughter after a full investigation. But the jury decided he was not guilty. He had faced up to 4 years in prison if he had been convicted on the felony charge but he went home.

The jurors were told by the prosecution that Burks was to blame because he knew the dogs were a problem and had not taken the necessary steps to protect the public; it was a crime of negligence, and about as bad as it gets. There was a hole in his fence which Burks had failed to repair. They claimed that he had spent $8,000 for the dogs but couldn’t afford to repair a hole in his fence.

But there was strong testimony to say that the dogs were friendly, sweet and interacted well with children. On that basis Burks could not have foreseen the killing of this elderly woman. One defence witness, Michelle Huddleston, described the dogs as “super, super sweet”. She said that they had played with her grandson. She said that Burks had worked on fixing the fence multiple times.

At the trial they were initial arguments about which the judge should reside. Burks’ neighbours testified about seeing the dogs roaming loose on many occasions. Burks had apologised online. He had kept the dogs away from frightened children in the days leading up to the killing. He confined the dogs to a fenced-in tennis court. In short, there was a lot of evidence to say the dogs were dangerous.

No doubt it was a question in the minds of the jurors as to whether Burks could foresee the possibility of this sort of attack taking place. The jurors decided that Burks was not culpable and could not have foreseen what happened.

In the UK the dogs would might have come under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Under the Act, it is illegal to own listed dogs without an exemption from a court. The breeds currently listed are: Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro.

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