|A miniature schnauzer puppy|
Law enforcement officials in Alabama used a stun gun on a pregnant woman because she refused to turn over her dog, a miniature schnauzer. What was the dog's "crime"? It was playing in its own yard.
The woman brought a civil-rights lawsuit, saying officers had barged into her home over the dog matter and used unlawful force. A federal jury in Mobile last week determined that the officers' behavior was perfectly acceptable.
Am I making this story up? I wish I could say yes--but my imagination is not vivid enough to concoct a story like this. From the title of this blog, it's clear that I am partial toward schnauzers and their owners. Have I lost all objectivity on this subject? Am I coming to the defense of a schnauzer by trying to make noble public servants look bad? I'm not sure it's possible to make these "public servants" look worse than they already do. And how did the clod heads on a federal jury find in favor of officers who apparently acted in an outlandish fashion? I have no idea.
Actually, I do have one idea. I've encountered the plaintiffs' lawyer myself, via a phone call of about 15 minutes duration a couple of years ago. If he left the kind of impression on the jury that he left on me, that might explain an otherwise inexplicable verdict.
As often is the case in situations involving law-enforcement officers and high emotions, it's difficult to tell exactly what happened here. But based on research of several news articles, here is our best guess at what transpired:
Two stray dogs were running loose in Semmes, a community west of Mobile, Alabama. The dogs wound up in the yard of Jennifer Ann Clark, where they proceeded to romp and play with Clark's miniature schnauzer--who apparently never left its own yard. A neighbor must have called animal control about the strays because dogcatcher Vincent Hertz arrived to find them, with the schnauzer, in Clark's yard.
The dutiful Hertz rounded up the two strays and, apparently thinking the schnauzer was part of the pack, demanded that Clark turn her dog over. Our guess is that Clark responded with, "Over my dead body!" or words to that effect.
Clark took her dog, went inside, locked the door, and called a friend (Angela Stevens, who is disabled) and asked her to come over. Undeterred, Hertz summoned the assistance of two sheriff's deputies. When Clark opened the door to let Stevens in, the deputies burst through, a physical altercation ensued, and at least one stun gun went off.
How could law-enforcement officials be found not liable for such over-the-top behavior? For one, I've learned to never be dazed and confused by any decision that an Alabama jury might render. Two, the plaintiffs were represented by Jeff Bennitt, whose office is about four miles from my house in Shelby County.
I generally expect nothing but the worst from Shelby County lawyers. But a check of court records told me that Bennitt had handled a large number of employment and civil-rights cases--so I decided to give him a call. What followed sounded like a comedy sketch of a lawyer intentionally trying to run off potential business. Bennitt's crudeness was so off the charts, even for a lawyer, that I kept the conversation going longer than necessary--just to see what was coming next. I didn't know whether to be entertained or repulsed by the guy.
At first, I thought he was just pulling my leg, and he eventually would make some effort to sound professional. But he never did. Of all the wretched human beings I've encountered in my legal sojourn, Jeff Bennitt has to rank as the single biggest jackass of them all--and he beats out some serious competition for that honor.
I've spoken to at least one other person who encountered Bennitt, and she said her experience was much like mine.
Do the "schnauzer women" in Semmes, Alabama, have a chance for justice on appeal, perhaps with a different lawyer? I sure hope so.
This story has a wacky, Keystone Kops quality to it. But beneath that lies a serious case of official abuse. In the name of the schnauzer--one of God's finest creations--we don't want to see the SOBs get away with it.