Cases Prosecuted by 2011 Schweitzer Award Recipients
As Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney for Richmond, VA
Michelle’s first cruelty case in the Office of the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney involved a maggot-infested dog. The middle-aged owner let the dog lie around for so long that maggots set in on a pressure point on the dog's chest. Michelle called an entomologist to the stand to age the maggots. In the end, the owner, who had no prior record, received a 6 month sentence. The case was particularly upsetting because no one cared enough to help the poor shepherd mix. He had a condition that was probably treatable had someone cared enough to take him to the vet.
The dog fighting case of Commonwealth v. Richard Robinson involved a defendant who was a hobbyist or intermediate dog fighter. Robinson was prolific in his record keeping. It was a straight dog fighting paraphernalia case, and Michelle charged him with ten counts of dog fighting and animal cruelty. The judge had never heard this kind of case before but she sentenced him to 2 years in prison. Shortly after he was released, he was back at it, and received 10 years the second time around.
As Assistant Attorney General for Virginia:
(Carroll County, Virginia) Commonwealth v.67 Canines: This case involved the seizure by the Virginia State Police of animals at a puppy mill. Michelle represented the State Police and prepared the case for trial in order to gain possession of the dogs. It was a difficult venue and the Court dismissed the case. The dogs were set to go back to the puppy mill operator, but the state successfully negotiated the release of the dogs to a rescue group. This case helped in persuading the legislature to pass a new commercial dealer (puppy mill) law, so that now in Virginia, these kinds of puppy mills are a thing of the past.
In the aftermath of the Michael Vick case, Michelle was a part of the team in the Attorney General's Office that provided leadership for a new comprehensive animal fighting law. As a result, the legislature passed one of the best animal fighting laws in the nation, outlawing everything to do with an animal fight and making organized cockfighting a felony in Virginia.
(Chesterfield, Virginia) Commonwealth v. Jeff Ivey: Michelle prosecuted and convicted in a jury trial a Petersburg fire captain for starving and not providing vet care to his hound dogs. She recalls a cross-examination line during that trial as her best ever: "So, the dogs are dropping dead all around you and it never occurred to you to take them to the vet." One of the four beagles that survived was named "Michelle." According to Michelle, "There is no higher compliment than having a beagle named after you." The jury could not bring itself to give him jail time although she requested it, but they gave him the largest fine that jurisdiction had ever seen ($10,000 total).
(King William, Virginia) Commonwealth v. Armando Becerra: This was an organized cockfighting paraphernalia and cat cruelty case. A woman who saw the cat walking around with a stub of a front leg took pity on him and took him to a vet clinic in Richmond, Virginia. The Animal Control Officer went to check out the cat cruelty and while there, discovered over 120 roosters and a cockfighting operation. Defendant admitted to sparring the birds in the backyard. Among the evidence were Philipino drop pens and sparring muffs for the roosters. A jury of his peers convicted him and assessed over $1250.00 in fines.
Amy Slameka and Raj Prasad
Willie Fletcher, et al.: On July 14, 2008, the Wayne County Sheriff Department Narcotics Enforcement Unit received information that a dog fight was going to take place in Detroit and they were able to place an undercover officer in the fight. We advised on preparation of an anticipatory search warrant that was executed 7 minutes into the fight. Over 50 arrests were made and to date there have been approximately 45 convictions, one of whom, Armond Norfleet, was convicted by a jury. His appeal resulted in an unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals opinion that recognized Inv. Ramos of the Michigan Humane Society as an expert and approved of the jury instruction for Attending an Animal Fight that we created.
Marlon Anthony Rogers: On January 19th, 2009, Detroit Police Department [DPD] Officers Matt Guigar and Jeb Rutledge stumbled upon a man carrying an unknown object. When officers approached, the man ran. They caught the man at the back of his house as he was wiping the blood off of his hands in the snow. They discovered that the man had been carrying a dog who had just lost a fight in the basement of the house. This man was Marlon Rogers, a four-time convicted dog fighter, currently on probation in Michigan and Ohio for dog fighting. Seventeen dogs were taken from this house, and 4 people were charged with various dog fighting crimes. Mr. Rogers was sentenced to 2 to 8 years in prison in the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Kenneth Lang: On July 23, 2009, officials from the city of Dearborn searched a house and found more than 160 dead chihuahuas throughout the home, many in freezers, refrigerators, and plastic garbage bags. Over a hundred live chihuahuas were seized from the home amid horrible living conditions. The floors of the home were covered in feces and urine. The garbage in the house was plied to the ceilings. The dogs were taken to the Dearborn Animal Shelter. Kenneth Lang was charged with two counts of cruelty to 10 or more animals. With the help of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which paid $3000.00 for necropsies to be performed on ten of the dead chihuahuas, it was determined that many of these dogs were dehydrated and starving. Mr. Lang pled guilty to one count and was admitted to Mental Health Court supervised by Judge Timothy Kenny. With the help of supervision for the 5-year term of probation, no animal ownership, and mental health treatment, it is the prosecutor's hope that Mr. Lang will never commit these crimes again. He was ordered to reimburse the City of Dearborn in excess of $69,000 and the Animal Legal Defense Fund $3000. The Dearborn Animal Shelter was awarded costs. As of sentencing, all but 13 of the chihuahuas had found new loving homes.
Gobel Ratliff: On January 15, 2010, Detective Sergeant Julie Busch of the Michigan State Police Department executed a search warrant on the rural residence of Gobel Ratliff. This was the culmination of a long investigation by Sgt. Busch in which she enlisted the aid of 14 agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Michigan Dept of Agriculture, the Michigan Humane Society, and others. Mr. Ratliff ran a cockfighting breeding and training operation. Unknown to Sgt. Busch until the day of the search warrant execution, he also had a sizeable marijuana growing operation. He ultimately pled to the manufacturing marijuana charge (a higher level felony than the animal fighting charges) with the condition that he not own or possess any birds for 5 years. At sentencing, Ratliff told the judge that he did not personally use marijuana but that he would give it to friends and feed it to his horses to help their appetite!
Samuel Sluka: Samuel Sluka, the landlord of an apartment complex, became frustrated that the victim would not accede to his advances. So on July 19, 2010, he entered her apartment with his key while the victim and her daughter were not at home. He proceeded to poison the victim’s fish tank and then took the victim’s daughter’s pet turtles and placed them in the bathtub and poisoned them. Miraculously, one turtle survived, the one given to the victim’s daughter by her father before he died of cancer. The defendant pled to animal killing and stalking charges.
Kristian Jackson and Decarlos Young: The defendants burned alive a pit-bull mix dog in front of several witnesses and children. They also videotaped the whole incident with their iPhones. Due to excellent and determined investigation by the Michigan Humane Society, with help from the Detroit Police Department, Investigators Baxter and Ramos found witnesses who were initially reluctant to testify against the defendants. They also secured a copy of the video. On the video, Young can be seen pouring gasoline or lighter fluid on the dog and Jackson igniting the dog. Jackson is then seen running after the dog as the dog runs screaming in pain. Jackson laughs as he watches the dog ultimately collapse in pain from the burns. Both defendants received prison sentences: 13 months to 8 years for Jackson, and 2 to 8 years for Young. These sentences were unusual in that judge could have sentenced both defendants to probation or jail time.