Dog Owner Found Not Guilty in Cass County Dog Attack Case
In a surprise decision, the jury hearing the case of Justin Smith, a dog owner in Cass County, Michigan whose dog was accused of mauling two young children and their grandmother, was found not guilty. After a three-day trial, the six-person jury unanimously found that Smith’s dog was not involved in the attack. Smith had been denying that it was his dog who had been involved in the attack.
The ruling was a shock to Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz, who stated, “I’ve done this for 35 years and you know there’s plenty of surprises, I’ve been involved in over 200 jury trials but this was one of the most surprising results I’ve ever seen. You’ve got a dog that’s literally covered or has an abundant amount of the victim’s blood on them, and yet the jury decided it was not guilty in regard to the bite cases.” ABC57 also quoted Fitz as saying, “I’ll be very frank: I’ve done this for 35 years, and we’ll certainly respect the process and so forth, but this is the most befuddling decision that I’ve seen in 35 years from a jury.”
On April 9, 2017, Jennifer Hansford of Cassopolis, Michigan was in her backyard with her two grandchildren, seven-year-old Anthony and two-year-old Arial. The children had been playing on a trampoline when a dog belonging to a neighbor entered the yard. As Anthony got off the trampoline, the dog attacked him and Jennifer tried to protect her grandson from the dog as she tried to get him into the house. The dog then grabbed Arial by the head, causing severe damage to her scalp and face.
While all three of them were injured in the dog attack, Arial’s injuries were the most severe. Arial lost her ears and most of her scalp and she was bitten on her shoulders and limbs. She needed to have surgery performed on her eyes and face to repair her tear ducts and facial muscles so that she would be able to blink again. When the dog bit Arial’s neck, it narrowly missed her jugular vein. Jennifer needed to have fifteen stitches in her arm.
Police were able to catch the dog, which was quarantined and later euthanized. The dog was found to have belonged to Jennifer’s 22-year-old neighbor Justin Smith. In June 2017, Smith and his roommate 21-year-old Vashaun Morgan were charged with several misdemeanor offenses related to the attack. In an report by WBST, Animal Control Officer Dustin Bates stated that the dog had not been reported missing and the dog was out without a leash. In another article by MLive, Paul Canen, the great-grandfather of the children involved in the attack, stated that the dog had been seen running loose in the neighborhood before and that neighbors had complained about the dog, but nothing had been done to stop it.
Even though the jury found Smith not guilty, he still pled guilty to some of the other charges against him, including five counts of having a dog running at large, one count of failing to vaccinate his dog, and one count of failing to have a dog license. Vashaun Morgan was charged with seventeen misdemeanor offenses and will stand trial on February 27, 2018.