If the dastardly deed that sent a 19-pound Bichon Fise named Leo to his death happened today in San Jose instead of in February 2000 and George Gascon was the Santa Clara District Attorney would the man convicted for the crime ever have seen the inside of a jail let alone state prison?
The dog’s owner was driving on Airport Boulevard near San Jose Airport on a rainy night when she got in a fender bender by rear ending the vehicle driven the man eventually convicted of felony animal cruelty in connection with the dog’s death.
The man walked back to the dog owner’s car as she rolled down the window to apologize.
He grabbed the dog that had moved onto her lap and tossed him onto the roadway where he was struck by a van and eventually died. The man then drove off.
The public response was pure outage. Within days more than $120,000 in reward money was posted due to contributions from the globe putting additional pressure on the San Jose Police to find the man responsible. The reward was larger than the combined amount of three rewards posted at the time for missing young children in the San Jose area.
He was eventually caught. At his trial evidence was presented that he had beaten a stray dog to death in 1995 in Puerto Rico. The man received the maximum three year sentence.
Two unrelated incidents in Los Angeles last week brings the San Jose dog death to mind.
The first is Lady Gaga having her two of her three French bulldogs kidnapped at gunpoint from her dog walker.
The other was the start of a recall effort against Los Angeles DA George Gascon after just three months in office — the minimal time that must pass before an effort to remove an elected official from office can officially be triggered.
Most of the world knows by now that the dogs — Gustav and Koji — have been returned to Lady Gaga after the singer posted a $500,000 reward for their safe return.
The primary victim — Richard Fischer — is essentially a footnote. He’s the 30-year-old dog walker that took four bullets to the chest that sent him to the ICU when he fought off the dognappers apparently driven by the fact the dogs can fetch upwards of $10,000 apiece.
Lady Gaga shouldn’t be criticized for the way she feels about her dogs. It is worth noting outside of her calling Fischer a hero, there was no reward offered for information to the arrest of those responsible for almost killing her employee. It is Lady Gaga’s money but it speaks volumes not just of her deep love for her dogs but where the lives humans in her employ fall on the singer’s priority list.
Gascon is facing a recall after he has taken the concept of restorative justice to a new plateau. Campaigning he made no attempt to hide his intent of having the restorative justice narrative guide his decisions as DA. But to the extent he has directed his office not to pursue jail terms for a number of crimes were a tad unexpected.
And while the dognapping case is a clear felony given the shooting of the dog walker and among those crimes Gascon said he would continue prosecuting although he wouldn’t seek maximum sentences if he felt the circumstances warranted backing off, one must wonder how much of a stomach the populace really has for restorative justice.
While the media coverage and social media feedback was not instigated by Lady Gaga it never the less reflects what is likely a true picture of how much appetite that society as a whole has for restorative justice.
Gascon is in favor of tempering sentences to reflect restorative justice. Given the district attorney’s office has no control over the ultimate sentence someone convicted of a crime can receive — that is the bailiwick of judges working within the framework of the law — prosecutors can decide whether to prosecute a particular crime.
In the dognapping of Lady Gaga’s beloved Gustav and Koji, whoever the suspects are they will be likely tried for attempted murder. Whether it is a case Gascon would pursue to the fullest extent given it was committed during the commission of a felony, has yet to be seen.
But it is doubtful he’d pile on other charges such as felony animal cruelty that prosecutors routinely do to broker deals or aim for higher sentencing.
The 2000 San Jose dog toss and death case would fall under Gascon’s restorative justice initiative. Would he try and convince a judge to send someone for doing the same act today in LA County to the maximum three years in state prison for felony animal cruelty?
It’s highly likely as Gascon said he would weigh the circumstances and all relevant information. And while he hasn’t come out and said it, that is likely to include weighing it against other crimes and their punishments.
Gascon looks at sentences for drug use and sales that are equal to those that approach or sometimes exceed violent crimes against persons and he asks: where is the justice?
But will he have the will or the moxie to do the same thing when it comes to weighing crimes against animals with crimes against people?
Set aside the fact the dognapping and shooting became worldwide news based on the fact the pets belonged to a high profile international celebrity, it is clear a large chunk of public sentiment in the case of the dognapping and underscored by the infamous San Jose incident 21 years ago, is with animal and not human victims.
There was little outrage in social and news media about the dog walker getting shot.
Again, it is Lady Gaga’s money, but it is clearly her real concern is with her dogs and not her employee based in the wording of the reward that was posted.
The 2000 incident and the fact people all over the world sent enough money to get funding for a $120,000 reward put in place in a day without GoFundMe.com to hunt down the guy who grabbed and then tossed a dog into traffic speaks volumes.
Restorative justice needs to be driven by Sacramento and not individual district attorneys who now see themselves in the business of picking and choosing what crimes to prosecute while at the same time seeking alternatives to prison. That has always been their legal prerogative but Gascon and similar minded DAs want to back off on throwing the book at some people who commit crimes.
They need to be careful not to elevate crimes against animals to a higher level of prosecution and punishment as opposed to human victims of crime.
With the endless words in the Internet echo chambers of the expressed concern regarding the trauma the dogs were suffering, nary a peep was said about the dog walker’s trauma.
The public clearly has a greater hunger for backing off on many drug crimes than they do crimes against animals.
Yet true restorative justice also means you must weigh what was done to a victim and the prescribed punishment it promotes as well compare it to what is doled out for other offenses.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org