Thursday, April 28, 2016

District Attorney Ramos announces formation of Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit

I’ll always remember the images of sickly cows, caked in manure, being dragged around in chains at the Chino-based slaughterhouse. It was this series of disturbing images captured on video in 2008 by an undercover investigator from the Humane Society of the United States posing as a plant employee that would lead to the largest beef recall in U.S. history.  It also resulted in my office prosecuting the most significant animal cruelty case in San Bernardino County history.   This case caused me to refocus my office’s efforts on animal cruelty investigation and prosecution. 

First, we spearheaded the creation of the San Bernardino County Animal Cruelty Task Force (ACT) in 2012.  With the assistance and leadership of Claudia Swing, Chief of the District Attorney’s Bureau of Administration, we brought together city and county animal control agencies, law enforcement, the Humane Society of San Bernardino, Deputy District Attorneys, District Attorney Investigators, domestic violence agencies, and others to coordinate and unite our efforts to fight animal cruelty.   The Task Force has been a complete success and is now a model for the state and the nation.  Today, there are 25-plus participating agencies from multiple counties involved with ACT.

In 2014 I was honored to be invited to be a member of the newly formed National Law Enforcement Council of The Humane Society of the United States. The council brings together current and former law enforcement officers and prosecutors from across the country to assist the organization in its efforts to strengthen and better enforce laws to stop animal cruelty and abuse. Through my communication and work with this council I was able to see just how prevalent the problem of animal cruelty was across the United States.

In April 2011, Victor Lopez kicked and killed the family dog in front of his wife Lorna Lopez and four children. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 30 days in county jail. Nearly two years later, following an argument, Victor Lopez allegedly killed Lorna Lopez by strangling her. He then took her body to a sight in Chino and dumped it. This case is ongoing and set for trial next month

It is a sad fact that animal cruelty and neglect, cockfighting rings, dogfighting by criminal street gangs, animal hoarding, and companion animal abuse and co-occurring family violence are all issues still faced by San Bernardino County. The “Link” between animal cruelty and family violence (domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse) is widely recognized by law enforcement professionals and social science studies. Street gangs turn loving pets into trained fighting dogs to protect their criminal enterprises, for sport, and for profit. Hundreds of chickens each year are maimed and killed in San Bernardino County due to cock fighting rings. We must do a better job of investigating and prosecuting these cowardly and heartless abusers of helpless animals. 

On March 23, 2016, it is alleged that Keion Hector killed an 8-week old pit bull in order to intimidate a female victim.

“I killed your dog because you went over there (next door),” said Hector. “Now lay down on the bed and turn the lights off. Lay in the bed or I’ll put your face by the dead dog. If you leave, I’ll kill you like I killed Sasha.”

As District Attorney, I believe the time is now to take the next step in our fight against animal cruelty.  Effective prosecution of animal abuse requires a collaborative team approach, vertical prosecution, and specially trained prosecutors and investigators who are dedicated to protecting innocent animals. In short, it requires a special vertical prosecution unit dedicated solely to prosecuting animal cruelty. 

I am proud to announce the creation of the District Attorney’s Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit (ACU), which together with new stricter policies on prosecution, will help us accomplish the goal of investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty to the fullest extent of the law.
Animal Cruelty Stats

In 2013, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office filed 83 cases related to animal cruelty.
In 2014, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office filed 71 cases related to animal cruelty.

In 2015, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office filed 84 cases related to animal cruelty.
Overview of Unit

  • In recognition of the Link between animal cruelty and family violence, the Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit (ACU) will be part of the Family Violence Unit and will consist of: 
  • A Chief Deputy District Attorney (ACU-CDDA),
  • A Supervising Deputy District Attorney (ACU-SDDA) who supervises a Family Violence Unit,
  • A Lead Deputy District Attorney (Lead ACU Prosecutor),
  • Two regional Deputy District Attorneys (Regional ACU Prosecutors) specially designated to handle select ACU cases as needed,
  • Two regional Juvenile Division Deputy District Attorneys (Juvenile ACU Prosecutors),
  • A Senior Investigator from the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation.

Although not technically part of the ACU, the Asset Forfeiture Unit will designate a prosecutor to handle asset forfeitures arising out of ACU cases. 

Role and Responsibilities of the Lead ACU Prosecutor

Countywide, all animal cruelty cases against adults will be handled vertically, from initial case review to sentencing, by either the Lead ACU Prosecutor or the Regional ACU Prosecutors.  All juvenile animal abuse cases will be handled vertically by a Juvenile ACU Prosecutor. 
The Lead ACU Prosecutor will be responsible for providing our animal abuse investigation partners with advice at the initial stages of case investigation.

The Lead ACU Prosecutor will also be responsible for education, training, and outreach activities for our Deputy District Attorneys, law enforcement agencies, animal control agencies, other Animal Cruelty Task Force (“Task Force”) partners, and to the community.

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