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Judge Rules Palm Coast Has No Choice But To Execute Dangerous Dog Cooper, Ending Notorious Case

| November 20, 2018

Cooper has been quarantined at the Flagler Humane Society since February. The above picture, by the society, was taken in late October.

Cooper has been quarantined at the Flagler Humane Society since February. The above picture, by the society, was taken in late October.

Circuit Judge Terence Perkins has denied an appeal in the death sentence of Cooper, the dangerous dog Palm Coast animal control determined in February must be killed after the dog bit and severely injured a person for the second time in a matter of weeks.

Perkins issued his ruling on Nov. 16, rejecting arguments by Dottye Benton, the dog’s owner, that a Palm Coast hearing officer violated her due process rights, or that Palm Coast government, through its animal control division, had any other choice but to execute the dog, according to Florida law. Absent an appeal, which is unlikely, the dog will be euthanized within days. Benton conceded as much after the circuit court hearing two weeks ago when Perkins heard the case. “The way it looks like is he’s going to be put down,” she said at the time.

The decision vindicates the strict and unwavering position the city administration and City Council took since February regarding the dog, however sympathetic all council members said they were regarding the dog’s advocates. The case galvanized a small movement on behalf of the dog as its owner, her attorney and their followers sought to stop Cooper’s execution and send the dog instead to a refuge for dangerous dogs. The dog’s supporters often angrily confronted council members at meetings, pleading and arguing that it was in the council’s discretion to halt the execution and divert the dog to the refuge. The city’s attorney, Bill Reischmann, repeatedly said it was not.

“The city has no discretion. The city has no legal authority to evaluate other less restrictive alternatives. The dog must be destroyed.”

Perkins ruled likewise, rejecting Benton Attorney Marcy LaHart in language at times almost dismissive of the attorney’s position: she “cites no case authority for the proposition that the statute is not supported by a compelling interest,” Perkins wrote of LaHart’s claim that it wasn’t in the community’s interest to kill Cooper.

The law, Perkins said, sets out three explicit conditions when a dog “shall” be executed: First, the dog must have previously been declared dangerous by a government body. Port Orange declared Cooper dangerous after Cooper bit and severely injured a woman there in January. Second, the dog must bite a human being a second time in an unprovoked attack, again causing severe injury. Cooper bit Terry Sandt, a carpet cleaner, when Sandt reported to Benton’s house in palm Coast’s R-Section in February to clean her carpets. Third, the injuries must be severe. Sandt was severely injured on the lip and elsewhere and required reconstructive surgery. Benton took him to the hospital and paid his bill (and later Sands returned to clean her carpets.)

“The plain language of the statute makes clear that if those 3 conditions are met,” Perkins wrote in his four-page, characteristically single-spaced ruling, “the dog must be destroyed. The city has no discretion. The city has no legal authority to evaluate other less restrictive alternatives. If the 3 conditions are met, the dog must be destroyed. The city followed the strict but clear language of the law by seeking to destroy Cooper and did not infringe on [Benton’s] due process rights by seeking the only remedy provided in the statute.”

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Perkins’s ruling summarized the case and its steps through the city’s animal control and hearing officer stages, rejecting LaHart’s claims point by point. He found that Benton’s due process could not have been violated since the city had made her aware of the hearing, which Benton attended and at which she testified, nor was her due process violated when Palm Coast supposedly did not properly document the fact that Cooper had been found to be dangerous by Port Orange. “Petitioner’s argument ignores the petitioner’s own testimony,” Perkins wrote of Benton. “At the hearing she testified that she knew that Cooper had been designated a dangerous dog by the City of Port Orange.” In his concluding paragraph, he went so far as to say that as Palm Coast proved all the elements required to lead to an execution, “it does not appear that these three elements were in serious contention.”

In other words, there had been no missteps or mis-applications of laws or procedures even at the administrative level, before animal control’s decision reached the hearing officer.

LaHart and Benton could not be reached this afternoon.

Perkins’s ruling was expected: he’d said almost as much when the two sides presented oral arguments on Nov. 5, telling LaHart he was “having a hard time finding the legal basis” for her position.

Cooper, a 6-year-old dog the judge described as a “Black and Tan Doberman mix,”  has been quarantined at the Flagler Humane Society since February, where Benton has gone to visit him daily. She is being billed $30 a day, via Palm Coast government, for the dog’s upkeep.  The dog evaded his cage in August and bit a staffer there, prompting the Sheriff’s Office to file a felony charge against benton, though the State Attorney’s Office never followed through to formalize the charge.

Amy Carotenuto, the society’s executive director, said she had not yet received formal documentation of the judge’s decision. “When we do, we will schedule something where the owner can be with him if she wishes,” Carotenuto said.

“There are no winners in this case,” Mayor Milissa Holland said of the ruling. “From the beginning the city made it very clear that we have no authority over Cooper’s fate as state law dictates what is to occur in cases like this. This was and remains out of our hands as indicated in the ruling by Judge Perkins.”

Benton v. Palm Coast, in the Case of Cooper (2018)

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22 Responses for “Judge Rules Palm Coast Has No Choice But To Execute Dangerous Dog Cooper, Ending Notorious Case”

  1. Dog Patrol Says says:

    Time to hang up the pooper scooper, and euthanize Cooper.

  2. Lynnette Capriotti says:

    I am not happy with your decision. I also don’t see any humor in your comment or your rhyme “time to hang up the pooper scooper and euthanize Cooper” It’s ironic that we give our human killers and child molesters more sympathy and chances in life. Most of the time a dog bites is because it’s owners didn’t train them right from wrong. A sanctuary wants to take this Cooper and teach him to be good by responsible experienced trainers to stay in their facilities. I guess I was hoping Cooper would be judged by forgiven and compassionate people. People that would take the offer of a compassionate sanctuary and let Cooper, a mislead dog live his mislead life. To some people Cooper is just a dog, to me, it’s a life!

  3. Well says:

    If only he could speak human it wouldn’t be so easy to kill him. Know why? People that should be dead are sitting on death row wasting my tax dollars eating and breathing while they appeal when really the guillotine would work just fine. It’s a shame it had to end this way. Animals are so easy for people to kill with no remorse.

  4. jane doh says:

    D.P: maybe when the time comes to judge you, all will make snide comments about you.

  5. Flatsflyer says:

    Now collect the $25,000. owed by the owner in fees for keeping this “vicious animal” alive for 10 months. Put a stop to these types of stalling tactics by collecting monies due.

  6. Barney Fife says:

    So let me get this straight, a man murders his pregnant wife and their two young girls in Colorado and throws their bodies in oil containers and is given life in prison. A “dangerous” dog bites two people and it’s the law it has to be killed. I get the fact the dog bit a couple people and that’s an issue. But we as taxpayers will pay for people that kill and murder to live out their life in prison but can’t find the money to house “dangerous” dogs. A really really unfortunate situation!!

  7. Tina Scott says:

    May bad karma rain on this city, the judge and all involved in Coopers pending MURDER.

  8. William Moya says:

    There is a ray of hope in this story that in small corner of the world, albeit, a bastion of reactionary thought we take the time and resources to discuss ethical issues, as oppose to just shooting or hanging people who just don’t fit the norm.

  9. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Not a good day. I feel so awful for Dottye. She gave everything she had against a strong bureaucratic headwind. This is a dog, not a hardened killer. There are laws – I know – but there is also compassion. We could have shown some.

  10. Mondexian Momma says:

    Our government ripped children from their families, and not a peep. Some families will go hungry tomorrow, and not a peep. Try to euthanize a vicious dog with a history of attacking people and the crowd goes wild. I don’t get it.

  11. Igato Takalika says:

    Being attacked by a vicious dog is no picnic. I wonder how many of those who want to spare the dog’s life would like to spend some time locked in a room with one.

  12. What ls Wrong With This Picture says:

    Heartbreaking! Dogs will defend their family (their pack) it’s instictintual. Some dogs like this dog have higher pack instinct. The Fla Statute is in the workings of being modified. It is too harsh, there are currently no options. But there will be options, too late for this angel. People who have never had a special relationship with a dog would never understand their value as some comments above have illustrated. We must become better caretakers of our dogs. . Posting that there is a dog on the premises should be a law. Holding dog owners to stricter but fair guidelines should be in palm coast ordinances. Dogs should not lose their lives because of human carelessness. That goes for the owners as well as the bite victim. Both bites in this case were towards two people who were in the dogs space and not suppose to be there. The dog pays with his life and the people who were bit are victims!!

  13. chief justice says:

    funny how some people have no first hand knowledge about cooper and run there mouths, they just listen to anyone who has something stupid to say and believe it, cooper is a good dog who was provoked by ignorant people, if you are told to leave a dog alone then you should do so, some people should quit crying about bad dogs unless they know for sure the dog is bad..

  14. Speak the truth says:

    So sad, poor Cooper 😭 now only the system tested the scumbags who walk our streets this way our community would be better.

  15. Willy Boy says:

    It appears the owner and the owner’s mother’s lack of responsibility were instrumental in each of the biting incidents. Sorry that Cooper must pay the price.

  16. Dog Owners Beware says:

    If you live in Palm Coast and have a dog you had better take precautions. If someone comes onto your property and your dog bites them, that is your dog’s first bite. It does not matter that that person was not suppose to be there. Palm Coast protects the person not you and your dog. Your dog cannot guard you or your property! Post No Tresspasing signs on all sides of the property. If your dog bites a person a second time you will be in the same situation as this poor dog is. Remember, these two bites happened on the dog’s own property and to two people who walked right up to the dog.

  17. ImeanREALLY? says:

    To all the comments about how sad and horrible this is:
    It’s a dog.
    You might love them and look at them as part of your family,
    I myself am a dog owner and love my furry friend,
    I would be heartbroken if he attacked someone as I would have to put the safety of Humans first,
    Yes they are our friends,
    But in the end,
    It’s a dog.

  18. Concerned res says:

    Owners fault. If you got an aggressive dog lock it up before someone comes over. Now it dies because she knew it was dangerous and bit others and did nothing to prevent the next attack

  19. Anonymous says:

    Cooper had to pay the price for human error, he was let down three times by their mistakes, what a shame. Animal owners need to take responsibility for owning one.

  20. palmcoaster says:

    Horrible judgment for Cooper. Breaks my heart!

  21. palmcoaster says:

    Why we animal lovers, feel so sad for Cooper because for us all our four legged companions are not just cats or dogs:

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