Thursday, August 12, 2010

Still The Band Played On

Still The Band Played On

This blog was created with a purpose of informing local pet owners on the laws and rights of pet ownership in our county. It is presents a vision of how we can work together in reducing the number of pets who are senselessly killed in our new shelter when life saving alternatives do exist.

There is a paradigm of killing that is embraced by those who control our animal welfare policies who are resistant, down right stubborn, to any suggestions of change that would focus on life saving alternatives instead.

While history has praised the band that went down with the Titantic as heroes, there are no heroes for those who defend the the practice of killing innocent yet homeless animals.

Initially, the focus of my writing was to protect all of my hounds from the county’s attempt to include their lives as part of any plea bargain with the court. There has never been a reasonable explanation why a first offense, amounting to three minutes of barking, could send me to jail for twelve years.  Instead, this type of "behavior by the court" was used to extort a guilty plea in exchange for the lives of ten of my hounds.

For my role in speaking out, I have paid a heavy price, including the loss of my freedom,  I was was sentenced to thirty days in jail for “violating probation” which ultimately lead to the death of one of my beloved hounds Bam Bam.

That type of sentencing extreme would be common for violent criminals, drug offenders, sexual predators or even white collar criminals but for three minutes barking offenses?

Since the solicitor never presented any evidence of my incident being anything more then a first offense, the county attorney's office should have offered a nolo plea, with a reasonable fine, which I probably would have accepted.  Had we reached an agreement the county would have come out ahead as opposed to opening up the vault in a desperate attempt to punish me.

Instead, the case mutated into a costly nightmare that included several pre trial hearings, a full blown trial (Dog Barking Case of the Century) covered by the media, which lead to a finding of guilt and a sentence of two years jail time (served on probation) and that my property be “brought into compliance with all zoning codes within 45 days”.  In the end the county emerged battered and bruised in the court of public opinion, the hounds became heroes oblivious to all the new found fame..

I was content with an outcome that didn’t include the court placing a “pet limit” on my property.  Judge Muise did correctly rule that doing so would amount to the court invoking zoning requirements, which is outside of the courts juristiction.  Nor did the court include any fines due the county.

The county attorney's office wasn’t content on simply silencing the hounds.  Instead, an effort was made to silence me as well.   I was told that as a part of my two year probation term I would be prohibited from speaking out, either verbally or through my writing, with any negative comments about the solicitor’s office, animal control or any of the witnesses who testified in my case.  Those witnesses included Lilburn City Councilman and tax cheat Eddie Price).

As an advocate and a writer these conditions were clearly not acceptable.  There has never been any precedence that would include surrendering one's first amendment right to "free speech" for a misdemeanor offense   Clearly, the lengthy probation term was more about silencing me as opposed to “bringing peace and tranquility" to a neighborhood that has overwhelmingly supported the hounds.

While one would assume that attempts at limiting discussions on governmental policies might be expected in some third world areas where oppression rules the land, one should be outraged that the "law of our land" would include such outrageous conditions.  Since I also intended on changing the nuisance barking law that was used to manipulate my case, this condition was tempered but ignored.

Once the hounds were safe, I moved forward with having the barking law changed.  There were a number of issues in the old law that clearly violated pet owners rights, including the issue that allowed citizens to file a criminal complaint with no policing agency being required to investigate whether a crime had indeed been committed. Nowhere in the constitution are citizens granted such broad policing powers.

The other changes involved requiring complainants to actually live nearby where the alleged complaints were filed. Both witnesses in my case, realtor Porter and Councilman Price lived several miles away with their only interests being rental property they owned.

Finally, the sentencing guidelines that allow animal control and more importantly the animal advocating attorney who wrote the law to threaten and extort pet owners into surrendering their family pets or go to jail had to be removed in it’s entirety.  This is the area where I went nose to nose with our self proclaimed animal advocating attorney who not only wrote the previous law but wanted to strengthen any new law by limiting barking where any dog that barked six times for thirty seconds would be a violation of the ordinance.

Animal advocacy is, in a certain sense, standing up to tell true life

stories that are not being heard; true life stories that most people are
ignoring. The first step in animal advocacy is to help people see things
differently. Animals are somebody, not something. - Tom Regan

The public saw through this madness and sided with the barking provisions recommended by "We the Pet Owners.  With her law now extinct it became clear that the county attorney’s office and the court was not happy with my involvement in rebuking her idea of advocating for animals by sending them to our high kill shelter simply because they bark. 

No longer could she build her career by sending innocent dogs and cats to animal control despite her claims "where they would be adopted".  Had she ever bothered to really get her "hands dirty" by investigating the truth on the fate of animals entering our shelter, especially our new shelter, she would have realized that for most this was a death sentence.  While it may be understandable that animals living in "squalor" might be better off dead (something I don't advocate for) hounds who are living in a responsible, loving home would never be better off dead.

Maybe, she was upset because I hurt her feelings.

Instead of thanking me for streamlining the court process and saving the county money by having these cases resolved through mediation my efforts were instead greeted with six attempts to revoke my probation for much mundane offenses like failure to pay probation fees of $129 and for alerting the county tax office of Councilman Price’s fraudulent claim of a homestead exemption on property he owned nearby.

The county attorney’s office proceeded with six attempts to revoke my probation including attempts to. One would assume that the courts would focus on jailing violent offenders that present a danger to the community, especially during an economic downturn that has many fellow citizens struggling financially. In fact, even when presented with prior Supreme Court rulings (Georgia vs Bearden) where the court upheld the Fourteenth amendment which prohibits incarcerating citizens simply because they have an inability to pay fines or fees.

In that ruling, the court suggested that non violent offenders be offered alternatives to jail not limited to changing fines or fees over to community service instead. My repeated attempts at offering to pay back “restitution” with community service were denied.

This makes absolutely no sense, of course, in lieu of recent studies by “Engage Gwinnett” that point out the cost of incarcerating a person to taxpayers is about $45 a day – thirty days incarceration comes at a cost of $1,350. Even with the good time provisions that allowed me to “only” serve 15 days the cost to taxpayers was $675 – for a failure to pay Sentinel Offender Services $474 in fees – none of which were due the county of Gwinnett. 

Since when does the court have a responsibilty to improve the bottom line for a private company like Sentinel by acting as a collection agent with tactics one would expect from the mob - not our courts.
Anyone else who used threats and intimidation to collect money would be charged with a RICO violation.

These are the facts in my case – even though my case is officially over – even though I have no further business with the court – the court is now attempting to intimidate me from speaking out about my dreadful experience.  This has never been about seeking justice for something the hounds may have done – it’s about punishing me for my dissent.

On July 28th I wrote an entry that explained how our court case was now over with the following article which was only initially released to the rescue community.

Sittin' and starin' out of the hotel window.
Got a tip they're gonna kick the door in again
I'd like to get some sleep before I travel,
But if you got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in. –

Words from Grateful Dead – “Trucking”

This article was released early in the morning. Within the hour two animal control trucks pulled up wanting to “inspect my house”. I simply informed animal control's "cruelty officer" that the court case was over, probation was over (which never included allowing inside inspections of my home since the barking incident occurred outside) and that absent any proof of a specific cruelty or neglect complaint there would be no inside inspection of the hounds or my property.

The law is clear on this, policing agencies are required to attain warrants before storm trooping your home, looking under your bed, rifling through your belongings, invading the sancity of your home looking for alleged criminal activity with no prior proof that a crime has or will be committed.

Further, AC was advised that if they were truly concerned about issues with the hounds they could simply go to FACEBOOK (like everybody else) where I have shared dozens of pictures of the hounds inside our “castle’ and that was as close as they would get.  The truth be known, why would I trust the judgment of  animal.control with a history of being complacent with killing?

Our shelter director can not explain why she choose to send two trucks with two officers who spent at least two hours “investigating” my property simply because of something I wrote on a blog. This is an abuse of power which she should be held accountable for, especially since she has repeatedly claimed she can’t implement programs that save lives at the shelter she manages because the citizens in our community don’t give her the resources needed to do the job. She has the resources; she simply squanders these resources in her attempts to punish anyone who has the nerve to hold her accountable.

One would think that would be the end of those in positions of making responsible decisions on spending resources that should be directed towards the real crime issues we face in Gwinnett. Tuesday morning I answered a call from someone who identified himself as an “Officer of the Court” who wanted to discuss comments I had written on my blog.

After pointing out that all of the comments I had written were protected under the first amendment and after he assured me I wouldn’t be arrested for those comments I agreed to meet him outside to clear up any questions he might have.

According to the two officers who showed up, a court clerk had brought this posting to the attention of the court as “threatening” and they just wanted to make sure I had no intentions of being “violent”. It was pointed out that there was nothing in the post were threats were made that could even remotely be viewed as threats as opposed to what appeared to be one more desperate attempt to silence my comments by intimidation.

What bothers me is why would the court assign a clerk to monitor private emails I have written in the first place?  Would they prefer I send them an advance copy for their review? 

Since this happened early in the morning with the court in session I would assume the court could find more productive duties.  Not only was the court clerk’s time a waste and abuse of the court system but to send two officers to my house when they had my cell number where any misconceptions could be cleared up is mystifying.   This isn't about justice, it's about protecting personal agenda's and appeasing political special interests.

Anyone smarter then a fifth grader would be able to see that the only weapon I have ever used is my keyboard.  The only way I’ll give up my keyboard is when the county pries it from my cold dead fingers.

I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way.

Thomas Jefferson

The right to dissent is a core value and foundation with which our country was founded.

All the flag waving in the world doesn’t make us free if we are intimidated against speaking out against those who are supposed to uphold the law. The court is free to answer why they deemed this case so important to proceed in the irresponsible manner as they have.

Over the years I have volunteered over 5000 hours of my time trying to place hounds in homes. Still I am saddened by the fact I no longer feel safe living in this community. While I do feel safe inside my home I certainly don’t feel safe outside. How ironic that it’s not the fear of being victimized by a criminal element that concerns but instead a fear I now have for our county government instead. Love my country but fear my government.

It should be obvious that these latest acts of desperation from the court and from the leader of animal control come from those who are trying to protect that power to kill - acts of desperation coming from an obsolete killing mechanism that's sinking faster then the Titanic. With a ship hell bent on killing sinking fast, this band of characters still plays on.

We have two political positions on the fate of animals sent to animal control being actively discussed in our community. Those who want to protect a paradigm of killing that is embraced by animal control, our county attorney’s office and the court and those who want to change the focus to proven life saving alternatives instead.

The question for those on the fence is what side of the issue do you want to end up on? The side that will continue to abuse their power in a feeble attempt to bale out the water on a sinking ship OR the many No Kill Advocates who are offering life boats to anyone who is willing to abandon this killing philosophy.

Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings.
Sometimes the cards ain't worth a damn, if you don't lay'em down and play your hand.,
I guess they can't revoke your soul for tryin',
Get out of the door and light out and look all around - Grateful Dead

One would assume that these recent threats would cause me to throw down my “axe” in disgust but in doing so I would dishonor all of the brave souls who through the years fought and died to keep this country free.

For those dumber then a fifth grader, an “axe” is British slang for a “tool used to create words that cut deep”, no violence intended there either.

Now, excuse me while I answer the door…. It’s the band still playing on….. disconnected.

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