The Case Against Charlie, the Death Row AmStaff, Might Be Unraveling

Hard evidence against Charlie in the file is shockingly thin, and things aren't adding up.


Since we last reported on San Francisco’s controversial order to euthanize Charlie the American Staffordshire Terrier for an attack on a police horse, we have looked at the case against him — and it appears to be unraveling.

On Aug. 23, San Francisco Police Officer John Denny ordered Charlie, who was 18 months old at the time of the attack and had no history of aggressive behavior, to be euthanized based on the testimony of U.S Park Service Mounted Police Officer Eric Evans.

The case has been highly controversial, and Charlie’s owner, David Gizzarelli, is trying to appeal the ruling, which he says is unwarranted, unfair, and unsubstantiated. Gizzarelli says that in addition to Charlie’s clean record regarding aggression, the police horse was the first horse he had ever encountered.

“He’s never had any incidents with any cats, any small dogs, any large dogs, any dog that he comes across he’s very friendly with, he just sniffs, gets to know them, [and] they play,” Gizzarelli said at the hearing. “So when you’re saying that I’m not controlling my dog — I never had this incident happen before.”

Here’s a recent video of Charlie frolicking on Bernal Heights to show how sweet he is:

Gizzarelli makes some good points. Just a cursory review of Evans’ hearing testimony raises more questions than it answers, and there is a shocking lack of evidence in the case file against Charlie, despite the serious nature of the penalty and the public interest in the case.

On Aug. 6, Charlie was accused of charging a police horse named Stoney in an off-leash area of Crissy Field. According to Evans, who was riding Stoney at the time, Charlie attempted to bite Evans’ leg, though the bite was deflected by his boot. Charlie then bit and attached to Stoney’s front leg, which caused the horse to fall and Evans to be thrown, headfirst, onto the ground, which resulted in his being knocked unconscious. According to Evans, Charlie then chased Stoney for an “unheard of 1.6 miles” through the Presidio.

Evans claimed that during the chase, Charlie left bite marks and gashes on Stoney, which resulted in major muscle damage and torn ligaments and tendons. The injuries were so severe, Evans testified, that Stoney would possibly have to be retired.

But Evans’ testimony raises numerous questions.

The first thing that is demonstrably false is the distance Charlie chased Stoney. Evans claimed it was 1.6 miles, but using the map the U.S. Park Service provided that traced the chase route, the distance is closer to half a mile. Evans’ testimony about the seriousness of Stoney’s injuries also conflicts with that of U.S. Park Service Officer Austin King, who told KTVU News the same day that Stoney had already been cleared for light duty.

Furthermore, there was no veterinary report in the file to substantiate Evans’ claims of torn tendons and ligaments or “major muscle damage.” All the case file contains is a consultation form from a Petaluma veterinary clinic, which prescribed two medications, bandage changing, and a 10-day exercise schedule.

The file also lacks any evidence that Charlie attempted to bite Evans’ leg. There are no photographs of bruises or teeth marks on Evans’ leg, nor are there any photographs of Evans’ riding boot, which would presumably have teeth marks from Charlie’s alleged attack.

The other remarkable omissions are medical reports supporting Evans’ claim that he was knocked out from a head blow. In his initial report, Evans wrote that he “sustained a severe blow to the head,” which caused him to be knocked out. During the hearing, Evans testified he was unconscious for up to a minute and possibly longer. On the day of the incident, he said, “I was, of course, dizzy and seeing stars, hearing birds, [the] whole nine [yards].” At the hearing, Evans claimed that he was still suffering from headaches.

Why are there no medical reports? Because Evans did not see a doctor. That not only goes against common sense, but it is extremely suspicious that his supervisors would not insist he see a doctor immediately. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, head injuries can be extremely problematic, particularly when the head injury is so severe as to cause unconsciousness.

The idea that the U.S. Park Service would not require an employee to seek immediate medical attention for the type of injury Evans described is troubling at the very least, said Peter Melton, a spokesman for the California Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and workers compensation.

“If nothing else, it would be protection for the employer to have a doctor examine an employee who received a head injury on the job,” Melton said. “There are too many variables with a head injury to take chances.”

Howard Levitt, director of communications for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, said that park service employees who are injured on the job get the medical attention they need. He added that the city and county of San Francisco handled the hearing and that any questions about omissions in the case file should be directed to the city, which is refusing to discuss the case.

We’ll stay on top of the story; we hope there’s still a chance for Charlie’s life to be spared. Visit the Help Save Charlie Facebook page for more information.

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