Saturday, January 19, 2013

Judicial Murder in Arizona - Denise Costa Tells Tony’s Story

Category: Conversations

Denise Carey-CostaThe killing of pit bull mix Tony by court order Clifton, AZ, in June last year was widely condemned and called judicial murder as a petition was launched against the judge who ordered Tony’s execution despite any evidence of Tony being responsible for the death of a smaller dog in the neighborhood. The case attracted international attention and to this day, animal rights activists remember Tony as the victim of judicial bias as well as breed-specific legislation (BSL). Animal rights activist Denise Carey-Costa’s recently published book Tony’s Tale: Tragedy in Arizona (Robertson Publishing, 2012) tells Tony’s story and highlights the injustice inflicted on Tony and his family. Following is my email interview with Denise Carey-Costa about Tony’s case.
Ernest: Denise, first of all, thank you for getting Tony’s story of out for everyone to read. Please tell us a little about your background in animal rights activism?

Denise: I have been an animal lover since I was a child. Growing up on the east side of Buffalo, New York, a predominantly blue collar, working class area, I encountered many stray dogs. I made it my personal mission to feed them, give them water, and house them in my garage much to my parents and the neighbors’aggravation. When I was eleven years old, I was browsing in a local bookstore and came across one of the first books ever published exposing the cruel practice of vivisection. It was called Slaughter of the Innocent by Hans Ruesch. I purchased the book and was horrified by its contents. I wanted so badly to do something to speak out against this atrocity but being eleven years of age, I was quite limited in what I could do. When I was in high school and college, I joined PETA and traveled with them to various cities participating in protests; one being the famous Silver Springs Monkey case in Washington, DC. I have always been a very outspoken individual with a knack for writing and persuasive speaking so I decided to use those abilities to speak for the voiceless and for change.

Ernest: What was your first feeling upon learning about Tony’s case?

Denise: I first heard of Tony’s case when I received a petition from Change.org in my email in February of 2012. The petition was requesting a stay of execution for this dog accused of killing another small dog. In reading the story, I found the series of events disturbing and questioned how a death sentence could be meted out when there was absolutely no physical, tangible evidence to prove such an act had actually taken place. I didn’t hear any more about it until June of 2012 when an unknown person, friend of a Facebook friend, contacted me asking if I could write something to expose this story. Shortly thereafter, it was announced Tony was murdered on June 18th, 2012. I was devastated and spent that whole day thinking about and grieving for this dog and his family. I decided I wanted to write the book version of this story and contacted the dog’s owner Michelle Dozier. It basically went on from there. 

Ernest: Do you believe this is an open case of injustice by someone appointed for justice and bringing peace?

Denise: There is no question about this case being mishandled by those in charge and those chosen to represent both sides of the case. Along with writing and speaking, I have spent the past 15 years working for a law enforcement agency. I have a clear understanding of what is needed to prosecute a case beyond a reasonable doubt and this case did not meet any of that criteria. First error being, no forensic evidence was ever presented; only hearsay and circumstantial evidence. Any fair, objective judge would have requested evidence such as a dental x-ray of the accused dog’s teeth and matched those records to the size and shape of the bite marks sustained by the victim dog. They would also have hired an expert witness in the field of dog behavior to evaluate Tony and determine if he displayed any aggressive traits toward humans or other animals. None of this was done at all. This case should have been thrown out of court based on lack of evidence. The decision was based on personal feeling, prejudices, and emotions, all of which have no place in a court of law.

Ernest: What do you think of Clifton’s animal control’s role in this story of victimization?

Denise: It appears the local Animal Control were basically puppets on string acting under the direction of the Justice of the Peace. The fact that they showed up with no written authorization to seize Michelle Dozier’s dogs and used police intimidation tactics (handcuffing her to the handrail) to gain her compliance violated her rights in so many ways. Her dogs were kept in captivity there for months, labeled as vicious dogs with no true evidence to back this assessment. Her dogs should have been returned to her pending the investigation and outcome of the case. Further wrong doing by the Animal Control Agency was not allowing Michelle to have her beloved dog’s remains after he was killed or even telling her where they disposed of the bodies of the euthanized dogs. After the fact they also tried to charge her a fee for “boarding” her dogs at their facility, something she did not do by choice. Michelle is still disputing these charges. 

Ernest: In Tony’s Tale, you mention that Tony was targeted for being part pit-bull. So does this show that even being related to the pit bull breed is a kind of dangerous stigma the state believes in?

Denise: There were many blatant actions by the Justice of the Peace showing her obvious targeting of Pit Bulls. When it was determined that the neighbor whose dog was killed wanted one of Michelle’s dogs killed, Tony was immediately chosen of the three dogs. An assumption was made that Tony had to be the guilty dog based on his breed. His temperament was never brought into the decision-making process or the fact that he had a history of getting along well with all other animals and humans alike. The decision was based on his looks only. The Justice of the Peace refused to listen to any testimony that contradicted her opinion. 

Ernest: With an international outcry calling for a fair trial for Tony, do you believe the image of Clifton or Arizona State has been tarnished by what happened to Tony and his owner’s family?

Denise: I would hope the people of Clifton would not be tarnished by this incident. In meeting many of them, they are all decent, hardworking people who sympathized with Michelle and Tony’s plight. However, I can see how this incident will further affirm the prejudicial beliefs in small town mentality and corruption. Clifton itself is rarely heard of in the media or as part of any big events other than the Copper Mining strike in 1984. Unfortunately, now the name of Clifton, Arizona will always be remembered as the town where a dog was unjustly murdered at the hands of the Justice of the Peace.

Ernest: Being an animal rights activist, how do you think BSL can be gotten rid of as it is devastating so many families throughout the country?

Denise: I would sincerely hope in the wake of Tony’s tragedy and other dogs, like Wicca, Lennox, and most recently the four Boxer dogs in Michigan, that the tide will turn and people will become more active and outspoken to save these great dogs. I think it is highly unfair and archaic that a family pet can be deemed aggressive and a danger to society based on one person’s opinion or one person’s falsified police report. The families of these dogs are having their rights totally disregarded in this modern day witch hunt and having to spend time, money, and resources defending their pets against an often hostile court system. Pit Bulls have gotten a bad reputation built up by those that use them as fighting dogs. Instead of working to help them, we have turned our backs on them by banning them from our neighborhoods and apartment complexes and assuming the worst whenever we encounter one. BSL will never end until people open their minds and educate themselves on the history of the breed and not continue to fan the flames of prejudice.

Ernest: Would you like to offer any message to pit bull owners or owners of dogs related to pit bull breeds?

Denise: I would advise all Pit Bull owners or owners of Pit Bull mixed breeds to be vigilant of whom they allow to interact with their dog as someone may misconstrue the dog’s actions as vicious and file a false report. I would also advise them as soon as their dog is accused of any wrong doing to seek the assistance of their local Legal Aide Society to ensure their rights and those of the dog are protected. If they are the victim of BSL, contact the media as soon as possible and get exposure on the case. 

Ernest: Thank you very much Denise for taking time for this interview and of course the wonderful work you have been doing for the voiceless. 

Denise: Thank you for the interview. I hope that everyone who reads Tony’s Tale, Tragedy in Arizona will learn from it and be motivated to speak out and on behalf of Pit Bulls in their communities.