LAW REVIEW: The fallout of San Francisco’s murder by dog
If you have been following the news down in San Francisco, you know that a Lacrosse coach at St. Mary’s, Diane Whipple, was viciously killed by a 120-pound dog. The dog, Bane, a pure-bred Presa Canarios, attacked Whipple without provocation outside the door of her sixth floor apartment.
The dog owners, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, tax attorneys, claimed they had no prior knowledge of the dog’s viciousness, and in fact have suggested that the attack may have been brought on by pheromone-based cosmetics or that the Lacrosse coach “may have been a user of steroids” that attracted the dog. There is no evidence of either.
If you want to work yourself into a frenzy, call our office for a copy of Robert Noel’s brazen 18-page letter of explanation to San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan.
Noel appears to be rewriting history as he proffers that Whipple provoked the attack by crawling towards Bane and Knoller after the dog knocked her down. He acknowledges that the dog dragged his wife down the hallway where it attacked Whipple in her own apartment. Bane finally “moved forward and made contact with Ms. Whipple’s neck and throat.” That “contact” caused her neck to be gouged where she bled to death.
He writes, “during the next 5 to 7 minutes no one from the P.D. or fire department worked on Ms. Whipple, they simply let her lie where she was.” So, it was their fault.
Noel’s letter attempts to show how “gentle” Bane is – by describing numerous dogfights involving Bane of which Bane was always the innocent victim. One resulted in the loss of Noel’s right index finger. Noel even describes how Bane affectionately carried a small kitten in his mouth and denies that Bane killed sheep, dogs and cats in his former owner’s neighborhood, as alleged.
Under California law, Noel and Knoller are civilly responsible as Bane’s owners/keepers for the loss suffered as a result of Whipple’s death.
The issue is whether they may be successfully prosecuted for a crime. Under Penal Code section 399, dog owners may be charged if they do not use “ordinary care” to control “mischievous animals” whose attacks result in death. They will avoid criminal conviction if Whipple did not take “reasonable precaution,” which is Noel’s implication in his outrageous letter. You’ve got to read it.
Another basis for criminal charge is section 399.5 of the Penal Code which subjects dog owners to prosecution (felony or misdemeanor – up to four years in prison) for owning or controlling a dog “trained to fight, attack, or kill,” provided the owner “knew or reasonably should have known of the vicious or dangerous nature” of the dog. Again, the victim must take reasonable precautions against the dog, which Noel and Knoller, without Whipple’s contrary testimony, will argue.
We will hear a lot more about Bane. The politics alone will keep this case on the front burner.
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