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Habitual animal offender lands in jail for contempt, owes city $35,291

Friday, January 10, 2014 - 9:21 am

This week Hattie Moore was in court twice; now she is in the Allen County Jail.

Since 2007 Moore has been in court for 17 different incidents on charges from Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control. It’s been more than a year since two of her pit bulls attacked three people on Fort Wayne’s south side. Animal Care and Control is still trying to prevent the habitual animal offender from keeping dogs on her property.

Wednesday she appeared in Allen Superior Court for a trial on charges of dog-bite liability, from an incident that occurred Feb 9, 2012, when one of her dogs bit her neighbor. She was found guilty after 35 minutes of jury deliberation. She was fined $500 plus court costs and sentenced to 60 days in jail. She was given credit for time served, and charged $100 in restitution to the bite victim.

Thursday afternoon she was back in court on charges of contempt for the $35,291 she owes in back fines.

Allen Superior Magistrate Robert E. Ross told Moore he could give her three years of time if he had taken all her past contempt charges into account.

Moore was found in contempt in June after two dogs were discovered on her property. As a habitual offender, she couldn’t have a dog on her property in the city of Fort Wayne for 10 years.

“I do have a job I would like to keep,” Moore said to Ross.

“This is a lesson, in the future you should take this matter seriously,” Ross said.

Ross found Moore in contempt and sent her to jail for 30 days. She was handcuffed in the courtroom and taken away.

Belinda Lewis, director of Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control, and her staff have been frustrated there are not stiffer penalties for a habitual offender.

Under state law, city citations cannot include jail time, and the maximum fine for possession of a dangerous animal is $2,500. Lewis said they are considering adding an amendment to the city ordinance to give judges more leeway in cases like this. Fortunately, both Lewis and Randy Thornton, enforcement division supervisor for Animal Care and Control, said there are very few cases such as this.

Because the dog bite case was a criminal case Moore was sentenced to 60 days of jail time, but how much of that she will serve is in question because she had already served some time in the Allen County Jail and will be given jail time credit.

Before the 2012 attacks she had been cited with violations including no kennel/cattery permit, no rabies vaccination, public nuisance-animal (dogs running at large), and minor breeder permit violations. Thornton described the offenses as mainly smaller, nuisance stuff. But in Feb. 9, 2012, a neighbor was bitten by a pit bull that was running at large; the description and photo led to the dog being identified as Moore’s. The white-and-tan pit bull believed to be responsible for the bite was running with a brown pit bull at the time of the attack.

Animal Care and Control officers had tried to take the two dogs into custody for quarantine but Moore told them she had left the dogs in the backyard while she went to a store. Officers at the time noticed paw prints in the snow leading to the front door, but Moore told the officers the dogs always stayed in the backyard. Moore told the officers that she would look for the dogs and left.

For the next two days, officers returned to her property to collect the dogs, and each day no one answered the door. On Feb. 13, a certified letter was sent to Moore with a summons. She was cited for potentially dangerous dogs level 2, habitual animal offender, failing to quarantine a biting dog, failure to obtain pet registration and failure to obtain rabies vaccination. The two dogs were never found, and Moore never surrendered the animals to the shelter for quarantine.

The initial hearing was scheduled for Feb. 29. Somehow between the date of the dog bite and Feb. 22, 2012, the two canines ended up on the south side of town, where they seriously injured three people in one afternoon.

On that day Maurice Eley, 51, intervened in an attack on an 11-year-old boy by the two dogs running at large. Eley was able to hold both dogs down until help arrived on the scene. He suffered dog bites on both legs and the boy subsequently underwent multiple surgeries for the bites to his legs. One of same dogs also bit a 77 year-old woman in the foot in the 600 block of East Pontiac Street before attacking the 11-year-old. Both dogs were killed by the Fort Wayne Police.

No one in the area recognized the dogs, Lewis said. It turned out no one knew them because they were from the Concordia Gardens neighborhood, she said. Thornton said the dogs appeared to be clean and in good health, not what one would expect to find of two dogs that had traveled 10 miles from their home, had been sleeping outside for several days and had nothing to eat.

Lewis said Animal Care and Control officers had gone door to door in that neighborhood right after the attack but no one could tell them where the dogs were being kept.

Lewis said this is unusual in a case this severe. It wasn’t until one of the animal control officers recognized the dogs. Going back through case files the officer was able to match file pictures of Moore’s dogs to the two dead dogs, according to animal control.

It could never be proved that Moore had taken the dogs to that area, though investigators say they believe Moore had a connection to a person who lived three blocks from where the south-side attacks took place. Moore was taken to court. Animal Care and Control had to prove the dogs were Moore’s, under a city ordinance, instead of prosecuting her under Indiana state law.

Lewis said state law requires that you prove intent, knowingly, recklessly or intentionally. They couldn’t prove where the dogs were being kept on the south side, so they couldn’t prove that Moore had brought the dogs to another person who had then let them run free.

Instead, because they could link the ownership of the animals to Moore, they went for two charges of possession of a dangerous animal, a city ordinance violation. Animal Care and Control won the case. Moore was charged with two counts of possession of a dangerous animal. The maximum fine is $2,500 for each charge. Thornton said that because Moore is a habitual animal offender, she was ordered not to have any animals on her property for 10 years.

Thursday afternoon after Moore was led away, Thornton said the department will be checking into who is taking care of the two current dogs on Moore’s property. Moore had tried to deny she owned the dogs Thursday in court, but after court Thornton said the older dog is micro-chipped in her name.

They will do a welfare check at Moore’s house and if they don’t hear back in 72 hours they will get a warrant to remove the animals for their own safety. As for Moore’s back fines investigators will try to go through a collection agency.

“She has only paid $228 of her fines so far,” Thornton said.

Moore is scheduled back in court Feb. 24.