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People v. Ridge

Court of Appeals of Michigan

April 25, 2017

DANIEL RIDGE, Defendant-Appellant. PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DEBRA OLNEY, Defendant-Appellant.

         Eaton Circuit Court LC Nos. 16-020086-FH, 16-020087-FH.

          Before: Borrello, P.J., and Wilder and Swartzle, JJ.

          Borrello, P.J.

         In these consolidated cases, defendants Daniel Ridge (Docket No. 333790) and Debra Olney (Docket No. 333791) appeal by leave granted[1] a June 27, 2016, circuit court order denying their motions to quash their bind-overs on charges of owning a dangerous animal causing serious injury in violation of MCL 287.323(2). For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we reverse and remand for entry of an order quashing the bind-overs.

         I. FACTS

         Defendants Daniel Ridge and Debra Olney are married. In September 2015, the couple lived in a residential neighborhood and owned two dogs. The dog at issue in this case was a "possible pit bull, Shar-Pei mix" named Roscoe.

         Jill Flietstra, an employee of Scott's Lawn Care, testified that when she arrived at the property next door to the home of defendants on September 10, 2015, she "saw two large dogs in defendants' backyard." Flietstra testified that the property she was working on and defendants' property were separated by a chain-link fence. Flietstra testified that the dogs "seemed like normal dogs" to her and denied that their behavior caused her concern-even when they were jumping on the fence.

         Flietstra testified that she began spraying fertilizer and weed control, but took care to avoid spraying around the animals. Flietstra testified that when she was spraying near the fence line in issue, she was "approximately three feet away" from the fence. Her back was to the fence and she was "spraying forward." Janis Strang, one of defendants' next door neighbors testified that she observed Flietstra spraying the day she was injured. Janis testified that Flietstra was approximately five feet from the fence when spraying and that Flietstra was "probably" spraying about five or six feet away from her body.

         Flietstra testified that while she was spraying, Roscoe got "partially underneath the fence" and "grabbed [her] by the boot." Flietstra testified that Roscoe "pulled [her] leg partially underneath" the fence during the ensuing struggle. She said she "couldn't get away from its grasp, so [she] let it take [her] boot off." After she lost her boot, Roscoe "completely came underneath the fence, squared off with [her] and started coming after [her]." Flietstra testified that when the dog "charged, " she tried to "block it" using her hands, which were gloved; Roscoe then "kept biting" and "was grabbing, clenching, and then shaking its head" while biting her hands. Flietstra testified that Roscoe also "got a hold of her pants" and was "biting everywhere it could."

         Flietstra testified that "[e]ventually, the dog kind of tired out a little bit and [she] seized that opportunity to jump on top of it." Flietstra testified that she was holding Roscoe by the collar with one hand, while the "other hand [was] in its mouth so it would stop biting [her] abdomen and [her] legs and everything" when police arrived.

         Janis Strang testified that she heard a lot of barking from defendants' yard. Janis noted that defendants' dogs "bark all the time, but they acted like something was really agitating them" that day. Janis described the dogs as "barking at something on the other side of the fence. And I mean really barking; they were hitting the fence, and-and jumping." Janis testified that she heard Flietstra scream "get off me" and then continue screaming. Janis stated that she could not see Flietstra, but saw Roscoe "shaking . . . like [he] was attacking." She called 911. Janis denied ever calling animal control or the police regarding Roscoe prior to the attack on Flietstra.

         Eaton County Sheriff's Department Deputy Joe Travis testified that he was notified by dispatch of "a [sic] animal bite in progress." Travis arrived at the home of defendants' neighbor, Janis Strang, who pointed to where a female was being attacked. Travis ran to the next yard where he saw a dog pulling Flietstra. Travis approached and yelled something and the dog released. Travis testified that he then shot and killed the dog as it appeared ready to charge at him.

         Travis testified that Flietstra "stated that she could not move her arms; that she thought she had several broken bones, " and he observed "several punctures and-and bleeding." Flietstra testified that she "had bite marks just everywhere, all over my body, contusions, bruising." She explained that "the dog bit through a [bone] in my left hand. I [had] one more fracture in my left hand near my pinkie bone. I had to get six large puncture wounds stitched up with eleven stitches . . . ."

         Detective Christopher Burton investigated the attack on Flietstra. Burton testified that he spoke with defendants. Ridge described the dog as a "family dog" and had Roscoe for about "two, three years" prior to the incident. Ridge informed Burton that "the dog's never been aggressive before. Never heard him growl at anybody or bite anybody before." Burton testified that Olney echoed Ridge's statements, stating that "she was very surprised this would happen; again because [the dog] wasn't violent towards anyone in the past. And they have a lot of people that are in and out of the house. And the dogs have never shown any violence towards them in the house." However, Ridge acknowledged that Roscoe previously attacked the neighbor's lawnmower and on one occasion Roscoe punctured the tire of Dennis Strang's lawnmower.

         Dennis testified that Roscoe bit his tractor tires twice. The first time the dog bit the lawnmower tires Roscoe got his face under the fence and bit the tire, causing enough damage to necessitate repairs. According to Dennis, the other time he "pulled [Roscoe] the rest of the way through the fence" by reversing his tractor. Dennis testified that as he was taking Roscoe back to defendants' property, he "wouldn't look at the dog. Because an animal can sense fear, and [he] was afraid if [he] looked at the dog he might attack [him]." Dennis testified that he spoke with Ridge after the second incident and that Ridge told him "they were trying to find another home for the dog." Dennis denied informing Ridge that he was afraid of Roscoe.

         Dennis testified that after the second attack on the lawnmower he began carrying his handgun with him while he mowed his lawn. Dennis also testified that he observed Ridge "put[ting] some more fencing up" and testified that Dennis "cut a piece of four-by-four and put it down by the fence so the dog couldn't get though again." Burton testified that defendants "tried securing the bottom of the fence and put some meshing on the bottom of the fence along both fence lines" and "[t]hey put some slats that they got from another neighbor or from someone to try and block the view of the dog."

         Dr. Jennifer Link, an Associate Veterinarian at the Miller Animal Clinic, testified that Roscoe, was a "neutered male" dog born May 24, 2014, and was treated at the Miller clinic. Link testified that Olney requested "a letter of the temperament of the dog." That letter indicated: "[a]ccording to [the clinic's] records [the dog] never displayed any signs of aggression or required the use of a muzzle or sedation to be handled."

         Janis Strang testified that she did not have any previous "contact" with Roscoe because she did not "go in the backyard." Janis testified that she kept to her deck "cause you can get back in the house really fast because the slider's right there." "[I]f I ever went down to, like, water my plants, " she continued, "he [Roscoe] was always there barking and being really aggressive." Janis also testified that "[n]one of [her] grandkids would go in the backyard, " and noted that Roscoe "was scary, " and would bark at "anything that moved." Dennis testified that their grandchildren "didn't play in the backyard 'cause [sic] the dogs just raised so much hell that there's no reason." Dennis also testified he saw Roscoe playing with defendants' children and had not witnessed the dog be aggressive with defendants' children. Dennis stated that defendants' dogs would run at the fence when he was in his backyard and would bark, jump and bite the fence.

         Victoria Steffy, an acquaintance of Olney, testified that Olney described Roscoe as a pit bull and said "they were having some issues with his behavior and with their neighbors." Steffy testified that Olney told her she was having a problem with Roscoe "biting tires of lawn mowers" and with "her neighbors being afraid of him." Steffy told ...

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