Bail for teens charged with setting dog on fire exposes flaw in the system
I like animals as much as the next guy. We have a cat, I've owned a dog, I want a pig. When I was a kid I had hamsters, fish, gerbils and guinea pigs.
But as much as I like animals, my favorite thing to do with them is eat them. My favorite cows come from Outback, my favorite pigs are usually nestled in between two slices of bread with some lettuce and tomato and the best turkeys I've ever met always seem to come around in November.
What the heck does this have to do with the law ... lots.
By now you have likely at least heard of the case of the two Buffalo teens that were arrested and charged with lighting a dog on fire earlier this month. The boys, 17-year-old Diondre Brown and 19-year-old Adell Zeigler were charged with felony animal cruelty.
Sounds good so far. They went before the judge and Zeigler was held without bail due to a probation violation while Brown's bail was set at $20,000. My ax to grind here is the incredible discrepancies throughout Western New York when it comes to bail being set in criminal cases.
Thanks, at least in part to Michael Vick, people have some sort of collectively excessive outrage over animal cruelty cases. In the case of Vick, who's animal abuse is widely documented, countless fans wanted him jailed for life, and certainly never allowed to return to the NFL.
Yet it is a league that in my lifetime of watching, has allowed multiple players convicted of manslaughter and other serious felonies to return and earn a living. Assault a woman, run down a person while drunk and kill them, come on back. Hurt an animal — and they are calling for your head.
But back to the local teens. If you think no bail for Zeigler is appropriate, consider this:
• Riccardo McCray, the Buffalo man convicted of murdering four people and wounding four others outside of the City Grill, had his bail set at $500,000. Murder four people and have a shot at bail, hurt an animal and violate probation, and you are held without bail. Seems odd to me.
Then you have young Diondre Brown. His bail was set at a modest $20,000. Modest until you consider a few of the other cases currently working their way through the local courts. Among them:
• From the police log of The Sun newspaper: A 64-year-old man in Evans was charged with felony first-degree stalking, to commit a specified sex offense; prostitution; attempting to lure a child into a vehicle/building to commit a crime; third-degree attempted rape, victim less than 17 and the perpetrator over 21; second-degree harassment and acting in a manner injurious to a child.
For that laundry list of charges (stemming from multiple attempts to allegedly lure a teen girl to have sex with him), bail was set at $5,000. Are you kidding me? Twenty grand for attacking a dog and five grand for stalking and trying to sexually assault a child? Oh, and did I mention he has two previous arrests for sex offenses. Good thing he was attempting to assault humans instead of animals, or he would really be in trouble.
Or, here's another one, from the Buffalo News police log:
• Dean Pepper was charged with assault, kidnapping, strangulation, coercion and aggravated unlicensed operation (related to an alleged assault on a woman). Following his arraignment in Town of Allegany Court, Pepper was sent to the Cattaraugus County Jail on $25,000 bail.
So, to be clear — you can be charged with kidnapping, strangling and assaulting a woman, and your bail is set at exactly $5,000 more than the alleged dog burner. Maybe it's just me, but that seems crazy.
There are countless more examples, form suspected child abusers, drunk drivers and armed robbers all walking away with lenient bail. But the bottom line is this: How can the system justify how bail is set?
It certainly appears, to an outsider, to be completely arbitrary. It also seems to feed into all kinds of negative stereotypes with some people wondering if your zip code, your skin color or your ability to pay for your own attorney all factor into your bail.
I don't know about any of that, but what I do know, is that it certainly seems more is being done in this country to protect animals, than to protect humans. Imagine being that 16-year-old girl in Evans if your stalker makes his bail. The terror she must feel, constantly looking over her shoulder, worried to go to bed at night, wondering if every car that approaches could be his. Yet he was given the chance to walk from jail for what amounts to a miniscule bail. His alleged victim can fear for her safety while dog owners can rest easy knowing that at least one of the suspects in the dog burning has no chance to post bail.
To come full circle, I love animals, and I think those who abuse them should be punished accordingly. But it seems odd that you can walk out into the woods and put a bullet in a deer unquestioned, yet hurt a dog, and you are Public Enemy No. 1.
Laws are laws and I think it is appropriate to enforce the animal cruelty laws on the books. But when the system is placing more emphasis on protecting animals ahead of people (or at least appearing to do so), that's where the problem is.
What do you think? Let me know via Twitter @LawJournalMatt