DALLAS – The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office wants to become the second in the state to have a dedicated unit for investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty cases.
Safer Dallas Better Dallas, a nonprofit advocate for local law enforcement efforts, has teamed with the county to raise $200,000 toward funding the unit.
After the weekly commissioners meeting Tuesday, officials announced $42,000 has been raised toward that goal –– $40,000 of which was donated by Commissioner Maureen Dickey and her husband Roland.
“Anybody that abuses animals that can’t help themselves is the sickest of the sick and these are the people that become, and the children who become, your murderers and your serial killers,” she said. “These are people who need to be brought to justice and they need to be prosecuted.”
Commissioner Elba Garcia steered District Attorney Craig Watkins toward meeting with the group. During a press conference, Watkins praised the public-private partnership that will forge the beginning of the unit.
“As we move forward, we’re going to have to have these strategic partnerships so we can ensure that we have the funding necessary within the DA’s office so we can continue to make Dallas one of the safest cities, the safest counties in the country,” Watkins said.
The money raised will pay for one attorney and one investigator. Assistant District Attorney David Alex, who also serves as the felony trial bureau chief, will head the unit.
Six years ago, Alex presided over the prosecution of Deshawn Brown, a 21-year-old who was convicted for stabbing and setting his dog Mercy on fire, killing her. Alex said the case deeply affected him and triggered a special interest in animal abuse cases that continues to this day.
Last week, Alex helped secure a conviction for Alexander Good, 27. The Grapevine man was found guilty of beating his girlfriend’s Jack Russell Terrier, Jack, to death. The dog died at the veterinarian’s office, its fractured ribs punctured his lungs.
These cases, Alex said, need a certain degree of expertise to successfully prosecute.
“We tried (Brown) in 2007, but it was a case where the law enforcement, there was absolutely no investigation of it,” Alex said. “We went into that case cold.”
These resources will aid in assigning the animal abuse cases to prosecutors who will dedicate the time and effort needed to successfully and fairly prosecute them.
The Good case, Alex said, was initially filed a misdemeanor. Prosecutors convinced the jury to charge the 21-year-old with a felony.
“A blind man could see this man was responsible,” Alex said. “I think that highlights some of the things you can expect to see out of this unit once we have the resources to dedicate to animal cruelty.”
In addition to these cases, 2012 has seen other headline-grabbing cases of disturbing abuse toward dogs in Dallas County. In April, Justice, a four-month-old puppy, was doused in lighter fluid and lit on fire at a Pleasant Grove apartment complex. The dog died nine days after the brutal attack.
Darius Ewing, 18, remains jailed on a felony charge of cruelty to animals.
In August, a pit bull was found with a jar jammed over its head. Investigators say it was used as a 'bait dog' to train other pit bulls to fight.
Then in October, another dog was found in southeast Dallas with a can wrapped around its neck. Dr. Kathryn Sarpong told News 8's Brad Watson that the can had been there at least a month. That investigation is ongoing.
Harris County established the first animal abuse unit in the state in 2009. Last year, the Animal Cruelty Section opened 75 new investigations and charged 39 cases, the county says. All told, the cases affected 848 animals.
The American Bar Association recognizes animal cruelty law sections in 24 states, including Texas. Studies commissioned by universities and police departments have found that people who abuse animals are more likely to be violent toward humans.
Yolanda Eisenstein, a Dallas-based attorney who focuses on animal law, told commissioners of five children who were cruel toward animals also abusing humans.
“It’s not just about the animals,” she said during the time set aside for public remarks. “I love animals, for me, doing it for the animals is enough. But for those of us who need more, there’s a human cost.”
To donate or learn more about the unit, visit the Safer Dallas Better Dallas website here.