A dog embroiled in a federal civil rights lawsuit got a kind of stay of execution this week when the city of Visalia – which views Armani the pit bull as dangerous – promised not to put him to death until a hearing next month before a federal judge in Fresno.
Kimberly Renee Stokes of Visalia filed her civil rights lawsuit Monday and asked federal Judge Dale Drozd on Tuesday to save Armani’s life by issuing a temporary restraining order against the city of Visalia. At the last minute, the city agreed to keep Armani alive for now.
Stokes’ lawyer, Marla Tauscher, breathed a sign of relief because city officials had planned to kill Armani on Tuesday. Now, the dog has a reprieve until Nov. 21 when Taucher will try to convince Drozd that Armani is worth saving.
Stokes also was happy with the ruling. “I was there at Armani’s birth and he is a member of my family. I’m thankful that the judge granted a reprieve today from the City of Visalia’s death sentence for Armani.”
Until the next hearing, Armani will remain in the city’s animal shelter, where he has been since January after a run-in with a neighbor’s dogs.
I’m thankful that the judged granted a reprieve today from the City of Visalia’s death sentence for Armani.
Kimberly Renee Stokes
Stokes is seeking damages against Visalia city officials “for committing acts under color of law and depriving Stokes of rights secured by the Constitution of the United States and laws of the United States.”
According to Tauscher, city animal control officials violated Stokes’ due process rights by predetermining that Armani was vicious before an animal control appeals hearing. “The city unlawfully shifted the burden of proof to Stokes because she had to prove Armani is not dangerous or vicious,” said Tauscher, who contends that is contrary to established law.
In addition, city officials told Stokes she had five days to appeal Armani’s vicious dog designation, Tauscher said. And when she did appeal, the city charged Stokes $350 to present her case at the animal control hearing. That’s discrimination, Tauscher contends, because poor people could not afford the cost of the hearing.
After the federal hearing with Drozd, city spokeswoman Allison Mackey said: “The city has agreed to allow the court to rule on some preliminary matters before taking any steps to euthanize the dog.” Mackey also said, “The dog in question and his owner have a history of not complying with the City’s ordinance.”
Stokes has owned Armani for two years or “since he was a puppy.” She also owns two other dogs, Gianni and Mademoiselle.
Stokes’s federal lawsuit, which only gives her account, says:
Armani has been in death row since Jan. 31, 2017, when a neighbor called animal control, complaining about Stokes’ dogs.
On the morning of Jan. 31, 2017, a neighbor called animal control complaining Stokes’ dogs attacked two of his dogs, Andy and Jacko.
At the time, Stokes, a nurse who worked the night shift, was sleeping.
Apparently, Armani and Mademoiselle found a weak plank in the fence and crawled through it. “None of Stokes’ dogs had ever escaped her fenced yard before, and they had not done so since that incident because Stokes made necessary repair to the fence immediately afterward,” the lawsuit says.
Stokes learned of what happened in a telephone call from her mother. She went outside and saw Mademoiselle calmly sitting in the street. When she saw Andy running loose, she picked up the dog and went to her neighbor’s home to return his pet. But when she got there, she saw her neighbor’s hand was bleeding and Armani sitting in the driveway. She offered help, but the neighbor told her to leave. Stokes then took Armani and Mademoiselle home.
Shortly afterward, a city animal control officer seized Armani and Mademoiselle, declaring them vicious, and gave Stokes documents on how to request a hearing to appeal the city’s determination.
The documents also informed Stokes that if she didn’t pay for the hearing, the city could euthanize her dogs.
Stokes paid the $350 fee and a hearing was held on Feb. 13. Tauscher said the hearing was “fundamentally unfair.”
The dog in question and his owner have a history of not complying with the City’s ordinance.
Visalia spokeswoman Allison Mackey
According to the lawsuit, the city’s hearing officer, attorney Thomas E. Hornburg started the hearing by saying “Armani and Madamoiselle have already been deemed vicious by animal control and should be killed, and that the purpose of the hearing was to appeal that determination.”
Tauscher said the burden was on Stokes to convince Hornburg that her dogs were not vicious or dangerous. Tauscher also said Stokes didn’t get a fair hearing because animal control prepared four reports for the hearing, but Stokes did not see those reports until after the Feb. 13 hearing. The lawyer also contends Hornburg was not an unbiased hearing officer, since the city routinely hires him for such hearings and he has a financial incentive to rule in the city’s favor.
On Feb. 14, Hornburg concluded that Mademoiselle was not vicious and returned it to Stokes. “Hornburg decided that Armani was vicious and sentenced him to death,” the lawsuit says. The hearing officer concluded it was the second time Armani had a run-in with the neighbor’s dogs.
Since the February animal control hearing, Stokes has gone through two other attorneys and an appeal in Tulare County Superior Court trying to save her dog. When the Tulare County judge declined to intervene, Stokes went to federal court.
In an interview with the Visalia Times-Delta in May, Stokes explained her fight: “I want to be a good dog owner. They’re my babies, they’re my children. I don’t have children, they’re my babies. I want them to be in a safe environment, I want my neighborhood to be safe.”