City Hall

Dog Nuts Hit New Low Defending Pit Bull That Mauled a 2-Year-Old

Alan Romero, whose 2-year-old son Luca was just mauled by a pit bull at Klyde Warren Park, is shoved out of the way and threatened with arrest by a Dallas police officer who feels that the pit bull has done no wrong.
Alan Romero, whose 2-year-old son Luca was just mauled by a pit bull at Klyde Warren Park, is shoved out of the way and threatened with arrest by a Dallas police officer who feels that the pit bull has done no wrong. Dallas Police Department

You don’t have to be a parent to get this, but if you are a parent, it will help. You need to look at this video. If this were a movie, it would be called “Saga of the Dumbest Cop on Earth.”

This video, released by the Dallas Police Department, is of a Dallas police officer investigating a recent dog bite incident at Klyde Warren Park. In it, the cop doing the talking immediately takes the side of the owner of a pit-bull-mix dog that had just viciously mauled Luca Romero, a 2-year-old boy, at Klyde Warren Park a month ago.

The officer shoves and threatens to handcuff Alan Romero, the father of the boy, who is trying to make sure the dog's owner will not remove it from the park. The police officer criticizes the father for being “emotional.”

Look at the video. For a father of a 2-year-old child who was just mauled by a pit bull, I would say Romero is cool as ice. Sure, his attitude is urgent. That’s because he’s a father, and his child’s life was just threatened.

The person who seems truly down a quart mentally to me in that scene is the cop who can’t understand what just happened. Down a quart or maybe down a few I.Q. points.

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Alan Romero, whose 2-year-old son Luca was just mauled by a pit bull at Klyde Warren Park, is shoved out of the way and threatened with arrest by a Dallas police officer who feels that the pit bull has done no wrong.
Dallas Police Department
Finally, the police officer announces to a crowd of dog rescuers that the owner of the dog has done nothing wrong. Because the dog was on a leash when it mauled the child, the officer concludes, the owner would be cleared by “Judge Judy” if the matter ever went to court, giving us a window on this police officer’s training and familiarity with the law.

First of all, Romero never utters a word in the video about the potential guilt or innocence of the pet owner, and he’s right. It’s not about the owner, not there and then. It’s about the dog.

Luca, the little boy, was severely mauled. In a court filing last week, the Dallas city attorney describes what happened in legal terms (as opposed to Judge Judy terms). The dog’s name is Rusty.

“Rusty bit [Luca] and knocked him to the ground,” the city’s legal plea says, “where Rusty would not let go until several bystanders pried Rusty off of [Luca].

“[Luca] was transported to a hospital to treat his serious bodily injuries, consisting of puncture and ripping wounds on his chest and arms.”

The city concludes that the child suffered severe bodily injury, defined under Texas law as, “an injury characterized by severe bite wounds or severe ripping and tearing of muscle that would cause a reasonably prudent person to seek treatment from a medical professional and would require hospitalization without regard to whether the person actually sought medical treatment.”

“Rusty bit [Luca] and knocked him to the ground, where Rusty would not let go until several bystanders pried Rusty off of [Luca]." — city court pleading

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Try to imagine that’s your 2-year-old, and this event just happened. Are you emotional? According to witnesses on the video, Romero warned the owner of the dog that, if the owner removed the dog from the park, the father would follow him. The witness interprets this as a dangerous threat against the dog owner. The cop agrees and later warns the child’s mother to get her husband under control.

Now, if you want to see some people who are absolutely not emotional, who are calm, cool and collected, that’s the dog rescue people who were hosting an event at Klyde Warren when this happened. They rush the cop as soon as he shows up and urge him not to do anything that might harm the dog.

How can you witness the mauling of a child by a dog and then set out calmly and coolly to advocate for the dog? What are these people, dog Nazis? They’re not moved by the mauling of a 2-year-old?

No, they are not, and neither is the cop. In the video, they and he already are formulating a line by which the 2-year-old is at fault because he attacked the dog. All parties, including the parents, agree that the child moved or ran toward the dog, which was on a leash, and the dog lunged. The cop launches into a great Sherlock Holmes investigation to find out who lunged farther, the kid or the dog.

See what I mean about a possible I.Q. problem? It’s a 2-year-old child. A group called Dallas Pets Alive, which I will forever after think of as Dallas Pets Will Bite You, put on this dog rescue show at the park. That means it caused these dogs to be gathered in a city park jammed with children.

Two-year-olds, if you have never seen one before, run straight at everything that catches their eyes. They will run right at an oncoming bus if you let them. They’re 2-year-olds.

In a hideous line of moral reasoning, defenders of the dog from far and wide have been emailing the Dallas City Council to argue that the 2-year-old and his parents are to blame, not the other way around. Cindy McHugh of Charleston, West Virginia, wrote Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston last week:

“How in the world do any of you feel it’s OK to put a dog to sleep that was on a leash and restrained, something the parents of the child obviously weren’t following themselves.”

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Another police officer (not the one described in this story) tells Allis Cho, mother of the mauled child (far right, holding a younger child) that the dog and its owner have done nothing wrong.
Dallas Police Department
What on earth? The parents were supposed to have their kid on a leash? The dog owner did, so King’s X on the parents, their kid loses?

Cheri Spaulding of Midlothian wrote, “You cannot blame/punish Rusty for the parents' mistake. I feel bad for the child, but I also hope the parents learned a valuable lesson.”

They sure did, Cheri. Extreme dog lovers are inhuman.

Here’s a good one from Gloria Flores: “The child's parents should be charged with a crime,” Ms. Flores writes, “since the child started the altercation.”

That just about says it all, does it not? The universe of dog lovers runs all the way from loving, responsible owners and keepers of dogs at one pole to totally wackadoodle puzzle-factory nutballs at the other extreme. It’s just disappointing and maybe a little scary to find a Dallas police officer at the extreme cray-cray end of the spectrum. And I love our police department, so, again, I’m willing to cut that particular officer some slack. Maybe he’s not crazy. Maybe he’s just an imbecile.

I spoke with Kingston last week about his email traffic. All he said was, “Kids can’t run around in a park? What do these people think parks are for?”

The city is in court, by the way, for something that has nothing to do with the relative responsibility of the dog owner and the parents. The city wants to put the dog down as a public nuisance. Dallas Pets Will Bite You has taken the city to court to get a judge to forbid the killing of the dog as a denial of the dog’s rights.

This business of dog rights seems to be a tough one for the defenders of Rusty. Marissa Brown wrote to Kingston saying that the city’s position “will deny Dallas Pets Alive and Rusty basic rights.”

Dear Marissa, what you seem not to understand is that Rusty and Dallas Pets Will Bite You have different rights. Dallas Pets Will Bite You is made up of human beings, and they have rights conferred on them by the Constitution, the Magna Carta, the Bible and some common sense inherited from the Neanderthals but apparently not shared by all Dallas police officers.

“The child's parents should be charged with a crime, since the child started the altercation.” — Gloria Flores

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Dogs have a very contingent right, extended to them from the goodness of the hearts of human beings, not to be abused. But under Texas statutes and case law, once a dog has severely mauled a human being, that dog’s legal status is forever changed.

You can have all the theories you want about the ability of special dog whisperers to rehabilitate known vicious pit bulls. If you’re sure you’re right, I wish you would get your pit-bull whisperers to start doing their voodoo on them before the pit bulls are taken to public parks to be among frolicking 2-year-olds, not afterward. But the fact is that Rusty has proved himself to be a known menace, and the city has a positive public duty to make sure he menaces no more.

Very unfortunately, the city let itself get legally bamboozled into sparing the dog in an earlier child-biting incident late last year, thanks in large part to a publicity-seeking local judge who stuck her big foot into a controversy where she had no business or legitimate jurisdiction. City Attorney Larry Casto is working to repair that leak in the Rusty case by arguing that the judge should bow out for reasons of jurisdiction and immunity.

In so doing, Casto is defending the city’s basic right and duty to promote public safety. Dallas Pets Will Bite You, on the other hand, thinks it has a template now for getting off every vicious child-mauling pit bull in the territory. Just go to some camera-hungry judge and tell him it was the kid’s fault.

That’s appalling. The defenders of this strategy forfeit their entire moral legitimacy the moment they even begin to whisper that it was the child’s fault. It’s never the child’s fault. It is always the duty of the dog owner to see that the dog cannot possibly attack a child.

In the police video, the dog owner tells the cop that he has owned the dog for one day. One day. The owner also tells the cop that the dog is part pit.

You know what? How about not even going to the park full of children with your brand-new adult pit bull that you’ve been around for one day? How about just staying home a while until you have a chance to really get to know your pit bull? I would suggest about two years.

And, by the way, I know dogs. And love them. But, hey, I love cops, too. There’s always the exception.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze