By Jack Bouboushian, Courthouse News Service
A man suspected of abusing his pit bulls and training them to fight cannot sue police officers for false arrest and malicious prosecution claims, a federal judge ruled.
After arresting Anthony Mason and charging him with misdemeanor offense of violating animal owners' duties under Illinois law, none of the witnesses subpoenaed for trial appeared in court.
Cook County prosecutors struck the charge with leave to reinstate, leading Mason to file suit against Chicago and four arresting officers.
U.S. District Judge Morton Denlow agreed last week to dismiss two of the counts, concluding that the police had a basis to arrest and try Mason.
In May 2006, four Chicago police officers conducted a search of Manson's home pursuant to a valid warrant for drugs possessed by one of his tenant boarders. During the search, the officers found four adult dogs - Midnight, Nasty, Big Red and Little Red - in puppy cages without adequate food or water.
The officers reported that two of the pit bulls appeared to have fighting injuries and removed the animals after also noticing a "spring pole" in the backyard. "Dog fighters commonly use spring poles to strengthen the biting grip of their dogs in preparation for fighting," according to the ruling.
At animal control, an evidence technician took pictures of the dogs, and that technician confirmed his work with an affidavit and in deposition.
"Tendered pictures of Midnight show a black pit bull with scars and open wounds covering its head and at least one front leg," according to the ruling. "A tendered picture of Big Red depicts a light brown pit bull with a torn ear and scars or open wounds on its head."
In his lawsuit, Manson claimed that the dogs in the photos are not his dogs. In support of this claim, Manson pointed out that he made the same protest in deposition when "confronted with one of the alleged pictures of Midnight."
Manson said that the dog in one picture might not be Midnight because Midnight "didn't look like that when he left my house," according to the deposition quoted in the decision. Manson continued that Midnight has a "shorter nozzle, bigger head, nowhere near that many scar, if he had any. ... It might be [Midnight], it just don't look like him."
The former suspect also claimed that an officer from animal control failed to recall specifics from the investigation, including how many officers were present or the condition of Manson's pit bulls.
Denlow rejected Manson's claims, finding that the suspect's "denials do not even rise to the level of plausibility," and calling his skepticism about the photographs "too equivocal and self-contradictory to qualify as genuine evidence of a factual dispute."
"Most obviously, the injuries to Plaintiff's dogs would have led a reasonable person in the Officers' position to believe that Plaintiff had failed to provide 'humane care and treatment' for his dogs ... by causing them to fight," Denlow wrote.
"The pictures of Midnight are a particularly sad sight," he continued.
Manson's malicious-prosecution claim fails under that finding, as well as the tolling of the 160-day statute of limitations under Illinois' "speedy trial" statute, according to the ruling.
Litigation is set to continue with regard to Manson's claims of unreasonable search and failure to intervene.