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One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato (429-347 BC)

Monday, February 07, 2011

Considering Prosecutorial / Judicial Misuse or Abuse of the Arkansas Animal Cruelty Laws

Update Oct 13, 2013: I am pleased to report that the charges against Mark have finally been dropped by the prosecutor without the case having to be heard in circuit court. Three long years, but we can put this behind us and move on. ~ Renee Taylor

Update Sept 10, 2011: It took 17 months to correct the travesty and injustice of judge convicting Private Investigator Mark Taylor for shooting a dog on his own land to protect his son. His conviction has been overturned by a judge on appeal. Arkansas 10th Judicial Circuit Judge Sam Pope dropped all charges against Mr. Taylor. According to a source, Judge Pope told the attorneys he would have done the same thing in Taylor's shoes. Justice was served on appeal today!

It was a travesty that the original judge and prosecutor took extreme actions against Mr. Taylor when the Arkansas law is quite clear. There were no witnesses, only Taylor's testimony in a case brought by a convicted felon who was not even around to take care of or restrain the dog. As detailed in the original article, the judge ruled in previous case involving another person, a dog, and chickens that the killing of the dog was justified. Chickens verses a child? Strange rulings with potentially both personal and political undertones in Judge Anderson's rulings and the actions by the County Prosecutor who did not have to bring forth these cases.  Anderson had also been Taylor's previous attorney.  What happened to recusing oneself? Unfortunately, Judge Bruce Anderson singular action against Mr. Taylor has yet to have an appropriate judicial accounting.

In a followup with the Taylor family, they said they were grateful that this episode is now over and they can focus on their family and their business - The Taylor Company - Private Investigations and Research. In addition to their business both Taylors are national writers. Mark Taylor had some interesting experiences as a private military contractor in Iraq which are chronicled in the book "A Bloody Business" by Col. Gerald Schumacher. They also have a new song called "3 Licenses, 4 Logbooks and a Thermos Made of Chrome" released by Truck It Records' recording artist, Joey Holiday. The song, co-written by Holiday and the Taylors, tells the story of Skyhawk - a 70s era trucker and is available on Amazon.

By Dr. Bill Smith: When Arkansas passed the new animal cruelty laws in 2009, “safeguards” were in place to protect property owners against frivolous lawsuits and charges when protecting their properties, persons and livestock from the threat of roaming dogs of irresponsible pet owners. Or, did it? The law was untested and left to individual municipalities to sort out.

It was in the courtroom of Judge Bruce Anderson, Bradley County District judge, in Warren, Arkansas that the first two cases of that county were tried, two remarkably similar cases with inexplicably different results.

The first case involved Mr. John Fierce. Mr. Fierce appeared before Judge Anderson, represented by Ken Harper, Esq. Mr. Fierce was accused of shooting a Labrador mix which was left to roam the neighborhood while its owner was at work. The Labrador, according to court testimony, had killed Mr. Fierce’s chickens in the past and the owner had not responded to his requests to keep the animal restrained. Mr. Fierce, upon seeing the animal in his yard, shot the dog based upon the past experience of the dog killing his chickens.

The second case involved Mark R. Taylor who was also represented by the same Mr. Harper. Taylor was accused of shooting and killing a pit bull belonging to Maxley Parker. Parker had a camper trailer parked on the property of Rayburn and Elois Taylor. It was the policy of Briar Patch RV Park that pets must be kept restrained and, while Parker’s camper was parked in an area of their farm outside the park, near Mark Taylor’s home, he was, according to court testimony, told the animal had to be retrained. Parker disappeared in the summer of 2009, leaving his camper in its spot and his pit bull to roam the neighborhood, killing animals on the Taylor farm and terrorizing neighbors. When the pit bull charged Mrs. Betty Doss and then Mark Taylor’s own son, Rayburn and Elois asked Mark’s assistance.

Two cases: similar circumstances, same prosecutor, same defense attorney, same judge. In both cases, an animal whose actions had presented clear and present danger was allowed to roam unrestrained throughout the neighborhood. In both cases, the dog owner showed no remorse or concern over the actions of their pets. Neither man had a criminal record.

On July 23, 2010, Mr. Fierce received his verdict. Not guilty. Judge Anderson’s opinion was that due to the past actions of the Labrador mix, the killing Mr. Fierce’s chickens was enough to justify his actions.

On July 22, 2010, Mark Taylor received his verdict. Guilty. Taylor was sentenced to 24 hours in jail, mandatory psychiatric evaluation and possible counseling at his expense and a $350 fine. While the verdict did not award restitution that Parker requested for his dog, it further stated that Parker could file a civil suit against Taylor. He immediately filed an appeal with the Bradley County Circuit Court. That case is due for trial the week of March 21, 2011. Taylor was convicted on a charge filed with Prosecuting Attorney Thomas Deen’s office by a claimant who only came to him with third-hand knowledge of what happened to his dog. “Parker didn’t even know who Mark was until the day we arrived in court,” said Taylor’s wife, Renee.

What precedents do the rulings of Judge Bruce Anderson set for the rest of the state? Does the cruelty to animals’ statute place the risk of injury or death of an animal, such as a chicken, over the risk of injury or death of a human, such as Mr. Taylor’s neighbor or his son? In Judge Anderson’s courtroom, this seems to be the case.

Act 33, the Arkansas Cruelty to Animals Act allows for exemption if one is protecting a persons or a person’s property from damage and humanely killing an animal on the property of the person if the person is acting as a reasonable person would act under similar circumstances and if the animal is reasonably believed to constitute a threat to the physical injury or damage to any animal under the care or control of the person. In both cases, Mr. Fierce and Mr. Taylor were acting reasonably to protect property, animals and people from dogs allowed to roam free by irresponsible owners.

Are all Arkansans at risk of rogue judges imposing dangerous interpretation of a vague law? Are we at risk of seeing the lives of stray dogs and cats placed above the welfare of humans? Will we be at risk of being hauled into court because someone told someone else who told another that you shot his dog? The implications of the law are staggering to law-abiding property owners, as they face large attorney’s fees, time lost from work to appear in court and, as in the Taylor case, the possibility of a criminal record all because of irresponsible pet owners.

Another important factor is the financial implications of this law. What if the Taylors did not have the resources to even get the appeals process started? Renee Taylor revealed that “this appeal has been a financial strain but we had to appeal because it was not right for Mark to be found guilty for protecting his son and neighbors.” She indicated that they may even have to sell property for future attorney fees. So far, they have paid $2500 and it definitely looks like there will be more costs. Then, we must also consider the income lost for all the court appearances.

However, the irresponsible owner of the dog, a convicted felon with an extensive record, is out pocket nothing. Fortunately, in the first mentioned case, Mr. John Fierce did not have to appeal and thus did not incur additional costs as he was found not guilty for fearing that more of his chickens might be killed. But Mr. Mark Taylor was found guilty for protecting his child and neighbor from a dog allowed to roam by its owner.

After reading the written verdicts in both cases before the judge, it appears to this author that there might have been bias by the judge in the Taylor case. Others are invited to review the labored effort by the judge to justify a verdict of guilty. There was no finding of fact as to Mr. Taylor being biased against pit-bulls terriers. But it appears to be that of judge had his opinion as to prevailing bias against the breed. Based on having reviewed numerous Federal cases, this labored effort by Judge Anderson caught my attention.

As a result, another question was asked the Taylors, “Did either of them have any prior personal or business activity with of Judge Bruce Anderson?" Renee Taylor identified that Judge Bruce Anderson had been Mark Taylor’s former corporate attorney and that they had had other issues with him in the past when he was assistant prosecutor. She shared that she had called Anderson “an idiot and sorry excuse of a lawyer for sending us a letter” on a personal family issue.

Inquiries to other Arkansas District judges which described the general prior relationship of a judge and the defendant but not the case or its outcome garnered the opinion that the judges would have “recused” themselves from hearing the case. So, why didn’t Judge Anderson recuse himself?

After the above review, this author questions the injustice done in the Taylor case. Based on the law and on the actual situations of the above two cases, why did the prosecutor even bring these cases to trial? The safeguards have previously been discussed by the legislature. Under the Arkansas Constitution, County Prosecutors have sole discretion as to which cases they wish to pursue in their jurisdiction? Was this prosecutor trying to redefine Arkansas law? Did he have grudges against these two defendants? Is he an animal rights activist?

And, why did the judge make the correct decision in the first case, but a questionable if not incorrect decision in the second case? Why didn’t the judge recuse himself after having previously represented or having had differences with the defendant or his family? Most rural Arkansans would have done the same as both Mr. Fierce and Mr. Taylor. Is the Judge an animal rights activist? Why did the Judge order Mr. Taylor to undergo psychological evaluation with respect to shooting a roaming “pit bull” dog? Was the Judge seeking to affect Taylor’s present occupation?

Animal cruelty laws are necessary to prevent mistreatment to animals. However, after discussion with members of the legislature, it is more than questionable that the Arkansas legislators intended the application of the term “cruelty to animals” to be used to punish rural Arkansans for putting down rogue or unattended dogs in rural locations. In fact, all parties asked said that it was not the intent of the law. Barring testimony to the opposite (not the opinion of a judge) the “Castle doctrine” of protecting one’s property and family should extend to any person making a judgment on their property to “put down” a dog or other animal that they believe may injure humans or livestock on their property or on another’s property when assistance is being rendered.

Before the reputations of more Arkansans are damaged, before more jobs are placed at risk, before more family financial resources are consumed, and before any further enforcement of the animal cruelty laws are enforced, more education on the law is necessary for law enforcement, prosecutors and, of course, judges! Legislators are encouraged to re-evaluate their former efforts and reaffirm or even improve the “safeguards” placed in effect to protect property owners against frivolous lawsuits and charges when protecting their properties, persons and livestock from the threat of roaming dogs belonging to or abandoned by irresponsible pet owners.
Dr. Bill Smith is the editor for the ARRA News Service and a contributor to other publications.  He retired from the Air Force as a Federal Acquisitions  Contracting Officer rendering contract decisions on multi-million dollar as well as billion dollar contracts after reviewing precedent legal cases.  While he has had cases appealed to the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals, this Court never reversed  or overturned his  decisions.  None of his decisions were ever appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tags: Warren, Arkansas, animal cruelty laws, animal cruelty, legislator, Judge, Bruce Anderson, Bradley County District Judge, trials, precedence, appeals, roaming dogs, danger to humans, Arkansas law, John Fierce, Mark Taylor, rogue judges, Arkansas legislature, To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the ARRA News Service. Thanks!
Posted by Bill Smith at 8:17 PM - Post Link


Anonymous Daryl said...

Good article Bill and a real eye opener. I too have trouble with an irresponsible dog owner. In the past their dogs have killed my chickens and I called the Baxter Co. Sheriff. The Deputy advised me of AR law 20-19-102. I took pictures and presented the owner with a bill. Things went well for awhile then the owners started letting the dog roam again. In the last 18 months I have had to chase their dog off my property at least 6 times with it barking and growling at me the whole time. The last being 26 Jan this year as (Spot) was in the process enjoying another free meal I had to club it to get it to stop and chased it back home. This time my temper got the best of me and I blackguarded a little at the owners, and guess what? I get the Sheriff called on me!
I am sure I’m not the only Arkansan who lives with this type of a problem and after the passage of the animal cruelty laws (which I did not support) is unsure what is the best action to take notwithstanding what 20-19-102 (b) (2) states.

Anonymous Barbara Dalby said...

Yes, this does concern me!

Anonymous Robert McCready said...

Great article, I sent this to all my people in the Russellville River Valley area.Thanks a lot. Russellville River Valley Tea Party. Robert B. McCready Area Coordinator.

Blogger Vickie said...

Good Article - Thank you for posting this, this is of great concern to me!

Anonymous cantbelieveit said...

WOW! But it's OK for a dogcatcher to pick up a family pet and kill it less than 2 hour later. Geeze.

Jonesboro, AR

Blogger Bill Smith said...

And we have to pay the cost, usually in higher taxes, of the dog catcher if they exist in an Arkansas county where the dog catcher would never makes it to the rural areas in time to secure the dog. Cost of the dog catcher, cost of vehicle and fuel, cost of facility and cost to euthanize the dog - lots of taxpayer money! Immediate prevention of injury or death of a child - priceless! Cost of the bullet to the homeowner 22 cents to $1 depending on the gun used. Cost to dig the hole and bury the dog: zero.

Now we have a family suffering court costs, appeals, etc. because of a liberal judge who believes and writes that people are prejudice of both black dogs and pit bulls.

Anonymous Renee Taylor said...

Update: Mark has his pre-trial hearing on March 7, 2011, for the appeal. The court date is set for July 2011, barring no conflict in scheduling with the courts, attorneys, etc.
Thank you to al for your continued support!

Blogger Renee Taylor said...

I am pleased to report that the charges against Mark have finally been dropped by the prosecutor without the case having to be heard in circuit court.
Three long years, but we can put this behind us and move on.


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