When a municipal court judges dismisses a case, most would assume the case is over. Not always!
Last year, Walworth police cited Teresa Taylor after her dog bit a toddler as she was petting it. Taylor argued it was an accident, the victim’s father agreed and the judge dropped the case.
Now the village is appealing to a circuit court, saying the dog should be permanently banned from the community.
The I-Team discovered the argument stems from a vague village ordinance.
Getting a copy of the village’s dog ordinance was one hurdle. Getting anyone to talk about it was another issue.
The village board, clerk, nor the police chief could explain the ordinance, which we learned prohibits people from owning cats and dogs that assault or attack a person; but it doesn’t address what happens if an injury from an “accident” occurs.
When you think of vicious dogs, Prince, Taylor’s Bernice Mountain Beagle, isn’t probably what comes to mind.
“He is like another child,” Taylor said. “He’s part of the family.”
Neighbor Matt Haeni also describes Prince as part of the neighborhood family.
Last year, Haeni and his daughter, Victoria, were over at Taylor's house. Victoria was playing with the dog when she was injured, suffering cuts near her eye and lip.
"We just think it was a freak accident,” Haeni said. “His (the dog’s) face was her height. He turned and was licking her. There was no growl, no bark, no nothing."
Victoria needed a handful of stitches and made a quick recovery.
Victoria still plays with Prince, and hasn’t had any issues since the January 2015 encounter. In fact, Taylor showed us a picture of Victoria standing next to Prince on Halloween night in her costume.
“I don’t believe what happened (in January 2015) was an attack,” Taylor said. “It was an accident. Accident happens.”
The Village of Walworth didn’t see it that way, banning the dog from town and issuing Taylor a ticket.
"We went in front of their judge,” Taylor said. “We followed the rules, did what we were supposed to do and thought that it was over.”
The judge dismissed the case and Prince returned home. A year later, an appeal to a circuit court judge was filed.
“I never thought I’d be going through this,” Taylor said.
The appeal by the Village is over an ordinance that says nobody can own a dog or cat that “assaults or attacks any person”.
We had questions about the ordinance, but nobody from the Village would talk. An attorney for the Village declined to comment, citing pending litigation, but did email us a copy of the village’s current dog ordinance.
“This is wasted tax money,” Haeni said.
Taylor agrees. Both neighbors feel the village is throwing away tax money to defend a case that was resolved by a municipal court judge months ago.
“You have a guy in town who’s our judge and you trust him to make a faithful decision,” Haeni said. “Now they are trying to appeal his ruling.”
The Village of Walworth has requested a jury trial for March.
We asked how much money has been spent on legal fees related to this matter, the clerk told us they will research it and provide an answer next week.
Meanwhile, the police chief says he believes 3-4 animals have been kicked out of town as a result of the ordinance, but didn’t have an exact number.