On June 14th the Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling and ordered that a jury trial be held in the case of Benjamin DeVitt et al vs the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC), Los Angeles County and Marcia Mayeda. The case was brought after the fatal mauling of jogger Pamela DeVitt on May 9, 2013 by a pack of dogs which had been involved in at least seven prior violent incidents. (To read the court’s decision please click here)
In their decision the court rightly threw out both premises of the defense. The court ruled that the six month statute of limitations was tolled due to Mayeda and company’s obstruction of justice, thereby tacitly agreeing that the DACC failed to disclose the prior complaints against the dogs and subsequently tried to cover up their inaction by backdating notes into the record. The court also correctly ruled that Los Angeles County Code Section 10:30:010 mandated that the DACC had a legal obligation to impound these dogs – and that the DACC’s claim that the law was discretionary was fatuous.
The facts of the case are clear. The DACC believed the dogs were owned by Alex Jackson. The dogs attacked two men on horseback on January 21, 2013, and on April 3rd, 2013 five dogs jumped over Jackson’s fence and attacked a woman on her horse. There had been five prior incidents involving Jackson’s dogs. After more than two months of repeatedly failing to respond to citizen complaints, the DACC finally went to Jackson’s home and left a notice telling Jackson they were looking for his dogs. On April 12th Jackson called the DACC and denied that the dogs were his – claiming that they were strays. The dogs were never picked up and 4 weeks later Mrs. DeVitt was savagely mauled to death. Jackson was later tried and convicted of second degree manslaughter and sentenced to 18 years to life in prison.
Los Angeles County and its agencies, including the DACC, self-insure and a jury trial is the last thing any prudent government would want. Governments are usually protected against punitive damages being awarded – except when there was criminal activity involved. In this case there was criminal behavior on the part of Mayeda and her subordinates as they withheld evidence and then backdated notes in their Chameleon tracking software in an attempt to make it appear that they had been using their best efforts to impound the dogs. Mayeda not only sanctioned the coverup, she also lied to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in her May 13th testimony four days following Mrs. DeVitt’s death.
Because Mayeda obstructed justice and failed to impound the dogs, an enterprising prosecutor could make a case against her before a grand jury for being an accessory to Mrs. DeVitt’s murder. The statute of limitations in a felony is six years, and it would not be too late to bring criminal charges.
There is a long list of past and current DACC employees who are eager to testify to Mayeda’s misdeeds. Mayeda and the DACC are unsympathetic defendants and it would not be unreasonable for a jury to return a verdict awarding thirty million dollars to the plaintiffs.
Rumors have it that the DeVitt family would be happy to reduce their financial demands if Los Angeles County would fire Marcia Mayeda and any of her co-conspirators who willingly participated in this tragic dereliction of duty. Mayeda has a long and widely documented career of being an inept and cruel bureaucrat. We would like to think that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors are pragmatic and will avert a scandalous and potentially economically ruinous trial by opening up settlement negotiations with the DeVitt family. Getting rid of Marcia Mayeda and her cohorts would not only be a small price to pay for Los Angeles County – it would be a blessing.