Judge rules 4 pitbulls vicious

Fate of canines that attacked teen now in hands of the city
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Four pitbulls that attacked a teen in Downtown Auburn were declared “vicious” by a Placer County Judge Thursday. The ruling comes about a month-and-a-half after the dogs attacked and severely injured 17-year-old Joseph “JoJo” Kerschner in a parking lot off Lincoln Way in Downtown Auburn. Thursday afternoon, Judge Joseph O’Flaherty issued a four-page decision that stated the four dogs were “vicious” and the animals’ fates are up to the City of Auburn. “The court is compelled to declare all of these dogs to be ‘vicious’ and the release of any or all of these four dogs would create a significant threat to the public health, safety and welfare,” O’Flaherty wrote in his statement of decision. O’Flaherty further declared that it would “create a significant threat” to public safety if the owner of the four dogs, Daniel Coverston, were allowed to own another dog. He stated that the court allowed the City of Auburn and/or Placer County to prohibit Coverston from “owning, possessing, controlling, or having custody of any dog for three years within those jurisdictions.” During the hearing, city attorney Matthew Crider and Auburn Police Capt. John Ruffcorn said the city believes the dogs should be euthanized based on the viciousness of the unprovoked attack. In a prepared statement, Police Chief Valerie Harris said the “directive to destroy the animals is necessary to ensure the highest degree of public safety within the Auburn community.” “The City of Auburn recognizes the outcome of this proceeding will no doubt be met with mixed emotion. We can all agree the injuries suffered by the victim deserve our empathy and express the highest appreciation for two courageous individuals that came to the aid of the teen,” Harris said Thursday. “The Auburn Police Department will work closely with the city attorney to determine all procedural requirements that must be met prior to the destruction of the animals as directed by the court.” Pet owner response not enough, judge says Attorney Dean Starks represented Coverston during the hearing. Starks said Coverston is upset by the judge’s decision. “He’s really sad and upset,” Starks said. “He is remorseful for what the dogs did. He wishes he would’ve put other security measures in place that would’ve helped them from getting out.” Starks said he believes Coverston has an option to appeal the decision but said he does not know if the 27-year-old Auburn resident will make that request. Harris said the city is “mindful” of Coverston’s right to appeal but will defend its position if he does so. In O’Flaherty’s decision, the judge wrote that during Coverston’s testimony the owner “showed no detectable emotion or remorse.” “Mr. Coverston seemed ‘clueless’ as to the danger and damage he had ‘unleashed’ on the community,” O’Flaherty wrote. O’Flaherty continued to say that Coverston’s attempts to reinforce his backyard with extra, taller fencing were “woefully short of the mark.” “To securely house such powerful, aggressive animals there should be walls and fences of a big city zoo,” O’Flaherty wrote. However, Starks said it is a misconception that Coverston does not feel remorseful over what happened. The attorney said his client feels badly that Kerschner was injured but is glad the teen was “not hurt beyond repair.” Coverston declined to comment when contacted by the Journal. Victim still thinks about attack Gabe Kerschner, JoJo’s father, said his son is physically well but has some “good scars” left over from the attack. The attack still weighs heavy on JoJo Kerschner’s mind, Gabe Kerschner said. “He talks about it a lot,” Gabe Kerschner said. Gabe Kerschner said his family does not have a “strong feeling” as to what should happen to the dogs as long as they can no longer harm anyone else. “The circumstances where the dogs were and how they were being housed was inappropriate,” Gabe Kerschner said Thursday. The Sept. 16 incident left the Weimar teen with more than 30 stitches and 20 puncture wounds in his body. On that September afternoon, the four dogs reportedly dug under a chain link fence surrounding Coverston’s backyard, which abuts the busy Downtown parking lot. The dogs then slowly approached JoJo Kerschner in what he described initially as a “friendly” manner. But when the teen took a step back, he said one dog lunged at him and bit and the others followed. JoJo Kerschner was knocked to the ground twice and tried to bat the dogs away. The dogs did not relent until two good Samaritans who witnessed the attack came to JoJo Kerschner’s rescue. O’Flaherty wrote in his decision that were it not for the help of two witnesses, JoJo Kerschner would have been the victim in a “horrible mauling death.” On Oct. 16, JoJo Kerschner testified in the hearing to determine whether the dogs were vicious. Starks said Coverston, who was out of state at the time of the incident, is still unsure how his dogs were allowed out of the house in the first place. “It’s sad the dogs have to be put down,” Starks said. Jenifer Gee can be reached at