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Court delays pitbull case

By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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What will happen to four pitbulls that attacked a teen in Auburn remains unknown. However, the owner’s family called the Journal this week to say they want to put an end to a situation that has caused them much grief and they will pay a $12,000 fee that has accrued since the attack. On Friday, Auburn resident Daniel Coverston, 27, appeared in court for what was supposed to be a second trial deciding the fate of his four pitbulls, Ronin, Sherman, Maui and Otis. In September, the dogs reportedly lunged, unprovoked, at now 18-year-old Weimar resident Joseph “JoJo” Kerschner. The teen’s body suffered 20 puncture wounds and he needed more than 30 stitches to repair bites from the attack. In October, Placer County Judge Joseph O’Flaherty ruled after a day-long trial of witness testimony that the dogs were vicious and should be euthanized. He also ordered that Coverston cannot own another dog in city or county limits for the next three years. Coverston appealed the ruling and a second trial before a different judge was eventually scheduled for Jan. 22. However, a disagreement on which judge should preside over the case forced the proceedings to be delayed until Jan. 29. Defense attorney Dean Starks said outside of the courtroom Friday that an additional week will allow pitbull expert Tia Maria Torres a chance to testify. Torres could not make it to the Roseville courthouse because of inclement weather that closed roads in the Los Angeles area. Torres’ pitbull recovery center in Southern California is the subject of a national cable television reality show called “Pitbulls and Parolees” that airs on the Animal Planet network. Earlier this month, Torres and a camera crew visited the four pitbulls at the Placer County Animal Shelter in Auburn, where they have been housed since September. The four dogs have been kept at the shelter at the owner’s expense. Starks told the Journal last week that the bill has grown to $12,000. In an attempt to reach a settlement with the city, Starks made an offer on Coverston’s behalf. The attorney said that Coverston’s parents offered to pay the $12,000 if the city didn’t kill Otis, one of the four pitbulls, and leave him in Torres’ care. Starks said he thought the deal was a “win-win” for the city because Coverston doesn’t have the financial means to pay the bill and his parents have no legal responsibility to pay it. Starks said Friday it was up to the Coverston family to decide if they would eventually pay the bill. He added that that decision as the whether the family had a moral or ethical responsibility to pay it wasn’t up to him. “When negotiating as a lawyer, I didn’t believe that the family has the legal responsibility to pay for the bill,” Starks said. “It was a way to end it so no one else would testify.” Coverston’s mother, Patricia, contacted the Journal this week to say the family would pay the bill. Patricia Coverston was emotional as she discussed the “destruction” that has happened to her family since the September attack was made public. “I’m very very tired of being considered an irresponsible, monstrous person,” Patricia Coverston said. She said the family will be paying the bill whether it’s in payments or in full. “There is no way we would shirk our responsibility for that,” Patricia Coverston said. “Why would the town have to suffer at the expense of this? They would not. That is not right.” When asked if Patricia Coverston knew Starks would make that offer to the city and then call the media, she said she allowed him to do so. “I think Dean was trying to press the city council into making it so we wouldn’t have to go to another trial,” Patricia Coverston said. “It would be a win-win situation.” She said that she thought a settlement would be a way for the family to avoid a second trial. “We thought this brings it to an end, it brings it to a close financially, emotionally,” Patricia Coverston said. A second trial before a different Placer County judge is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 29 in Dept. 44 of the Bill Santucci Justice Center in Roseville. Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- Dog expert says one of the four pitbulls is salvageable A pitbull expert came under attack herself when she evaluated four dogs that are the focus of an Auburn legal battle. A motion filed in Placer County Superior Court Friday includes a copy of a report written by Tia Maria Torres. Torres’ pitbull recovery center in Southern California is the subject of a national cable television reality show called “Pitbulls and Parolees” that airs on the Animal Planet network. Defense attorney Dean Starks received a court order to allow Torres to come to Auburn to evaluate the four pitbulls that reportedly attacked a teen in a Downtown Auburn parking lot in September. In her report of her visit to Placer County’s animal shelter in Auburn, Torres that one dog, Otis, seems possible to rehabilitate. She said Otis, while “very fearful,” allowed her to touch and examine various parts of his body, including his teeth and gums. “Though he did not show any emotion one way or another toward me, I feel that there may be some hope for him to be rehabilitated,” Torres wrote. In her report she suggested that she take Otis back to her center and see how he reacts to a home environment for the next two months. However, Torres’ encounter with the remaining three pitbulls, Maui, Sherman and Ronin, left her to conclude that they could not be saved. Torres said she had already decided she would not take Sherman into the shelter because she was told he did not retreat from the attack. She attempted to get close to Maui, who was constantly growling and puffing his lips in his cage, she wrote. “The barking and ‘screeching’ was nonstop,” Torres wrote. Torres said they tossed Maui a raw hot dog and then opened up the kennel door so he wouldn’t feel trapped. “Maui then quickly bolted toward our cameraman and Megan quickly yet gently looped him,” Torres wrote. Torres said she then tried to loop Maui with her leash but “he jumped up and bit my right hand.” Torres said the dog then became frantic and it looked like he was going to bite another person. He continued to snap at Torres as they put him back in the kennel. The other two dogs, Sherman and Ronin, “had become extremely aggressive acting, hitting the kennel gates and barking hysterically,” Torres said. Torres ended her evaluation soon after. “Though I’m sure that they are wonderful pets when their owner is present, I don’t feel that these particular dogs would make safe candidates for adoption nor are they in my opinion proper representatives for the breed,” Torres wrote. Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com