UPDATE 05/22/08: We wrote to Pierce County officials asking for clarification about the charges. We wanted to know the legal difference between "attempting" to own a dog that attacks, and "owning" a dog that attacks. After the home invasion attack of Sue Gorman, which left the Northwest rattling, many of our readers wanted to know the answer to this question. In light of the complexity described below, it appears the charges were adequate.
Pierce County Response:
"The two charges that Wilson and Martin each pled guilty to were gross misdemeanors. They each carry a maximum penalty of a year in jail plus two years of supervision. The sentence agreed to by the parties and imposed by the court was that each of these sentences runs consecutive to the other. Therefore, both Wilson and Martin are subject to two years of jail if they fail to comply with the conditions of sentence over the next four years. During the next four years the Department of Corrections will supervise Martin and Wilson to ensure that fines and restitution (no dollar amount has yet been ordered, but will be at a hearing in July) are paid and that there is no dog ownership or possession during that time.
This contrasts with the felony charge that would have allowed for a maximum of 12 months in jail and NO supervision after release as provided for by statute and caselaw (i.e. there would have been no one to supervise dog ownership or possession and no penalty to bring to bear in the event there was a violation noted).
There was a small amount of jail time imposed. Both Martin and Wilson currently have an ability to pay the restitution to be ordered by the court. The sentence imposed should not affect that. Ms. Gorman was consulted every step of the way and supported our decision. As I told the judge, I believe her primary concerns that Wilson and Martin not own or possess any dog, that the dog Betty be forfeited, and that restitution be ordered and paid were addressed through this resolution."
05/16/08: Guilty of Attempting to Own a Dog?
Gig Harbor, WA - Zachary Martin, 20, and Shellie Wilson, 46, pleaded guilty to two counts of "attempting to own" a dog that attacks, charges that were reduced from "owning a dog" that attacks. On August 21, 2007, Martin and Wilson's pit bulls entered Gorman's home while she was sleeping. The dogs attacked and killed a Jack Russell terrier, then attacked Sue, ripping large holes in her arms.
The two dogs, Tank and Betty had a history of problems. According to records, animal control officers cited Wilson twice in 1998 at her previous residence and made 16 visits to her current home since 1999 for dog complaints from at least eight neighbors. They cited Wilson a total of 10 times for roaming or unlicensed dogs. (At what point does it become negligence on the part of animal control? Does it require 50 home visits?)
Martin and Wilson were sentenced to four years probation, two years of suspended jail time and 30 days of electronic monitoring. They are also required to pay restitution and to not own dogs. Since the attack, Pierce County has passed stricter dog laws. The new laws are neither proactive nor breed-specific. They do, however, give the county more authority to take action on a dog labeled "potentially dangerous" and "dangerous."
04/18/08: Pierce County's New Dangerous Animal Ordinance is Not Proactive
10/19/07: Owners Charged in Sue Gorman Attack