Wednesday, December 09, 2015
Candidate JERRY CAMERON ORDERED LITTLE DOG KILLED; County Administrator Reversed Decision and Settled Case
Dog owners everywhere will want to know that JERRY CAMERON, candidate for County Commission, ordered a little dog killed in 2010.
His decision to order Cyrus killed resulted in an outcry by dog lovers and disbelief from sincere believers in the Constitution (which JERRY CAMERON claims to carry in his pocket). As Record reporter Peter Guinta wrote, CAMERON's "duties include oversight of the department where the [allegedly dog bitten] boy's mother works and also of Animal Control, was asked by County Administrator Mike Wanchick to fill in as a hearing officer on this case because a special magistrate was not available."
Cyrus the dog lived: the case was settled by the County Administrator after a lawsuit.
But JERRY CAMERON's martinet qualities as a hearing officer and inhumane Assistant County Administrator show his unfitness to be a St. Johns County Commissioner.
JERRY CAMERON would be deciding quasi-judicial hearings and cannot be expected to view evidence and decide cases based on the law and facts of record.
See below for articles and a dialogue between CAMERON and St. Augustine Record reporter Peter Guinta.
County: Cyrus to go free -- Settlement reached with SAFE shelter for ‘dangerous dog’
Posted: July 20, 2010 - 11:35pm
By By PETER GUINTA
The owners of Cyrus, a 14-pound black and white Shih Tzu, learned this week that the dog may be released after nearly two months of solitary confinement at St. Johns County Animal Control.
Cyrus was sentenced to death in May after an administrative hearing officer tagged him as a “dangerous dog.”
He is accused of biting a 5-year-old St. Augustine boy on the ear and arm while the boy played with other children in a yard.
The boy was not seriously injured, though Flagler Hospital emergency doctors used 10 stitches to close a cut on his ear.
St. Johns County officials released a prepared statement late Tuesday saying that a settlement agreement had been reached with SAFE Animal Rescue, which owns Cyrus.
That statement said County Administrator Michael Wanchick helped negotiate the deal.
“The primary function of county government is to protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents,” Wanchick said. “This settlement is consistent with that goal by recognizing and maintaining the enhanced state protections pertaining to a ‘dangerous dog’ designation.”
Phil Stoddard, a St. Augustine resident who was in the process of buying Cyrus when the biting incident occurred, said that the three-hour negotiation was “very amicable, and a lot of issues were discussed.”
Attending were Wanchick, Stoddard, St. Augustine attorney Robert Grier, who represents SAFE, and two county attorneys.
An estimate of the cost of Cyrus’ incarceration would show that it’s been expensive.
The two attorneys for Cyrus — Grier and Seth Schwartz of Jacksonville — estimated that together they probably donated $100,000 of their time.
On the county’s side, dozens of hours were spent on this case by three county attorneys, Wanchick, Assistant County Administrator Jerry Cameron and the Animal Control staff, plus Cyrus’ boarding costs.
In addition, one county employee spent a full day driving to and from Duval County’s animal control facility, seeking any available records proving that Cyrus had been vicious when kept there.
Nothing was found. A few Duval County employees related that story and volunteered to come down and testify on Cyrus’ behalf.
The settlement agreement requires that:
* Cyrus be given to SAFE and taken to a shelter or adoption agency outside St. Johns County.
* The ”dangerous dog” designation remain in effect for at least a year.
* SAFE agrees to provide written notice of Cyrus’ history to any new owner and stop all litigation that’s been filed on Cyrus’ behalf. In addition, SAFE agrees not to seek damages from the county and not to transfer Cyrus to anyone living in St. Johns County.
* St. Johns County release all claims against SAFE.
* SAFE to pay the county $230 for Cyrus’ boarding costs.
* SAFE to agree not to place any dogs in St. Johns County homes until a procedural manual regarding the adoption of animals has been developed and approved.
Stoddard repeated his belief that the county law regulating dog incidents is “unconstitutional and overly broad. The due process offered to a deprived dog owner is not sufficient for the government to be taking property.”
But he was glad the agreement had been hammered out. The next step is County Court Judge Charles Tinlin signing the final order release order.
Stoddard said Cyrus will be in good hands at a Shih Tzu shelter in Putnam County.
“We’ll have a live dog,” he said. “Everyone left the negotiations feeling less than victorious but satisfied.
“This will save Cyrus’ life
Shih-tzu's owner files appeal -- Dog awaits death for biting child
Posted: June 24, 2010 - 11:10pm
Cyrus awaits execution at the St. Johns County Pet Center. Record file photo
By PETER GUINTA
The owner of Cyrus, a 4-year-old, 15-pound shih-tzu awaiting execution at St. Johns County Pet Center, filed an appeal of the dog's death sentence Thursday in a last-ditch attempt to save his life.
Cyrus was deemed a "dangerous dog" June 15 after an evidentiary hearing at the County Courthouse.
Owner Philip J. Stoddard of St. Augustine -- working through his attorney, Robert E. Grier of St. Augustine -- cited a "deep moral conviction concerning the unlawful seizure and wanton destruction of pet animals" as his reason for filing a lawsuit against the Board of County Commissioners and Animal Control Division.
He is asking that a judge issue injunctions ordering Cyrus released to his custody until legal efforts to save him are exhausted, ordering Animal Control to stop its no visitation policy for condemned animals and ordering Animal Control to impose due process for seized animals and communication with owners about their living conditions, among other requests.
Right now, Animal Control has a blanket "no visitation" policy for condemned animals.
Stoddard also wants a ruling on the authority of Animal Control officers to confiscate animals outside their jurisdiction.
On April 27, county employee Leslie Banta filed a dangerous dog complaint against football-sized Cyrus, who she said had bitten her 5-year-old son on his ear and arm.
Witnesses said the boy had been riding an electric Jeep in a nearby yard about 7 p.m. when Cyrus bolted from a house and chased the Jeep.
The boy fell off and Cyrus then allegedly bit a two-inch slice straight down the back of the boy's left ear and administered puncture wounds to his arm.
The ear required 10 stitches to close at Flagler Hospital's Emergency Department.
Cyrus was detained eight days later.
Assistant County Administrator Jerry Cameron, whose duties include oversight of the department where the boy's mother works and also of Animal Control, was asked by County Administrator Mike Wanchick to fill in as a hearing officer on this case because a special magistrate was not available.
At the evidentiary hearing, where both sides offered testimony and evidence, Cameron determined that the child's injuries met county and state criteria for severity and that the law as it is gave him no alternatives.
He ordered Cyrus destroyed.
Stoddard, however, argues that a sheriff's deputy who came to the scene after the bite occurred "did not note any serious injury to the juvenile" and did not impound the dog.
He disputes that the child's injuries came from dog bites and that there's no evidence to support Cameron's ruling that the injuries were severe.
Cameron said after the final order was issued that he had closely examined the evidence and followed the letter of the law.
Stoddard claimed in the lawsuit that the "unlawful seizure and impoundment of Cyrus" has led to charges of more than $700 in county fees, and pointed out that Cyrus has been in solitary confinement for more than 45 days.
"The appeals in this case could consume many months, perhaps years," Stoddard said.
Nick Atwood, a campaign coordinator for Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, said his organization is aware of this case.
"We certainly hope the judge will find a reason to spare this dog's life," Atwood said. "Death is inappropriate and the animal deserves a second chance. There are options besides killing the animal. This doesn't seem like a clear-cut case. There are so many unwanted dogs. To put resources into killing a dog that's wanted seems ridiculous."
A county official told a reporter that he wouldn't be able to comment since a lawsuit has been filed.
No judge has yet been assigned to this case, nor hearing date set.
County officials have said that if an appeal is filed, Cyrus won't be executed today as scheduled.
'Dangerous' shih-tsu on Death Row --Owner of Cyrus has 10 days to appeal hearing officer's order to put down pet
Posted: June 16, 2010 - 11:07pm | Updated: June 16, 2010 - 11:15pm
By PETER GUINTA
Cyrus, a shaggy 14-pound shih-tsu, sits in solitary confinement on a doggy Death Row in a wire cage at St. Johns County Animal Control, doing the only thing he's allowed to do -- bark.
But not for long.
On late Wednesday afternoon, hearing officer Jerry T. Cameron issued an order saying, "The Department of Animal Control is hereby authorized to destroy the animal in an expeditious and humane manner."
County officials have said the dog's owner, Philip J. Stoddard of St. Augustine, has 10 days to appeal.
Stoddard intends to do just that.
"The hearing (deciding Cyrus' fate) was such a rush to judgment as to be unbelievable," he said. "The county seems intent upon killing this dog. If they can do this to my pet, they can do it to someone else's. Everybody's pet is in jeopardy."
Cyrus was staying at a dog foster home in St. Augustine in late April when he bolted out of the house, ran toward two girls on a swing set and then swerved toward a 5-year-old boy riding on a battery-operated Jeep.
What happened next put him in deep trouble.
County employee Leslie Banta, the boy's mother, wrote an affidavit saying she saw Cyrus "viciously attacking" her son "from one side of the Jeep to the other." He was "covered in blood" and his arm "was very bruised and has puncture wounds also. Due to the trauma and terror my son and daughter suffered, I would really like this dog deemed dangerous. Due to the aggressive bites and severe injury, this dog needs to be destroyed."
But Stoddard pointed out that Banta was sitting on her patio, four or five homes away from the incident.
"That hearing was a show trial," he said. "If there is nothing I can do against these (people), Cyrus will die."
A one-page report by Sheriff's Office Deputy Christina Dobbs said Cyrus escaped Flowers' house about 7 p.m. on April 27 and bit the 5-year-old's ear. The responding deputy apparently did not deem the dog a danger to the public, because she didn't impound it.
Then a volunteer from SAFE Pet Rescue of Northeast Florida Inc., who had custody of the dog, drove Cyrus to another foster home in Flagler Beach. Eight days later, Animal Control Crew Chief Ed Martin drove down and returned Cyrus to St. Johns County.
SAFE did not return phone calls seeking information about the case.
But according to Martin, he ruled Cyrus as a "dangerous dog" because the injuries were severe and the attack unprovoked.
Stoddard had already completed buying Cyrus for $75 from SAFE.
"He's sweet and loving," Stoddard said. "He's never had a problem with anyone. But I'm worried about his health. He's been in solitary confinement now for 40 days."
Shih Tzu, which in Chinese literally means "Lion Dog," range in weight from 10 to 16 pounds.
Cyrus looks dirty and unkempt this week in his 4-foot by 10-foot wire pen, which contains a small sleeping blanket and a pail of water.
Cameron's order said, "It does not appear that from the evidence and testimony presented that anyone involved in this unfortunate incident previously knew the animal was capable of such an attack."
The boy suffered a straight cut on the back of his left ear and minor puncture lacerations on his left arm. Doctors at Flagler Hospital took 10 stitches to sew up the ear.
Crew Chief Martin sent a letter to SAFE saying, "Because severe injury occurred, as defined by St. Johns County's Dangerous Dog Ordinance, your dog shall be deemed for destruction."
Cameron was appointed to preside over this case because a special magistrate was unavailable.
He said last week that he had examined every bit of evidence and testimony multiple times.
"The child's injuries are severe," Cameron said. "I have to go strictly by the law. I have no discretion. My job is to hear the facts and see if the facts comport with the law. It's a serious matter to take anything's life."
In the order, he denied a request by Stoddard to move the dog to a care provider in Putnam County, saying, "The Hearing Officer does not find such authority in these regulations. Neither (county or state law) authorizes the removal of a dangerous animal from the jurisdiction."
Only hours before the order was issued, attorneys Robert E. Grier and Undine C. Pawlowsi of Anastasia Law Partners Inc., representing Stoddard, filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief.
Stoddard said, "We are asking the court to declare the county and state law (regulating dangerous dogs) unconstitutional and enjoin the county from enforcing it."
Animal Control has said it will perform the execution in a timely fashion after the order is issued.
'It doesn't matter'
Krista Randall, owner of Park Avenue Paws, 425 State Road 207, said Cyrus had stayed as a foster dog in her home for weeks.
"He was the sweetest, most loving little boy," Randall said. "I have children and at the time had (two other) foster dogs. He was so wonderful. I would hold all three dogs together and never saw an angry side to that dog, ever. He'd jump into the car, ready to go and snuggle up to me."
He was housebroken and would run to the French doors to indicate he had business outside, she said.
"I know he's unsure of why he's (confined)," she said.
But a dog's good character doesn't count for much, according to Animal Control.
Division Chief Paul Studivant said his officers -- who follow county and state statutes -- decide every day which dogs should be deemed dangerous.
"We don't know the history of this dog. (But) whether large or small, we treat every (animal) the same," Studivant said. "It doesn't matter what its size is. It's a hard decision, but one that has to be made. If I'm going to err, I'll err on the side of public safety."
Florida law defines "severe injury" as "any physical injury that results in broken bones, multiple bites or disfiguring lacerations requiring sutures or reconstructive surgery."
To the courts
Stoddard disputes that the boy's injuries were actually severe, and believes that they could have been caused when the boy fell off the Jeep rather than being administered by Cyrus.
There were no witnesses to the attack. The only direct testimony came from the victim, who ran home and told his mother, "The dog bit me."
He believes the county is defending one of its own, and adds that Banta has already indicated she has hired an attorney to sue SAFE.
"The only evidence we have of those bites are fuzzy photographs taken at the Emergency Room," Stoddard said. "We don't know who took them. Pets are property and both Florida and federal law mandates that there be safeguards in place before they can take your property."
His complaint names all five county commissioners, County Administrator Michael Wanchick and Cameron, calling county and state law "obsolete" and claiming they violate the Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments.
But Cameron said, "I'm absolutely committed to fair play and a full hearing on the evidence. I love animals, but I have to push all that aside. Cases get decided on legal definitions every day. If I had any discretion, I'd rule on the side of the dog."
IN HAEC VERBA: "Common Sense v. the Law -- A dialogue between Assistant County Administrator Jerry Cameron and Record Reporter Peter Guinta"
Common Sense vs. the Law
The following is an exchange between Peter Guinta, a reporter, and Assistant St. Johns County Administrator Jerry Camera. It occurred as the result of a hearing on a dangerous dog bite involving a Shih Tzu and a five year old boy in which Jerry Cameron was the Hearing Officer. Peter Guinta was deeply concerned over the potential destruction of the dog. Cameron told Peter the case must be decided strictly according to the law; Peter disagreed. The dog has since been saved through settlement with the County Administrator, Michael Wanchik.
This is a scene from “A Man for All Seasons.” This occurs in the time of Henry the VIII when the King is trying to find charges to level against Sir Thomas More because as Chancellor he refuses to ratify a divorce for the King.
This conversation occurs between More, his two daughters, and his son-in-law, Roper. One of the King’s spies has just left More’s house, and the daughters and Roper want More to arrest him.
This was required reading for one of my courses at the FBI Academy in Quantico. It was used to illustrate the importance of being a nation of laws and not men, and to avoid taking the law into your own hands when you are in a position of public trust.
I hope you find it as significant as I did over twenty years ago.
Roper Arrest him.
More For what?
Alice He’s dangerous!
Roper For liable; he’s a spy.
Alice He is! Arrest him!
Margaret Father, that man’s bad.
More There is no law against that.
Roper There is! God’s law!
More Then God can arrest him.
Roper Sophistication upon sophistication!
More No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what’s legal not what’s right. And I’ll stick to what’s legal.
Roper Then you set man’s law above God’s!
More No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact-I’m not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can’t navigate. I’m no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester. I doubt if there’s a man alive who could follow me there, thank God. . .
Alice While you talk, he’s gone!
More And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
Roper So now you’d give the devil the benefit of law!
More Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More Oh? And when the last law was down, and the devil turned around on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake.
From: Guinta, Peter [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, June 17, 2010 7:40 PM
To: Jerry Cameron
Subject: RE: A Man for All Seasons
Thanks for sending that. You are a classy guy. I will be thinking about its concepts for a while.
Despite More’s stance though, the law is a man-made construct, containing all the flaws, lapses, absurdities and wrong turns that mankind included into its structure.
Laws are indeed the framework of civilization. Beasts have no law, except for tooth and claw.
But as a man-made phenomenon, law should contain extra pockets, compassion, nimbleness and adaptability.
It’s been made so formalized that rather than a truth-seeking tool, a legal hearing has become a military exercise on how one side plans to overcome the other.
No one knows what absolute truth is, especially those who think they do.
Former Sheriff Neil Perry let me pick up a training pistol at his small mobile training range one day. The exercise had shady characters (with and without weapons) and innocent civilians intertwined in a crime scenario where the arriving police officer must decide whether to shoot or not shoot.
I held my fire correctly and didn’t hit any hostages, but when the two bad guys released the woman and kid and dropped their guns, I shot both of the dudes anyway.
It wasn’t planned. It just happened. A thuggish coward who threatens deadly force against innocent people is not a valid human being or member of my society.
He should be removed expeditiously. I told Perry, “This is why I could never be a police officer.” He laughed and agreed.
Making the law your standard is questionable.
Many repressive regimes around the world do unspeakable things under color of law. The president of Rwanda and its Hutu lackeys in government sanctioned the genocide in 1994 where 800,000 Tutsis died. The Jewish genocide, one of the most horrific and well-documented historical events in history, was legal, as was the extermination of the American Indians.
Thomas More didn’t have to face those issues. He might have spoken differently.
Even in the US, dozens of innocent Americans, usually poor people, are killed every year when DEA and police drug teams burst into the wrong house, screaming and carrying assault weapons. The owner pulls a gun thinking he’s a victim of home invasion robbery and dies in his living room. The police even shoot the dog.
So, who can we trust? The question remains. I say, “Ourselves.”
The law shouldn’t be obscure, harsh, favor the rich or lucky. It’s written in generalities, not specifics, and allows absolute scum like Bernie Madoff to live while the retirees whose life savings he stole live in pain and poverty. He’s one I’d knock off without feeling the slightest twinge in my conscience.
I’m truly sorry about any grief you are getting now. That was not my intention, of course.
I’m hearing from dozens and dozens of people who say they know of cases where dogs did a hundred times more damage than Cyrus and were allowed to live.
You must do what you must do, I guess. You were given a no-win job.
But there could have been way more heart involved in this decision and a lot less principle.
From: Jerry Cameron
Sent: Friday, June 18, 2010 8:24 AM
To: 'Guinta, Peter'
Subject: RE: A Man for All Seasons
Peter, thank you for your candor.
In many ways it would be convenient for me to agree. I do believe the repressive regimes you quoted are totally inappropriate comparisons to the laws passed by duly elected representatives in a free country. A huge price has been paid in blood and treasure to live in a country governed by the authority of law and not by the whims of individuals. Are there laws that are unjust? Absolutely! In individual cases, can more just decisions be reached by moral code of pure and principled people than strictly following the letter of the law? Absolutely! But to do that opens the door to the unprincipled, and we have seen the results of that in the bloody pages of history. To put power in the hands of individuals outside of the law more often than not corrupts those individuals, and eventually leads to unintended consequences that undermine all that we hold dear.
Lord Acton correctly opined “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” James Madison said “If men were angels we would have no need of government, and if we had angels in the form of men to govern us there would be no need for controls.” Those controls come in the form of a Constitution and the laws of the nation. We hold in our hands the power to correct flawed law, but how many Americans are willing to go to the trouble to learn about and participate in their government? The only real participation usually observed is that of special interest for the enrichment of themselves at the expense of others. As you know, I have fought hard against laws I believe to be unjust, but I have never advocated circumventing the law.
I too have a sense of right and wrong, a sense of moral outrage, and the temptation to supplant laws I don’t care for with my own sense of justice, but like Thomas More, “I’d give the Devil the benefit of the law for my own safety’s sake.” I might like to live in a world that operates on the dictates of Jerry Cameron, but all of history has shown both you and I are safer and happier in a free country governed by law.
Assistant County Administrator
500 San Sebastian Way
St. Augustine, FL 32084