When a pit bull broke free from its chain and attacked 60-year-old Maurice Brown Tuesday morning, it marked the third time in three years that a dog killed someone in Dayton, and at least the eighth time in Ohio during that span.
Yet despite the brutal nature of the deaths — Brown pleaded “Jesus help me, help me” before police arrived and killed the dog — efforts to strengthen state law have stalled time after time.
“The body count is getting too high,” said Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, whose bill, The Klonda Ritchey Act, passed the Senate last year but was not taken up in the House. “We need to act.”
Beagle’s bill was named after the Dayton woman who was mauled to death in her front yard in 2014 by a pair of dogs that lived next door. That same year, 7-month-old Johnathan Quarles Jr. was killed in his home by his step grandmother’s dog, which had previously lunged at a postal carrier and bitten another dog.
This newspaper’s investigation of the latest dog mauling death revealed that owners responsible for controlling their dogs repeatedly break rules designed to protect the public, often with little or no consequence.
The Montgomery County Animal Resource Center handled more than 39,000 calls in 2014, yet fewer than 2,000 resulted in citations and many of those led to no fines or punishments.
A 2014 Dayton Daily News investigation found ARC officers responded to 20,293 calls in 2012 and 2013. Of those, 4,142 resulted in a warning being issued and 697 resulted in one or more citations. Those citations resulted in fines as low as $10.
Some residents have lost faith that dog attacks will be treated seriously.
Tim Porter, 74, was bitten by a dog Wednesday morning after car trouble had him walking down an alley two blocks from his Dayton home.
The dog jumped a fence and went after Porter’s legs, knocking him to the ground.
“They said the dog’s going to be confined for 10 days, but who’s going to follow up on that?” said Porter, who was not seriously hurt.
No single entity tracks dog bites across the state, but in Dayton alone there were 169 dog bites in 2016.
‘That could have been us’
Police say Brown, who often picked up cans as he walked in his neighborhood near Riverview Park and Salem Avenue, was attacked in an alley next to a house at 345 Middle Street.
Kaneika Lovett well knows that house and that neighborhood. She lived nearby in 2011 when her daughter Dynver — then nine years old — was attacked by another dog outside the house at 345 Middle Street.
A loose dog from down the block ran into the yard and began fighting with multiple dogs at the address. Dynver, now 15, needed 50 stitches because of the bites and is left with visible scars on her arm and leg.
The incident is an example of how some dog attacks — even serious ones — can slip under the radar.
Lovett said she was never contacted by the Animal Resource Center and the county confirmed last week that it has no record of the incident.
Police also did n0t pursue charges against the two individuals responsible for the dog.
James Hastings told police at the time that he got rid of the dog by dropping it off near the office of the Humane Society of Greater Dayton. Lovett said Hastings told her he had the dog put down.
“I wasn’t actually sure of (what happened to the dog),” Lovett said, though she never saw it again. She now lives in Miami Twp.
Tuesday’s incident brought back memories of that day her daughter was attacked.
“It just touched me,” she said of Brown’s death. “I thought ‘Oh my God, that could have been us.’”
According to Ohio law then and now, the dog should have been quarantined and the owners could have been cited for failure to control a dog either under state or local statute.
But in the end the only recourse the Lovetts had was a civil suit, which they won. In 2013, a magistrate found they were owed more than $29,000 for medical and other expenses, plus $150,000 in compensatory damages for the girl’s distress.
They’ve yet to collect a dime, according to Lovett.
Hastings died in 2015 and Carla Whitt, the other person named in the lawsuit, could not be located for comment.
Officials for the Animal Resource Center say they do everything in their power to enforce dog laws.
But much is out of their hands, they say.
“Law enforcement agencies may choose not to contact the Animal Resource Center as their officers are trained to deal with incidents involving dogs,” said Cathy Petersen, director of communications for Montgomery County.
Mark Kumpf, director of the center, was not made available for comment.
2014 REPORT: Penalties rare despite thousands of dog complaints
The Ritchey case resulted in an outcry from the community — but no changes in the state’s dog laws.
Richey, 57, had frequently complained about the two mixed-mastiff dogs that lived next to her home at 31 E. Bruce Ave.
In total, there were 13 complaints about 35 E. Bruce — the house next door to Richey’s — filed with the Animal Resource Center. Another 46 dog complaints were logged at the Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center from Dec. 27, 2011, to just a few months before Richey’s death.
It was only after she died that the dogs’ owners — Andrew Nason and Julie Custer — were charged with a crime. They pleaded no contest to misdemeanor counts of failure to control dogs.
In the death of 7-month-old Johnathan Quarles Jr., his step-grandmother, Kimiko Hardy, was found guilty of six felony and misdemeanor charges but only one related to confinement of the dog. The judge said she failed to take action when she had warnings that the dog was aggressive.
She was sentenced to three years in prison.
As of late last week, the owner of the pit bull that killed Brown had not been identified by police. ARC records show two pit bulls were listed at that address as recently as 2015.
A dog owner at the address was cited in 2008 and 2012 for failure to license his dogs. One citation was later dismissed in Dayton Municipal Court and the other was withdrawn. He was again warned to get a dog license at the same address in 2015.
The owner could not be reached for comment.
Petersen said failure to license is a minor misdemeanor and it’s up to the courts to enforce punishment. “After a citation is issued, the case is in the hands of the courts,” she said.
In addition to the license citations reported by the Animal Resource Center, the agency logged at least five calls since 2011 to that block of Middle Street for roaming dogs. It’s unknown if those reports related to the 345 address or the dog involved in Brown’s death.
More aggressive followup sought
Neighbors said they’ve had concerns about the dogs at 345 Middle Street being aggressive, but it’s unknown if any tried to log formal complaints.
The only call ARC has records of responding to at that address involved an anonymous call about the welfare of dogs at 345 Middle Street. Both were found to be healthy at that time.
“We need a more vigorous follow up,” said Beagle, who plans to make another attempt at a tougher dog law this year. His bill would mandate an investigation of every call to a dog warden along with clarifying that dog wardens have arresting authority and requiring owners to respond to warnings within a set amount of time.
“It is a challenge and resources are limited,” he said. “Irresponsible owners tend to be known to law enforcement and they may have a tendency to disregard rules in the first place.”
Beagle said authorities need to be more proactive when dogs are known to be out of control.
Petersen said the county supports provisions that were part of Beagle’s previous bill, including the creation of a database of dangerous dogs that could be accessed by law enforcement, and increasing the criminal penalties for owners whose dogs injure or kill someone.
Currently. there aren’t felony level punishments for failure to control a dog on a first offense, even if the dog kills someone.
“The penalties are increasing, but when you see a situation where you’re dealing with the death of a human being… it still seems somewhat inadequate compared to how horrible it must be to be mauled to death by an animal,” said City of Dayton Prosecutor Stephanie Cook. She said the city can currently charge an owner with a first degree misdemeanor which can result in up to six months in jail and $1,000 fine.
Beagle hopes his legislation can help prevent tragedies on the front end and put in place more stringent penalties for those who put the public in danger.
“Dog bites by and large are low priority calls… until this happens and then it’s too late,” he said.