Saturday Jan 30 2010
Pitbull trial reveals alleged $10,000 bribe
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
Three of the dogs to be euthanized, judge says
Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on a trial over the fate of four pitbulls. After five months and two trials, the final fate of almost all of the four pitbulls involved in a Downtown Auburn attack has been decided. On Friday, Placer County Judge Richard Couzens deemed four pitbulls that lunged and severely injured a Weimar teen as “vicious.” Couzens said that three must be euthanized. However the fourth dog, Otis, will get a second chance to live at a reality cable television star’s pitbull rescue center in Southern California. “I want to make very clear this is truly a trial,” Couzens said. “If I am not personally satisfied this will have a good end, then I will terminate the process.” A full day’s worth of testimony presented by the city and the owner’s defense attorney Friday revealed that the pitbulls’ owner, Daniel Coverston, reportedly tried to bribe a county manager with $10,000. City attorney Matthew Crider also called forward animal shelter staffers, who discussed the dogs’ self-destructive behavior that’s bloodied their kennels and how one lunged at and tore a worker’s uniform. The trial was the second, and final, in the case of Daniel Coverston vs. Auburn Police Capt. John Ruffcorn. In October, a hearing was held to decide the fate of the four dogs. In November, Judge Joseph O’Flaherty ruled that they were vicious and should be euthanized. Coverston, 28, of Auburn, appealed the ruling. The attack victim, now 18-year-old Joseph “JoJo” Kerschner, testified for the second time as did Ruffcorn, Coverston and Joe Spera, Placer County Animal Control officer. A $10,000 bribe New information was presented when Mike Winters, program manager for Placer County Animal Services, took the stand for the first time in the case. Crider asked Winters about several telephone conversations the manager had with Coverston since September. A day after the Sept. 16 attack, Coverston’s four dogs were taken to the county’s Auburn shelter and have remained there since at Coverston’s expense. Total fees had racked up to over $14,000 by Friday. Winters testified that in one phone conversation after the first judge’s ruling to euthanize the dogs, Coverston offered to give Winters $10,000 for a dog. Crider asked if Coverston offered to pay that as part of his bill to the county. Winters said, no. “It was a bribe to get the dogs back,” Winters said. Winters said he declined the bribe. In previous Journal reports, Coverston’s defense attorney Dean Starks said the 28-year-old doesn’t have the financial means to pay the thousands of dollars in animal service fees. In court Friday, Winters said Coverston was emotional when he made the $10,000 offer. “Frankly I told him I understood that he was under a lot of emotion, but we’d both end up in jail if we do such a thing,” Winters said. Winters said Coverston never brought up the conversation again. “I could tell Daniel truly loved the dogs and they reacted the same way to him,” Winters said. “When Daniel stood in the center of the room, they all quieted down.” Coverston inquires about German shepherd Winters was also asked about other phone conversations with Coverston. In one call, Coverston asked about volunteering at the shelter. He also asked Winters how he could set up a nonprofit and if it were possible for the county shelter to possibly transfer the four pitbulls to a Bay Area shelter from which Coverston could one day get the dogs. When Coverston took the stand, Crider asked him about a call the pitbull owner made to the Auburn Area Animal Rescue Foundation in early January. Coverston, who said on the stand he does not think his dogs are vicious, acknowledged that he called on behalf of a friend to ask how to adopt a German shepherd puppy. When Crider asked the name of the friend, Coverston didn’t offer one. “I’m not too sure of his name, but he owns a local business and he’s a good guy,” Coverston said. “I was just doing homework for somebody who wanted a dog.” Staff documents pitbulls’ self-destructive behavior While Coverston was looking for ways to retrieve his dogs, animal shelter staffers were documenting incidents of attack and self-destructive behavior by each of the pitbulls. Winters said all of the dogs were initially housed in the quarantine area of the shelter. He said their aggressive and anxious behavior led staff to administer 10 tablets of tranquilizer drugs twice a day from about the end of October to the end of December. Winters said the dogs were licking their legs so much and so hard that they had blood sores. They would slam themselves against their kennel walls and at least one of the dogs, Otis, made his paws raw by how much he jumped against his enclosure. The dogs also lunged at their chain link gates. One dog pulled out his tooth after biting at the chain link and others were trying to dig out of the concrete floor. “The staff was having more difficulty keeping the dogs from injuring themselves,” Winters said. “Every morning they would come in and the runs would be bloody.” Winters said no other dogs at the shelter, including other pitbulls, acted that way. On Nov. 24, one staff member filed an incident report after she tried to clean Maui’s cage. Maui lunged at the worker’s face and torso and first ripped her shirt. Daniella Hall said on the stand Friday that she then put out her leg to protect her upper body as she tried to back out. Maui grabbed hold of her pants and tried to pull her back into the cage, Hall said. The pant leg ripped and Hall was able to escape. To read the conclusion of the pitbull trial including what led to the judge’s decision to spare one pitbull, see Monday’s Journal. Jenifer Gee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.