A Vermont prosecutor has dropped dog-taunting charges against Jayna Hutchinson of Lebanon, New Hampshire, thus possibly averting a constitutional showdown over free expression.
Hutchinson was arrested on July 31 after police responded to reports of a brawl going on at a market in the town of West Fairlee. Hutchinson was not part of the brawl, and in fact approached the officers to tell them that she had been assaulted the day before by one of the men who was fighting. But the officers refused to take her statement, noting that she appeared to be drunk (she was) and telling her that they would take a statement another time. That did not please Hutchinson, and after words were exchanged she then allegedly approached the police car and engaged in the dog-taunting behavior.
According to Sgt. Todd Protzman’s affidavit, Hutchinson approached the car, put her face close to the window behind which police dog Max was minding his own police business and "star[ed] at him in a taunting/harassing manner." (Most reports of this incident claim that Hutchinson "made faces" at the dog, and that may be true but the details of any such faces were not provided. It makes a good headline, however.) The affidavit was not so clear as to why this justified an arrest. "While the defendant taunted my canine," Sgt. Protzman wrote, "Max was focused on the defendant and the perceived threat she presented to him. He was no longer focused on me and the other officers at the scene." This may be an argument that Max could not perform his duties due to the distraction of Hutchinson’s glare, but since Max was evidently still sitting inside the police car and not performing any duties, it sounds more like they were just jealous.
Whatever the reason, the officers arrested Hutchinson, and added a charge for resisting arrest when she struggled. She was scheduled to go to trial today (Thursday) on that charge and a charge of cruelty to a police animal, but on Tuesday the prosecutor, Will Porter, decided to drop the charges. Having watched a video of the event over the weekend, Porter said he had decided that it would be difficult to prove that the defendant’s conduct had actually changed the dog’s behavior. "Most of the time [in harassment cases] people would come tell the court what it felt like," Porter said. "Dogs can’t do that." Really? Why not put Max on the stand and have Hutchinson make a face at him, sort of like how they always ask witnesses to point at the defendant if they see him or her in the courtroom? Let the jury decide.
How many more police dogs have to be stared at in this country before we start taking this kind of thing seriously?
Link: CBS News