Purdy aldermen wrestle with ordinance enforcement

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Vicious dog case prompts hearing where city forced to relent

Enforcing Purdy's ordinances on animals and property maintenance prompted extended discussion in the city recently.

Mayor Bo Prock filed a complaint against the dogs of his neighbor, Brittany Lassiter, that led to a hearing to open the meeting. Prock sat in the audience while members of the city council served as a panel, charged with making a recommendation in the matter to the municipal judge. Lassiter was represented by Cassville Attorney David Cole.

Prock, who lives in the 700 block of Howell Drive, submitted photos of damage to his fence, caused by Lassiter's dogs. He said the dogs have been on his property three times, described them as "growly," and expressed fear that had his daughter gone outside to feed his dogs on one occasion, he expected he would have had to take her to the hospital.

Prock said he spoke to Lassiter's boyfriend on two occasions, who was quite conciliatory and offered to pay for damages. The third time, Prock filed a police report. He estimated damages to the fence at $1,500.

Lassiter's boyfriend was not present for the hearing.

Police Chief Jackie Lowe said he took possession of the dogs at their home following Prock's complaint on Jan. 23. He did not find the animals vicious, nor had he had any previous contact with them. Moreover, Lonnie Lowery, the public works assistant who cared for the dogs while they were in the city pound, called Lassiter's dogs well-behaved.

Cole pointed out the city's ordinance states the police officer must witness the offensive behavior by the dogs. Since he found them in their home and not at large, the ordinance could not be enforced. Cole said it was not Prock's obligation to keep the dogs out of his yard, but Lassiter's.

Lassiter made a tearful appeal for the return of her dogs, noting they were not vicious and spend their time around small children. Prock did not dispute that, but questioned how the dogs respond in the presence of strangers.

"In my opinion, I don't think we have a leg to stand on," said Alderman Austin Hammen, looking at the ordinance.

"If it happens again, call Jackie or [Officer] Russ [Nichols] to see it," said Alderman Bobby Baker.

"There's not going to be a next time," said Cole, staring pointedly at Lassiter.

Council members voted to return Lassiter's dogs. Prock commented he had his pistol drawn on the dogs in the incident, but did not feel people should shoot every dog that got on their property. He later said aldermen made the right decision interpreting the ordinance, and perhaps needed to revise the language to account for damages evident, such as an injury, rather than fully relying on an eye-witnessed event by officers.

In a second dog matter, Lowe said a dog owned by a resident at Cedar Towers had attacked another dog. Lowe witnessed the injury but not the attack. The alleged offending dog was taken into custody, but had since been "broken out of the kennel." Lowe said he suspected the owner was responsible.

With the owner not appearing for the hearing as directed, aldermen tabled the matter.

Another resident, Kaitlyn Graves, asked when aldermen had dropped their ban on dogs as a breed, specifically pit bulls and rottweilers. Prock said difficulties have arisen widely over defining a specific breed. Without paperwork documenting a pure blood line, he said law enforcement could not "prove" an animal's lineage to enforce such an ordinance.

Lowe further noted that an American bulldog bears a striking similarity to a pit bull. Court cases have upheld proving the standard, thus most cities were moving away from breed specific bans. Brock said Purdy moved instead to a vicious dog distinction.

Aldermen faced more issues when Holly and James Hughlett complained about a resident in town filing a complaint against them for violating the city's nuisance ordinance, revised last year with broad and loose definitions. In their case, the Hughletts have 2-by-6 lumber boards stacked on cider blocks at the back of their house.

Lowe confirmed the individual in question had filed 30 reports of nuisance violations that included more than 100 photos. Lowe said in each case, he has gone to look at the alleged violation, and if the matter appears to represent a violation, he has sent a letter to the property owner. The Hughletts' lumber should be out of sight, he said, and could be resolved by covering it with a tarp.

"We have to have an ordinance in place to allow people to do that," Prock said.

"Who would want to live in a town where this is going on?" Holly Hughlett asked.

"It's been a while since police were cut loose to clean up the town," Prock said. "Either we say we want to clean up the town nor not. 'Nuisance' is an opinionated argument. That's how it ends up in court. More than one councilman has been cited. There are lots of different sides. It all depends on the situation. We had one person whose house was a disaster. We gave him a list of things to fix. He took offense at that. Now he's going around town, filing complaints. It's petty and vindictive."

James Hughlett conceded his yard had many bicycles in it, but added he had six children who are the cause of it.

Lowe said he works on ordinance violations as time allows.

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