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Dottye Benton, Owner of Dangerous Dog Cooper, Faces Felony Charge Following 3rd Bite

| August 31, 2018

Dottye Benton, owner of Cooper the dog, volunteering for a county commission candidate's campaign at the public library earlier this week. (© FlaglerLive)

Dottye Benton, owner of Cooper the dog, volunteering for a county commission candidate’s campaign at the public library earlier this week. (© FlaglerLive)

Dottye Benton, the 72-year-old owner of a dog twice declared dangerous and condemned to die, faces a felony charge following the dog’s third bite of a person on Aug. 16, the second since Benton has owned the dog.

The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office filed the charge on behalf of Palm Coast Code Enforcement Wednesday and forwarded it to the State Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to ratify it or dismiss it.

A third-degree felony charge carries, on conviction, a maximum penalty of five years in prison, though first-time offenders are almost never penalized that harshly. If the charge isn’t reduced to a misdemeanor–as it often is–the offender may face some probation, and adjudication is usually withheld. But contending with the charge can be aggravating, expensive and uncertain, particularly in a case that’s aroused sizeable public passions. In such cases, the State Attorney typically is loath to play down the case. Benton is already battling a civil case in the matter.

The severity of the charge in this case draws on what the charging affidavit traces as a pattern of negligence and cover-ups on Benton’s part.

Cooper is the 6-year-old dog at the center of what has become a disproportionately high-profile controversy that’s prompted demonstrations and social media campaigns. The last such demonstration was attempted at the Palm Coast Community Center on Election Day; it drew a few advocates before it was rained out, though Benton said another one is planned. The case has embroiled Palm Coast government, led to a lawsuit in circuit court and now appears to be a political cause at least one candidate for Palm Coast council–Jack Howell–is latching onto (he was at the last demonstration). The felony charge is likely to inflame the issue further.

Cooper bit a Flagler Humane Society staffer as the dog was quarantined in the society’s custody since Feb. 27. That may itself complicate the legal issue as it raises the question at least partly of the society’s responsibility. But at the moment of the bite, Benton was visiting her dog, was clearly tending to it (the society has video surveillance) and had somehow allowed it to escape its kennel and rush the staffer, who was bitten on the hip. Unlike Cooper’s two previous bites, the staffer was not hospitalized.

Benton, according to the staffer, attempted to hush the incident, telling the staffer not to say anything. A Palm Coast’s animal control officer happened to have been at the Humane Society at the time (Eva Rodriguez, the same officer who prosecuted the second-bite case and determined that the dog should be killed). Benton did not inform her of the bite, Rodriguez reported. Benton could not be reached today.

“First, who has legal custody?” asked John Brady, an advocate for Benton’s position and a former candidate for Palm Coast mayor. “As I understand, the city must have legal custody and clearly the shelter has physical custody. If that is the case why can this woman be charged? Suppose I was at the shelter with the intent of adopting a dog and was in a visiting room and some individual walked into the room and the dog bit that person, would I be responsible because I had temporary physical custody?”

The charging affidavit cites a pattern of negligence and dissimulation on the owner’s part.

Cooper’s first bite took place when it was in Benton’s daughter’s custody in Port Orange last January. Port Orange declared the dog dangerous–at a hearing Dottye Benton attended. She took custody soon after that. On Feb. 24, the dog attacked a carpet cleaner who’d gone to Benton’s house to do some work, injuring him severely. Palm Coast declared the dog dangerous, had it quarantined and condemned it to death. A hearing officer upheld the decision. Palm Coast government has stood steadfast by the decisions. The council considers the issue to be out of its hands.

Benton on May 18 sued to quash Palm Coast’s kill order. She does not dispute the declaration. But she wants the dog exiled to a shelter for dangerous dogs on Florida’s west coast, and has galvanized a small movement on hers and the dog’s behalf to press for that resolution.

On Aug. 22, six days after Cooper’s third bite–there’s no evidence suggesting the judge knew about the third bite or would act any differently if he did–Judge Terence Perkins gave Palm Coast 10 days to show cause as to why Benton’s petition to quash the kill order should not be granted. Palm Coast has not yet responded (the city is seeking an extension).

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Under Florida law, if a dog previously declared dangerous attacks someone (or attacks a domestic animal) without provocation but without serious injury, the owner of the dog is guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor. If the dog attacks “and causes severe injury to or death of any human,” the law states, “the owner is guilty of a felony in the third degree.”

According to the sheriff’s charging affidavit, the Bentons’ avoidance of legally required responses regarding the dog began after it was first declared dangerous, when it was to have been surrendered to Port Orange authorities for a 10-day quarantine. “Dawn did not do this,” the affidavit states, referring to Benton’s daughter, “and instead relocated the dog to her mother’s home (Dottye Benton) at 29 Ryder Drive in Palm Coast.”

In a second instance of dissimulation, neither Benton notified Palm Coast authorities of the dangerous dog’s presence. Port Orange authorities had to do so.

The third instance took place at the R-Section house when the carpet cleaner showed up and Benton did not tell him her dog was dangerous “and instead let the dog out of his enclose so that [the carpet-cleaner] may pat him,” the affidavit states. “This was clear negligence on Dottye’s part, knowing the dog was dangerous to strangers.”

The affidavit states Benton was at the shelter “unsupervised with Cooper for a visit” on Aug. 16 when “Cooper came out of the kennel and attacked” the staffer.

The affidavit concluded: “Because of this being the third reported bite case of the dog named Cooper and because Dottye Benton did not take responsibility to follow the order from the Port Orange Animal Control Office and did not keep Cooper in a muzzle and on a chain or leash and under her control to avoid further incidents and also made no attempt to report the third bite, and because the dog caused [severe] injury on the second bite incident involving Terry Sandt, The Palm Coast Animal Control Office is pursuing the Felony charge” under Florida law.

The Flagler County Sheriff’s charging affidavit refers to Cooper as “a Doberman / Hound mixed male dog.”

“The third bite would not have occurred if the city took the offer of releasing the dog to the person who agreed to take the dog and assume responsibility,” Brady said, noting that the city attorney could have worked out a solution weeks ago.

Elizabeth Robinson, who leads Community Cats of Palm Coast and helped Benton with the first awareness campaign on behalf of Cooper, said in an email: “I think for Cooper’s supporters, there is a principle at stake, which is that you don’t put an animal to death when there is a humane alternative at hand. Letting Cooper go to the rescue ranch to live out his life would remove him from this community and from living in a home setting. Rescue ranches are accustomed to handling dogs with aggression histories.”

The charging affidavit against Dottye Benton:

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28 Responses for “Dottye Benton, Owner of Dangerous Dog Cooper, Faces Felony Charge Following 3rd Bite”

  1. Duncan says:

    I vividly remember the outcry over putting this dangerous animal down after he bit the carper cleaners in the face. The owner gets everything she deserves for not doing the right thing. Although it’s sad, this dog does not belong on a rescue ranch either; put Cooper down before he bits again.

  2. 107 says:

    DISMISS the charge. Palm Coast and Code Enforcement know they are being malicious and trying to muscle this dog owner. The State Attorney shouldn’t be involved. The intent of vingence and stupidity is on code enforcement and the city of Palm Coast. What a waste of tax payers money.

  3. Born and Raised Here says:

    Were talking about a dog, put it down, and get over it.

  4. Umm says:

    Dismiss the charge? She was and continues to be negligent. This dog is a clear danger to society and should be put down. Forget the rescue ranch, that option should be long gone. Not only because the dog is a nuisance, but because his owner has been given enough changes. If the dog bit you in the face, I doubt you’d be saying “dismiss the charge.” Whats it going to take? A child being mauled to death for you all to understand the danger here? Unbelievable. How man changes does Cooper and his negligent owner get? This “owner” deserves every last bit of punishment she gets.

  5. Ben Hogarth says:

    The dogs owner should absolutely be charged. It’s amazing to me that when the owner is around, the dog suddenly becomes hostile towards others. I’m not sure what kind of sick manipulations the owner has committed on this animal over time, but it’s evident the animal presents a clear and present danger to others…

    And so does it’s owner.

  6. Renee says:

    This is getting out of hand! 3rd bite is on the City of Palm Coast by not releasing the dog to the Ranch!!!

  7. jane doh says:

    Why is this CIty and its AC officer being so vindictive against this senior citizen. THere is a solution right in front of everyone – let the pup go to the rescue ranch. Yes, it bit once to defend owner/property. The second bite seems to be provoked by a sue-happy carpet cleaner. The kennel worker – should never have happened – they could have freed him to the Ranch a long time ago. THe poor dog is being locked in a cage for most of the day. Give the dog a chance for life.

  8. Veteran says:

    Charge the owner but send the dog to the shelter for dangerous dogs. Not the dogs fault.

  9. RP says:

    Another Im special entitled Trump supporter or maybe shes a sovereign citizen and our laws do not apply to her or her dog.

  10. Josh Davis says:

    The center had control of the dog and was responsible for it at the time the third person was bit. It was their responsibility to ensure the safety of the public, it’s workers and the animal, not the previous owner’s. This one is easy.

  11. Dave says:

    Dangerous dog in custody of the humane society should have a muzzle on when around any people including the owner, if this obvious step was taken the dog could not bite anyone. The dog was in custody of humane society and already deemed dangerous so why was there no muzzle on for this visit?

  12. james connors says:

    Enough with this nonsense. Get rid of this dog once and for all.

  13. Ridiculous says:

    This City of Palm Coast is vindictive and not intelligent enough to be handling the tax payers money. They are being milked but good by an attorney firm who sees an easy mark. There are much more important situations to be spending our money on like how the city streets hold water as shown in our last hurricane and the homeless problem just to mention a few. I have looked up the ranch that wants the dog. Super credible and FREE. Yes Problem solved for this petty City. I want to know how much these people have spent up to now on trying to kill a dog and now they want to spend MORE money to make sure they kill it! I have never seen such gross negligence. That law firm they have is laughing all the way to the bank!!

  14. Kelly says:

    The neighbors dog on Wedge Lane bit my son in the face. Because the dog was up to date on vaccinations the situation was swept under the rug. If I had any say in the handling of animal control…they protect the animals and not the citizens.

  15. Really says:

    3x your out Coop

  16. Mark says:

    I can see how nothing important gets done properly in this county. Maybe Landon get straighten this mess out?

  17. Concerned Citizen says:

    With 3 bites in so many months it is doubtful this animal can be saved. It’s probably best if it is euthanized. It’s tragic but can you really guarantee that you can rehab that dog to the point of being safe?

    The owner of the dog should be charged and prosecuted. You are responsible for your animals behavior. If your dog runs around biting people you should control it and guarantee the public’s safety. If you can’t then surrender it. If you do neither then it becomes obvious you are promoting the behavior and are enabling the dog to attack people.

    I imagine there’s an underlying pattern of abuse that has caused this poor dog to run around like this. Then again it could just be a mean dog. Either way the owner is responsible for what happens. Tired of people getting away with actions that harm others. How about some justice for the bite victims?

  18. Renee says:

    Totally disagree with all who believe the Cooper needs to be put down! This can happen to any dog owner!

  19. For The Public’s Information says:

    The Florida Supreme Court has emphasized in numerous cases that ‘unfettered authority’ granted to a government enforcement agency with no clear, legislative guidance is ‘unconstitutional!’ You are watching this happen in this situation.

  20. concerned says:

    Make ankles great again – put down coop.

  21. Beachside Local says:

    It’s appalling how quickly people are to put an animal down. This poor dog has been confined to a cage for months on end and only wants to be with the ones he loves. Who wouldn’t be angry and scared? I completely agree he should of been muzzled if the shelter truly believes he’s a dangerous dog. They obviously did not feel threatened yet allowed for this situation to occur. We have failed Cooper! The dog is only being protective and instinctive. Allow Cooper to go to the ranch to live his life and drop the case. It’s not Coopers fault that he is misunderstood and being handled inappropriately. People should stop being so hateful towards animals and other humans.

  22. Fat Boy says:

    If the dog was a burglar, a rapist, a drug dealer or any other other type of criminal, the courts would give him a few more opportunities to continue his poor behavior. Send the dog home and if he bites another 2 or 3 people, then maybe send to the ranch. But don’t put him down. Its society’s fault the dog bites people./

  23. Anonymous says:

    You know its funny we have people who kill multiple people even with a death penalty they get to walk the earth,bite a human death,think about it.The more people I meet the the I like animals.

  24. Trump's Ego says:

    A MAGA hat wearing Joe Mullins supporter? Obviously self-centered.

  25. fiscal says:

    The fact that he supports Mullins is a bigger offense

  26. Anonymous says:

    Dog lives matter

  27. Linda says:

    Let it be known, the dog isn’t a bull dog.

  28. Concerned resident says:

    This dog is dangerous and needs to be put down it’s not fair for others to be subjected to his aggression. The owner should be ashamed of herself for trying to cover it up. She doesn’t seem like a law abiding citizen.

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