Tentative settlement reached in county dog-mauling death case

A tentative settlement has been reached in a civil lawsuit brought against the former director of Montgomery County’s animal shelter after the 2014 dog-mauling death of Klonda Richey, court documents reveal.

The parties agreed to skip a court proceeding this month and told three Ohio Second Court of Appeals judges “that they have reached an agreement in principle,” according to a court entry.

The wrongful death suit, filed in February 2015 by Richey’s estate and later amended, alleges that Mark Kumpf, then director of the Montgomery County’s Animal Resource Center (ARC), recklessly and/or willingly failed in his duty to enforce existing laws nor sought to obtain a dangerous dog designation that may have given Richey “significant additional protections.”

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When reached Monday, Michael Sandner, an attorney hired by Montgomery County commissioners to represent Kumpf and the county in the case, confirmed sides were near a final settlement but declined to provide details.

“It’s not quite finalized,” he said. “We are in conversations and we may have something to be formalized in the near future.”

Legal bills defending Kumpf continue to mount for Montgomery County commissioners, who fired him at the end of 2018.

Commissioners have approved spending at least $325,000 since September 2015 for the services of Sandner, an attorney with Pickrel, Schaeffer & Ebeling, to defend Kumpf and county offices from actions arising from Richey’s death, according to county records.

MORE: County legal bills involving fired Animal Resource Center director hit $280,000

The case moved to the appellate court in September after Sandner appealed a ruling by Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Mary Wiseman denying a defense motion for summary judgment on certain plaintiff claims. The case is now back in Wiseman’s court, who has ordered the sides to participate in a Feb. 14 status conference.

Calls by this newspaper to attorneys representing Richey’s estate were not returned.

Richey, 57, was attacked by two mixed mastiffs owned by neighbors in the driveway of her 31 E. Bruce Ave. home in Dayton.

The Richey family contends she made approximately 13 calls to the Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center and at least 11 calls to the Animal Resource Center after Andrew Nason and Julie Custer moved into 35 E. Bruce Ave. with the dogs in early 2011.

RELATED: County commissioners officially fire animal shelter director

Richey was so scared of the dogs she installed a fence between the two houses, put up a security camera to monitor when the dogs were off leash and sought a civil protection order against Nason, which was denied, court records show.

Richey’s body, naked and torn, lie in the snow in sub-freezing temperatures until a passerby reported it at around 8:15 a.m. When police responded, the dogs charged them and were shot and killed.

If the dogs had been designated dangerous, the protections could have included a higher fee for her neighbors to register the dogs and a requirement for them to provide evidence of additional insurance.

An Ohio Supreme Court ruling last month may make it easier for dog owners who fail to control their animals to be held criminally liable.

The high court ruled as long as the prosecution has reason to believe a dog has a history of being dangerous, an official designation of a “dangerous dog” is not required before the dog’s owner can be charged with failing to contain and control a dangerous dog.

RELATED: Dogs that attack: Court ruling could make it easier to press charges against owners

The decision came five years after the fatal mauling of Richey and a year after a young Miami Twp. girl, Savannah Coleman, was attacked by a vicious dog that severely injured her. Another fatal mauling occurred in April 2017 in Dayton when Maurice Brown was attacked by a pit bull that had been the source of previous complaints and at least one dog bite.

For nearly six years, at least five local state lawmakers have tried — without success — to strengthen laws governing dangerous and vicious dogs.

Richey’s estate is seeking economic and non-economic monetary damages, attorney’s fees, funeral and burial expenses, as well as other damages.

Kumpf’s leadership of the ARC ended following a year in which the local shelter faced criticism from animal rights advocates over euthanasia rates and independent consultants Team Shelter USA issued a critical report of shelter operations.

MORE: County animal center report: ‘Avalanche of negative consequences’

The county — spending up to another $40,000 on outside counsel — settled an employment dispute with Kumpf five months after his firing, agreeing to pay him 17 weeks of salary and provide him a neutral reference letter. Last September, he was hired as animal control director of Detroit.

In Detroit, Kumpf faced immediate calls for his ouster by some animal welfare advocates but has the support of Detroit’s chief public health officer, who oversees the city’s Animal Care and Control, according to the Detroit News.

Kumpf’s salary in Detroit is $100,000 annually, the newspaper reported. His annual salary for 2018 in Montgomery County was $86,611.20, according to county payroll records.

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