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Palm Coast Council Would Rather Spare Dog Cooper’s Life. You Wouldn’t Know It
From Its Court Pleadings.

| September 10, 2018

cooper dog

City Manager Jim landon, left, and City Attorney Bill Reischmann, have defended the city’s decision to kill the dangerous dog Cooper, but the city council has been at pains to convey that it would prefer a different outcome. The administration’s pleadings in court don’t make that distinction. (c FlaglerLive)

“Stalling.” “Unnecessary cruelty.” “Politics as usual in Palm Coast.” “Political B.S.” “There is going to be a special place in HELL for these people/sorry my mistake, they just cannot be human. ♥” “Would like to cage that group at the council meeting.” “This whole ordeal hurts my heart. Who’s being human and who is the real animal?” “No one wants to say this is Animal Cruelty, but you need to ask yourself, isn’t it?”

The fate of a 40-pound dog called Cooper and twice declared dangerous–the city condemned it to die in February–is turning into an unexpectedly virulent political liability for the Palm Coast City Council, even though the council is largely powerless on the matter, which is dictated by state law. But the council’s own administration has not been helping, projecting a hard line in defense of its decision to kill the dog as if it were also the council’s, when that’s simply not the case.

The mayor and council members are at the center of bitter attacks on Facebook, in emails and in council appearances from the dog’s advocates, who want the dog’s life spared and Cooper sent to a refuge for dangerous dogs. The council was not involved in the decision to kill the dog and has “no jurisdiction,” according to its attorney, either to decide to kill it or to exile it.

To the extent that the council has any say, its members have repeatedly said over the past few weeks, as two of them did again last week, that they support Cooper’s advocates’ wishes: they would rather see the dog’s life spared as well. But state law doesn’t give them leeway to make that call. A judge could rule in Cooper’s favor. And the case is in the hands of a circuit judge now.

Yet when the city attorney filed a 33-page response in the case last Friday, plenty was argued about why the city’s animal control division carried out its responsibilities properly, why the city’s hearing officer did as well, why the dog owner’s due process was not violated and why Cooper should be killed.

Nothing was said about the wishes of the city council.

The silence about the council’s perspective appears to directly contradict last week’s council meeting, before the response was filed (it was filed three days late), when Mayor Milissa Holland again explicitly sought to make the council’s position clear–if not for the public, then for the judge: “Let me just state for the record,” Holland said. “Last time this was discussed we did say that when the judge comes back with his ruling and if the judge so deems the allowance of the dog to go to this facility, that this council would be very supportive of that. In fact we’re encouraging that.”

Advocates for Cooper the dog demonstrating outside the Palm Coast Community Center on Aug. 28. (John Brady)

Advocates for Cooper the dog demonstrating outside the Palm Coast Community Center on Aug. 28. (John Brady)

It’s as close as the council could come to saying that it would rather not fight the case, but that it had no other option under the law. And if a judge could rule differently, then it would embrace that decision.

“There was no ambiguity, there was no uncertainty,” Holland said in a brief interview today.

Holland expected that position to be reflected in the response in the court case. It was not.

She’d also written City Manager Jim Landon her concern that the administration was not reflecting the council’s position adequately: “This story continues to get away from the facts and we’re not doing anything to get ahead of it,” she wrote Landon. “It is coming back on your Council. What is the plan here as this is becoming increasingly frustrating.”

There is no plan, other than for the administration to continue doing what it’s been doing: fighting the case to justify the city’s administrative position–which is, in fact, a strong position–without heed of the council’s wishes beyond the strictly legal parameters of the case.

While the administration has done a convincing job of defending the city’s position, it seems equally clear that Landon, as has been the case on several recent occasions, is severely misjudging the political fallout (the way he did regarding the mishandling of the mayor’s now-defunct radio program at taxpayers’ expense or when he proposed a $200,000 self-advertising sign for Palm Coast on an I-95 overpass). The city administration is focusing exclusively on making the case for Cooper’s death, making its legal position synonymous with the council’s preference.

When it had the chance to reflect the council’s wishes that there should be a different outcome (a wish even Landon shares, based on his statements to the council), the city has stayed mum.

Landon on Monday wrote back Holland: “I agree that all of the misinformation and lies are very frustrating. We have told the other side of the story. It does not stop the false campaign. I believe engaging this group just escalates their efforts, but if you have any suggestions you would like us to implement just let me know. Hopefully the judge makes a determination soon.”

Holland thought she was making that suggestion at last Tuesday’s council meeting when she placed her statement on the record, as a message to the judge.

The administration’s position is the more startling because it has repeatedly (and accurately) conveyed the point that under state law, the council may not interfere in determinations that end with the declaration of a dog as “dangerous,” or with a determination of death. But while trying to insulate the council from responsibility, the administration has instead muted its sympathies for the dog and its advocates, thus making it seem as if the council was pushing for the dog’s death.

“This is not an easy situation and it’s very disheartening,” Holland said last Tuesday. “I can tell you that we have tried every single angle and all of us have inquired within several times, trying to figure out a resolution that we could be involved within the state statute. I have had conversations with both Sen. [Travis] Hutson and Rep. [Paul] Renner, talked to both of them, about the quandary that this has put us in locally and the challenge that has brought against us. I’ve even talked to our lobbying firm about this as a mechanism of us to also advocate on behalf of changes in the state law.”

A disconnect between the city’s legal obligation and its council’s preference is silenced in a court pleading.

Council member Vincent Lyon, an attorney, was just as clear, agreeing with the city’s legal position, but also elaborating on a political alternative. “We do not have a legal venue in which to do this, to make a choice to send the dog somewhere else,” said Lyon, who just three years ago was himself involved in a high-profile defense of a dog the county sought to declare dangerous (the county eventually lost). “It’s the legislators who can do something about this. So write to them, call them, try to make a change, I agree that the law is too strict and needs to be changed. But we can’t do that.”

Last Tuesday, after Renee DeVincenzo, a Cooper advocate, criticized the county for “digging your heels” and accused it of playing favorites (Council member Nick Klufas’s in-laws’ dog was involved in an attack on another dog, whose owner collapsed after the encounter and died of heart failure within days), City Attorney Bill Reischmann again summarized the history of the case and defended the city’s position.

“Because it is the second incident the statute provides for a specific process. It provides for specific consequences,” he said, reading the language of the law, which is clear: if a dog previously declared dangerous attacks and causes severe injury (or a death) to a human being, the dog “shall be” immediately confiscated by animal control, quarantined for 10 days, then killed, absent hearings or court actions. “And the verb is shall,” Reischmann said. There was a hearing in this case–an “adversarial hearing,” Reischmann specified–and there was an appeal to circuit court.

Much of the case has been “adversarial,” though not through the city’s doing: both the dog owner and its advocates have showed few scruples about spreading false or inflammatory information, Dottye Benton, the dog’s owner, never informed the city–as she was required to, by law–when she took ownership of Cooper earlier this year, when it had already been declared dangerous in Port Orange, and last month, when Cooper bit a person for the third time as Benton was visiting the dog at the Humane Society, Benton attempted to hush up the incident, resulting in a pending felony charge against her and further undermining her credibility. Those elements, also part of the record, could end up hurting her case more than animal control’s decision–by tipping a decision in animal control’s favor. The council has had nothing to do with that, either.

“City does not have control, we don’t tell judges what to do,” Reischmann said.

Circuit Judge Terence Perkins two weeks ago ordered the city to answer Cooper owner Dottye Benton’s contention that her due process rights were denied at the original animal control hearing on the case, and the dog’s life should be spared.

“What I’m hearing and what we have been hearing is please send this animal to this location where it can be safe and the community can be safe. Unfortunately the law does not give the city of Palm Coast that option,” Reischmann said. “So if this council were to direct staff or my office to send this animal to the facility, I guess, I’m not sure, it’s in the Tampa area, we would be directly violating, directly violating our obligation, the city’s obligation, to follow state law. It’s important to understand the state statute is what’s controlling here, we are following the state statute.” He said if the city went ahead with the advocates’ wish and the dog again bit someone, the city would be liable.

Landon said if Perkins were to return a decision that does spare Cooper’s life, the city would go along. “We’re not going to appeal that,” Landon said. “If a judge decides, they can do something different, that’s what we’ll do.”

But that too, was nowhere in the city’s answer in the court case.

18 Responses for “Palm Coast Council Would Rather Spare Dog Cooper’s Life. You Wouldn’t Know It
From Its Court Pleadings.”

  1. Mark says:

    Why doesn’t someone just take the dog to the facility and be done with this mess? What has happened to our freedoms? Common sense isn’t very common anymore.

  2. Renee says:

    What is shocking to me is our Council Member Nick Klufas corresponded with me through emails why he can not go against the law and have Cooper released to the Ranch Really?Klufas’s in laws dog caused a man to have a heart attack and he die! That is not OK! Just goes to show you…it is not what you know but who you know!

  3. Dennis McDonald says:

    Once again another trip in the “legal taxi” driven by the city manager. It reminds me of a Taxi ride in Manhattan at rush hour where the flag is put down to engage the meter and you go NO where for big bucks. What is the cost of this ride Pierre ?

    Read the writ filed by Dottye Bentons’ lawyer. The first bite incident in Port Orange is without jurisdiction. A house of cards for sure. The other arguments are on point and salient. Like I asked at the council meeting how did this dog get declared “dangerous”. The difference between Klufas inlaws dog and Cooper is the canine enforcement officers’ actions which are suspect by comparison. This “dog warden” was way out of bounds applying for a warrant on Benton for actions of the dog that was in Palm Coasts’ jurisdiction. The dog warden needs to be reassigned, now !

    Please post Benton/Cooper Writ for all to see both sides of this Palm Coast Circus.

  4. John Brady says:

    Well our 400,000 year out of town attorney does understand the meaning of “shall” in this matter. How come he did not understand “shall” when it came to the specious City Charter Review.
    Why can’t the overpaid, out of town, part-time attorney just fail to respond which would cause the Judge to grant the petitioner’s plea.
    This is just another example of the City Attorney and the City manager feeding the Council a ration. What a disappointment since two Council members are attorney’s and according to the story saved a dog in a similar situation.
    Council give an order and when either of these overpaid Charter Officers fails to follow the order vote them out for “cause” If you wait until November only one of you needs to “man up” since Howell and Tipton will vote to rid the residents of these two.
    It is very simple, do not oppose the appeal

  5. KMedley says:

    Simply amazing! It’s the William Jefferson Clinton defense. It depends on what the definition of “is” is. For Cooper “shall” is clear and not subject to any other meaning. As for the review process of the City Charter, “shall” is murky and problematic.

  6. 107 says:

    The city of Palm Coast retains Reishmann because they can get away with underhanded BS when they don’t have a full time attorney on staff to know more of what goes on day to day. Reishmann is a pawn and not worth the money that he and his firm are being paid. The City Council needs to wake up and realize they can hire a government attorney and keep them on staff for far less. Reishman is there for Landon and in place to carry out the agenda’s of certain individuals.

  7. Hipocrates says:

    Excellent article. This was the last opportunity for the City to let the judge know they supported the dog in going to the Rescue Ranch! Instead they are going to pay the city attorneys’ law firm for a 33 page response to Support the Killing Of The Dog!! Unbelievable! What hipocrates. Why didn’t the Councils Wishes get stated? The City Attorney and Jim Landon run the show..

  8. Lnzc says:

    It’s easy to murder unborn babies,no fight there

  9. thomas says:

    Lordie lordie. Execute Cooper and get on with important business.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    Stop behaving like executioners of dogs that do not have a bias treatment because are not owned by any of the council relatives. Stop wasting our tax dollars in City Attny Reichsman cost;ly answer to the appeal. Just let Cooper go to the Rottwheiller Ranch!

  11. Flagler Flyer says:

    Dogs are not people. Kill this dangerous dog and be done with it. And with something as simple as this the city council continues to play the fools that they are!

    Palm Coast residents get the government they deserve by continuing to elect spineless individuals who’s primary goal is to avoid any accountability.

  12. 101 says:

    Has anyone said can you let the judge of the courts decide the final settlement of this case? I always felt the courts have the final say unless of course as now, it is being appealed. It still lay’s in the courts to make the final decision, not Jim Landon, and not the City Counsel.

    Did the citizens of PC ever be made aware of what the City Attorney who by the way is from Orlando gets paid? And did the citizens of PC ever vote on the high paid salary he is receiving? Bet ya not. Mr. Reichsman is taking the City of PC for a legal ride on what he is charging them. What is wrong with having a local attorney, working for the City, why Reichsman from Orlando?

  13. Outsider says:

    I agree Lnzc. Kick a puppy (no, I’m not advocating that) and they call for the death penalty. Kill a baby and that is someone exercising their “right,” which I’m sure was not God-given. This dog should be euthanized before he kills or maims someone.

  14. Mary Fusco says:

    This nonsense is a waste of time, energy and money. Right now, my sympathy lies with this dog. Ms. Benton is 100% in the wrong because she did not contain her dog while the carpet cleaner was in her home. The carpet cleaner was an idiot to ask to pet the dog. The incident at the shelter should never have happened because Ms. Benton had no need to visit this dog because she was never going to have ownership of him again. Strangely this dog only seems to bite when his owner is present. He had been at the shelter for 7 months confined in a cage and never bit any staff member or showed aggression. I agree with Palmcoaster. Stop wasting money. Let the dog go to the ranch and bill his previous owner for every cent that has been spent because of her stupidity. I have owned dogs for 50 years. They are not all friendly around strangers but that does not make them bad dogs. Bad owners do not recognize when their dogs need to be secured and the dogs suffer. Enough already with this story . Take this money and feed hungry children or the homeless.

  15. Anonymous says:

    We have a city manager, mayor and city council that are unfit and incompetent. We needs representation that will keep our taxes low and stop robbing peter to pay paul so when that catches up with them they won’t have to raise our fees and costs. There is no excuse for this with a city of this size and the amount of revenue they have to manage this city. This is not Hillsborough County or Sarasota County. We have representation that is out of control and incompetent. Mayor Holland sucks as mayor and leads the parade.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Good point where are the advocates there?

  17. Lydia Doyle says:

    Good point where are the advocates there?
    What was the evaluation results of this cooper is he cinsistant with his kennel handlers does he show aggression?Does he show trustworthy btemperment and behavior? Or is he skiddskidddish and unpredictable? Nobody is hearing actually how the dig behaives now in Custody I think it matters.

  18. Man’s Best Friend says:

    After looking at all the different pictures of the dog with different people and seeing his devotion to them. It’s obvious he is not aggressive. Protective and territorial, yes! He obviously can be friendly to people unless he feels threatened by them. I bet if you investigate his bites you would find sufficient reason as to why the dog felt he had to protect!! Send him to this Ranch. He does not deserve to be put to death for being protective of his family!

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