The case regarding the July 12 pit bull attack in front of Starbucks on First Street that caused a dachshund to be put down and its owner to suffer serious injuries has taken another turn.
The owner of the aggressive pit bull – which was euthanized in Gilroy weeks ago – had owned the dog for less than 24 hours at the time of the attack, according to Steve Lowney, the deputy district attorney handing the case.
This is key, because to criminally charge someone in a case like this, California penal code requires prosecutors to prove that the owner of the aggressive dog knew of the dog's violent tendencies prior to the incident. And because the owner – who fled the scene after the attack – owned the animal for less than a day, that is pretty tough to prove.
"That complicates things, and makes this more difficult that it already is. As you can imagine, the longer duration you own a dog, the more you're going to know that dog," Lowney said.
Lowney said he is doing everything he can to uphold the law, and hold the pit bull's owner accountable for this "serious" and "horrifying" incident.
"This is a serious case. A dog lost its life and a woman who was not doing anything wrong was severely injured," Lowney said.
Making things even more difficult, Lowney said the Gilroy Police Department has yet to interview the suspect, as he has been avoiding their attempts at contact.
So Lowney may have to make the call whether to prosecute the pit bull owner without speaking to him first. In that case, he would issue a warrant for the GPD to find him, and the criminal process would begin.
The dog's previous owner is under no criminal liability, Lowney said, even if that person sold the dog knowing its aggressive behavior.
Luann Mansean, the 34-year-old victim of the attack, said (based on the police report she was given) said the pit bull's previous owner knew how violent the pit bull could be, as the pit bull attacked another dog just a month before she sold it.
But with no arrests made more than a month after the attack, Mansean getting tired of waiting for closure.
"I can’t move on, because I don’t have answers. If the owner came to me and said he was really sorry, and just said he messed up, I would say I got some closure. But no, I've got a kid who's hiding from the law," Mansean said.
Lowney said he hopes to have some answers by the end of next week.
"We’re going to carefully review it, and if we can, we are going to charge somebody criminally for this," he said. "But we are under restraints from the language of the law."
Police say the pit bull charged the dachshund on the sidewalk outside of Starbucks at 7:30 a.m. on July 12, mauling the small dog and leaving it with life-threatening injuries that caused it to be euthanized later that morning. When the dachshund’s owner reach out to save her dog, the pit bull attacked her arm, causing serious but non-life threatening injuries. The pit bull's owner fled the scene before police arrived.
If prosecutors decide they have enough proof that the pit bull's owner knew about the dog's aggressive nature prior to the attack, the owner may be charged with a felony or misdemeanor. And even if the criminal case is dropped, the owner will still face city animal control violations, such as leash laws, according to Police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao.