AP NEWS

Superior Court judge affirms Norwich dog destruction order

May 6, 2019

Norwich — A New Britain Superior Court judge ruled Monday that the city was reasonable in ordering the destruction of two pit bulls that allegedly attacked a woman and her three grandchildren in October 2013 and that the state Department of Agriculture commissioner was correct in upholding the destruction order.

The two female pit bulls, Skyler, now 10 years old and Skyler’s daughter Dolly, now 6, have remained confined at the Norwich dog pound, where they have minimal contact with staff and volunteers, under orders by Norwich Animal Control Officer Michele Lombardi. The city has been paying for the care of the dogs throughout their 5½-year impoundment and owner Sheri Speer’s administrative and court appeals.

In her ruling filed Monday, New Britain Superior Court Judge Sheila A. Huddleston dismissed Speer’s appeal of the state Department of Agriculture’s ruling in August 2015 that the dog destruction order was reasonable. Speer had appealed the city’s initial destruction order to the agricultural commissioner.

This was the second time Speer’s appeal was heard in Superior Court. The court initially dismissed Speer’s appeal, but she prevailed in an Appellate Court ruling that said the initial dismissal was erroneous and sent the case back to New Britain court.

Speer has argued that the city failed to consider that other dogs in her Talman Street neighborhood could have been responsible for the attack, and that the city failed to follow statutory protocol on dogs held in quarantine. She also argued that the destruction order on both dogs was unreasonable, since only one dog was the “biting dog.”

During oral arguments in New Britain Superior Court April 18, Huddleston questioned whether the destruction of both dogs was permissible under state statutes and addressed it in her ruling posted Monday.

“The argument is not implausible,” Huddleston wrote, “and the court has given it considerable thought. The court concludes that, in the circumstances of this case, the statute does authorize the disposal of both dogs engaged in the attack, even though the identity of the specific ‘biting dog’ cannot be established with certainty.”

Speer did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling Monday. Norwich Police Chief Patrick Daley said he had not yet received the judge’s decision.

“We’ll review the judgment when we get it and move forward from there,” Daley said Monday.

The attack occurred on Oct. 8, 2013, attack in front of Speer’s home at 151 Talman St. In the incident, grandmother Lisa Hall was escorting her three young grandchildren from their home at 123 Talman St., a rental house owned by Speer, to the Bishop School playground.

One dog attacked the baby stroller carrying then 9-month-old Marquice Downing, knocking the stroller over and causing a minor bite wound on the baby’s forehead. The baby’s sister, Marlena Downing, then almost 5, was hailed as a heroine after she stuck her arm out to protect the baby. The dog latched onto her arm, shaking it, tearing flesh, breaking her arm and inflicting bite wounds down to the bone, according to court records. Marlena Downing needed surgery and screws to repair her broken arm, the court record stated.

A passer-by stopped his car, grabbed a stick and struck the dog, while Hall kicked the dog and was bitten on her leg.

During the attack, Marlena’s twin sister, Audrena Downing, ran screaming toward her home. The second dog chased her. The girl banged on the door of another tenant in the house, and the woman let the child enter. The girl hid behind a couch until police arrived.

Police could not discern which of the dogs, similar in appearance, attacked the victims and which one chased Audrena. The city took both dogs into custody, and Lombardi issued a destruction order.

c.bessette@theday.com