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State v. Cooper

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Licking

July 16, 2019

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
BRANDON COOPER Defendant-Appellant

          Appeal from the Licking County Municipal Court, Case No. 18-CRB-844

          For Plaintiff-Appellee AMY DAVISON Assistant City Law Director

          For Defendant-Appellant KEVIN J. GALL

          JUDGES: Hon. William B. Hoffman, P.J., Hon. Craig R. Baldwin, J., Hon. Earle E. Wise, Jr., J.

          OPINION

          HOFFMAN, P.J.

         {¶1} Appellant Brandon Cooper appeals the judgment entered by the Licking County Municipal Court convicting him of violating Newark Municipal Ordinance §618.051(C)(1), prohibitions concerning companion animals, and sentencing him to ninety days incarceration at the Licking County Justice Center, with 45 days suspended. Appellee is the state of Ohio.

         STATEMENT OF THE FACTS AND CASE

         {¶2} Appellant and his girlfriend, Syndel McWhorter, moved to a home on 12thStreet in Newark, Ohio, in May of 2017. They owned a pit bull when they moved in. When the dog disappeared, they told their neighbor the dog knocked their baby off the couch, so they rehomed the dog. Appellant and McWhorter then acquired a husky puppy and a pit bull puppy named Buckeye. In February or March of 2018, McWhorter told the neighbor the husky bit the baby, and they gave the husky away to become a service dog.

         {¶3} During the morning of April 2, 2018, the neighbor's husband saw McWhorter digging a hole. When he told his wife, she said, "Oh my God, they've killed another dog." Tr. 83. She observed Appellant headed toward the shed behind the house carrying a blanket. When she did not see Buckeye during the next 24 hours, the neighbor called animal control.

         {¶4} Toby Wills, the Newark Animal Control Agent, responded to the complaint. Appellant and McWhorter initially told him they rehomed Buckeye because she bit one of their kids. When Wills asked if they buried something behind the shed, they admitted they buried Buckeye. Appellant told Wills he put Buckeye down because the dog bit their child. Appellant told Wills he shot the dog with an air gun, and took Wills to the shed to show Wills where he shot the dog. Wills asked for an explanation as to what Appellant meant by an "air gun." Appellant told Wills he used a nail gun hooked to an air compressor to shoot the dog. They dug up the dog's body for further examination.

         {¶5} Appellant told Wills the dog had been in a cage in the house. He and McWhorter heard the baby cry. The baby had his hand on the cage, and an indentation on his finger from the dog's tooth. Wills looked at the child's finger, which had a small indentation from the dog bite. The skin was not broken, and Appellant did not seek medical treatment for the child. Appellant told Wills he did not seek information from a veterinarian about euthanizing the dog because they didn't have money.

         {¶6} Appellant was charged with violating Newark Municipal Ordinance §618.051(C)(1), prohibitions concerning companion animals, and also with falsification. The case proceeded to jury trial in the Licking County Municipal Court.

         {¶7} Dr. Jody Houser, the veterinarian who examined the dog post mortem, testified at trial. She testified the dog was a young puppy, and nipping or play-biting is normal behavior for a young puppy. She testified the use of a nail gun was not an acceptable form of euthanasia. A nail gun causes a penetrating wound, which might not work quickly, causing distress for the animal. She testified either of the nail shots to the head of the puppy could have caused death, but not likely without suffering.

         {¶8} McWhorter testified in Appellant's defense at trial. She testified they got Buckeye in November of 2017, when their baby was six months old. They had already rehomed a pit bull puppy named Brutus because of his behavior around the baby, and had rehomed the husky puppy because of behavior issues around the baby. She testified they decided to use a nail gun to kill Buckeye at least ten minutes after the dog bit the baby. She testified she cried and held the dog while Appellant shot Buckeye in the skull. She conceded the dog was not actively attacking the baby when they made the decision to shoot the dog, and admitted they did not seek information ...


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