Craig Sytsma, 46-years old, was mauled to death by two cane corsos in Metamora.
Puppies Spared; Right to Repetition archived
UPDATE 08/02/14: Three adult cane corsos have been euthanized, but prosecutors backed down from their civil complaint filed on July 25 to seize the eight offspring puppies1 ("Complainant believes ... they’re [sic] blood line cannot be reasonably believed to be safe for society"). Instead, prosecutors made a deal with the defendants' attorneys, who deny the dogs' owners are breeders, despite being caught red-handed selling these pure bred cane corsos for up to $1,100 online.
As an attorney and a prosecutor I have a problem with our county giving out these puppies and doing a wait and see and hopefully they are OK and wait and see. Maybe they will do something, maybe they won't. They probably won't, but we can't take that chance. - Mike Hodges, Lapeer County assistant prosecuting attorney, July 30, WNEM.com
Prosecutors have bigger fish to fry -- Sebastiano Quagliata and Valbona Lucaj. Maybe this is why they lost sight of their original, and noteworthy, public safety concern. Lapeer County Animal Control, who took little preventable actions prior to the death of Craig Sytsma, will choose the rescue organization(s) to send the expensive purebred cane corso puppies to. Prosecutors have placed restrictions on the adoptions and maintain the right to repetition the court in 60-days.
If a shelter for the puppies cannot be found, the prosecutor's office can come back to the court.
"We have the right to repetition in 60 days," he said.
The puppies will be sterilized and anyone who takes them from any shelter would have to be warned of the history of their family, Hodges added.
In the meantime, animal control is attempting to contact other litters from breeds that Quagliata and Lucaj may have sold. He said they aren't looking to take the animals, but rather gather information about their aggressiveness. - Mike Hodges, Lapeer County assistant prosecuting attorney, August 1, 2014, Mlive.com
We encourage readers to write to the Lapeer County Prosecutors Office in regard to their decision (scroll to see the mailing and email addresses). Fatal dog mauling criminal cases are regrettably uncommon and prosecutors are often in search of knowledge to help fill in the voids. Also, unless surprises occur in the short term, this update will complete this blog post. The criminal trial, which will no doubt be extensive, will be covered in a new post dedicated to the criminal proceedings.
07/31/14: Charged with Second-Degree Murder
The owners of two Italian cane corsos that mauled to death a jogger on July 23 in Metamora are being charged with second-degree murder, the Lapeer County Prosecutor’s Office announced tonight.2 Sebastiano Quagliata, 45 and former falcon owner, was already in custody Thursday and his wife, Valbona Lucaj, 44, was expected to turn herself in shortly, according to prosecutor Tim Turkelson. Quagliata and Lucaj will be arraigned in Lapeer County District Court at 9 am Friday.
The couple faces up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. Prosecutors also charged the couple with possessing an animal causing death (another tier of significant charges if the jury fails to convict on second-degree murder). Murder charges are "exceptionally" rare in fatal dog attack cases. The only conviction in modern times is Marjorie Knoller.3 In 2001, Knoller's two presa canarios brutally killed Diane Whipple in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment.
We guarantee readers that when Lapeer County prosecutors present their case -- just like the prosecutors did in the dog mauling death of Diane Whipple -- that numerous, perhaps even dozens, of new aggression or biting incidents will be presented along with the two reported previous attacks in 2012 and 2013. We predict that prosecutors will show that Lucaj and Quagliata had full knowledge of their dogs' viciousness and showed a wanton disregard for human life.
07/31/14: Facing "Imminent" Deportation
The owners of two cane corsos that brutally attacked and killed a jogger are in the U.S. illegally and were facing "imminent" deportation at the time of the attack, according to officials. Valbona Lucaj, 44, came to the country from Albania in January 1997 after bribing an immigration officer into granting her asylum, according to federal court filings. Her Italian husband and former falcon owner, Sebastiano Quagliata, 45, arrived a month earlier as a tourist and never left the country.
The couple has been fighting deportation ever since U.S. officials learned that Lucaj paid an immigration official in New York $3,000 to grant her asylum. This same asylum was then given to her spouse, Quagliata. Prosecutors are expected to announce a decision on criminal charges this week in connection to the death of Craig Sytsma. It is unclear how much, if at all, the couple's citizenship status -- history of bribery, lies and fraud -- will weigh into this possible prosecution.
As recently as March 31, 2014, a U.S. District Judge refused to stop their deportation, siding with immigration officials who said that Lucaj, "lacked good moral character arising out of fraud in obtaining asylum." By this point, Lucaja and Quagliata's two cane corsos had attacked two people at different times, 2012 and 2013, and the couple was heading into a homespun breeding operation of papered purebred Italian cane corsos, some puppies selling for $1,100 each.
How many other schemes are these two involved in?
The couple was first notified in 2005 that the U.S. government intended to terminate their asylum status and deport them. Lucaj traveled to Chicago to appeal the decision. While reviewing her file, immigration officials found more fraud, including that "documents were clearly altered" and that her story was not credible. Quagliata's arrest story was not credible either. Lucaj told investigators he had been arrested on a train and Quagliata told authorities his arrest took place on a boat.
On Friday, Lapeer County prosecutors will ask a district court judge to order the destruction of the two fatally attacking dogs, along with a third adult cane corse found at the home and seven cane corse puppies that are products of the fatally attacking dogs. On the same day, about 140 miles away, Sytsma’s family will celebrate his life and mourn his death at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Jenison, Michigan. Sytsma leaves behind three children and many grieving family members.
07/28/14: Possible Felony Charges archived
Depending upon the results of the ongoing police investigation, prosecutors could pursue two different felony charges against the owners of the fatally attacking dogs. Lapeer County Prosecutor Tim Turkelson said his office could pursue felony manslaughter charges, if the facts warrant the charge, which carries up to 15-years in prison. His office could also pursue charges of possession of a dangerous animal causing death, which also carries up to 15-years in prison.
Turkelson mistakenly states in the article that fatal dog attacks involving adults are rare. What is true is that mauling fatalities involving persons 18-years and older are not much less frequent than fatalities involving children. During the 9-year period of 2005 to 2013, dogs mauled to death 284 Americans. 153 (54%) involved children 14-years and younger and 131 (46%) involved adults 20-years and older. See related chart: 9-Year U.S. Dog Bite Fatality Chart by Age Groups
Separately, today's Detroit Free Press article points out the woeful inadequacies of Lapeer County Animal Control (Records: Police, animal control did little as dogs attacked walkers) and how authorities took little action in the face of a growing menace involving massive "guardian" dogs -- a bull-baiting dog, fighting dog, mastiff derivative -- selectively bred for bloodsports and hunting large wild game, such as wild boar and cougars. Why not treat them the same as a biting poodle?
The article also slams dog owners Valbona Lucaj, 44, and Sebastiano Quagliata, 45, who neglected to show up in court after the 2012 and 2013 biting incidents. The picture painted of the dogs' owners is that dog bite victims are the "real" menace that can be alleviated by 1.) Never facing them in court and 2.) Paying off a minimal fine. These responses by the owners were okay by Lapeer County Animal Control, who likely view dog bite victims as the "real" menace as well.
07/25/14: "Everything I Own is Aggressive"
The 911 call has been released. Craig Sytsma, 46, was brutally mauled to death by two loose cane corsos on Wednesday evening while jogging. New information was also provided about the dogs' owner and previous victims of the dogs. The owner and his multiple cane corsos moved to Metamora in 2011. Within a year, one of the dogs attacked April Smith of Oxford as she walked along the road near the owner's home. In 2013, the dogs attacked a male neighbor in his 70s.
The dogs' owner — who thus far has not been charged with any crime related to the fatal mauling — moved to the Metamora community in 2011, authorities said. Besides the dogs already surrendered, he has two more, including another adult Cane Corso and multiple puppies.
His dogs have been involved in two other attacks, one in 2012 and the other in 2013. And, according to neighbors, had a rough reputation.
"Unfortunately, I wasn't surprised," neighbor Ashley Winter, 31, said of the fatal attack.
She recalls meeting the owner and his Cane Corsos shortly after moving to the neighborhood in June 2012. The man came to introduce himself and had a full-sized pet hawk on his arm; one of the Corso dogs was running loose, she said.
"I said, 'Is he aggressive?' And he said, 'Yeah, everything I own is aggressive,'" Winter said. "I thought, 'What have we gotten ourselves into?'" - Detroit Free Press
Attorney Glenn Saltsman, who represented Smith, said the male neighbor was bitten in November 2013 also while walking near the owner's home. Both were "very lucky" that their injuries were not more severe, he said. "Unfortunately, the recent victim wasn't so lucky," Saltsman said. "These people know full well what's been going on with their dogs, and they've chosen to do absolutely nothing about it... I don't know for the life of me why the authorities never took these dogs away."
Authorities have "known full well" what's been going on with these dogs as well. Even if they could not take the dogs away, they could have required fencing. Two years after the first attack, the owner's property is still unfenced. Not only is this a case of an extremely reckless dog owner, it is an extreme failure of local authorities acting to ensure public safety. Only now, after a man was killed by the animals, are they calling the dogs a "public threat" and "beyond rehabilitation."
What will local authorities do with the multiple offspring, presuming they are "little cane corsos" born from fatally attacking parents? Probably nothing. The owner and his family will simply raise a new round of cane corsos and the process will start all over again, whether they stay in Metamora or move to a new location. Local and state laws must become more aggressive about "extremely reckless dog owners" -- who are already "well-known" bottom of the bucket repeat offenders.
9:48 pm update additions: In addition to the civil complaint filed by prosecutors to seize the puppies of the two fatally attacking cane corsos in the 9:48 pm update, the owners of the dogs were named and parts of their defense explained. Sebastiano Quagliata, 45, and Valbona Lucaj, 44, also want the two attackers put down, according to their attorney Jason Malkiewicz from St. Clair Shores. "Never in their wildest dreams" could they foresee anything like this ever happening.
A third attack, however, naturally follows a second attack. Now let's move onto fences and the "accidental breeding" of papered purebred dogs.
Malkiewicz counters that the dogs were "constantly" allowed to run free, as described by neighbor Ashley Winter. He said the dogs were kept in a fenced-in area behind the house. On the day of the fatal attack, Malkiewicz said the dogs had been left in a chain-link kennel at least 6 feet tall by 10 feet wide, with tethers bolted into the ground. He said he does not know how the dogs could have escaped. Though, a cane corso owned by a different neighbor did have fence-jumping capabilities.
Malkiewicz, however, said the family is “not really breeders,” and that a neighbor’s Cane Corso jumped the fence and bred with the mother. He said that the day of the attack, the dogs had been left in an outdoor chain-link kennel at least 6 feet tall by 10 feet wide, with tethers bolted into the ground.
He said he doesn’t know how the dogs could have escaped. He also said his clients always complied with anything animal control asked. - Detroit Free Press
As pointed out by the Detroit Free Press, an advertisement selling puppies on Hoobly.com, shows more than a dozen cane corso puppies for sale along with International Cane Corso Federation registration papers, ranging from $600 to $1,100. The listing includes a phone number for Quagliata and Lucaj and was renewed a week ago. The advertisement also says, "I have anther breed coming up 2 puppies." Does the below sound like an "accidental breeding" to readers?
I have cane corso register inccf booth parent champion blood last 2 male's black brindle coming with both shots deworming all peppers coming with puppies is reedy to go end new home am selling last because I have anther breed coming up 2 puppies for $1100 1 puppies $600 I give warranty per puppies more info call or email PH # 586/*** or 586/*** email Email Me Here thank Sebastian or Vali - Hoobly Classifieds
07/24/14: Female Victim Speaks Out
Late Thursday, more information was released about one of the previous attack victims. April Smith, 25 of Oxford, recalls when she was attacked by one of the cane corsos in 2012. Smith filed a civil lawsuit against the dogs' owners. Smith said she was horrified to learn the owner was still in possession of the dog. "It's just crazy to me," Smith said. "Animal control should have done something. It should have never gone this far. The fact this has led to a death, it's sickening."
Now that the dogs have inflicted the brutal death of a man, being their third off-property attack, authorities are willing to "take the matter to court" to ensure that the dogs are put down -- that is two victims too late, at the very least, one victim too late. The dogs should have been destroyed after their second off-property attack in 2013. To answer our question from earlier today (italicized below), it appears animal control did absolutely nothing after the first two vicious attacks.
"When I was attacked, I didn't even see it running up to us until it was directly behind me with its teeth out and growling viciously. We were about three houses past the yard the dog lives in, so he ran 50 yards to catch up to us. He tore my leg in three different places and I had to get medical attention. There was a lot of bloodshed and it was very severe. I had bruising for months and had to endure physical therapy. This caused me a lot pain."
She said she filed a lawsuit against the owners, which has been settled. She said the owners have no fence around their house, which was one of the stipulations in the lawsuit.
"I cannot believe this happened to someone," Smith said. "I'm not mad at the dogs, I'm so upset with the owners. I thought something would be done with these dogs, but nothing was done. Nothing was ever done. Those dogs are vicious. It's not a joke." - April Smith, Detroit Free Press
Prosecutors in Michigan have filed charges in multiple cases after a fatal dog attack, including after the deaths of Kyle Holland, Kylie Cox and the double canine homicide of Cheryl Harper and Edward Gierlach. In 2008, Diane Cockrell pleaded no contest to felony and misdemeanor charges in connection to the deaths of Harper and Gierlach. She was sentenced to a minimum of 3.5 years for allowing her American bulldog-mixes to run free and kill two people in Iosco Township.
The Detroit Free Press report also notes that the owners of the cane corsos are running a breeding operation. It states that after attacking Craig Sytsma, the two dogs ran back to their property, "where there is at least one other dog and an unknown number of puppies," though authorities are unclear of the breed. Given the rarity of cane corsos and that a "pair" attacked Sytsma, seems likely the pair is a male and female and the puppies are "little cane corsos."
07/24/14: Three-Time Attackers
Updates throughout the day identify the two attacking dogs as cane corsos. Earlier today, ClickonDetroit.com had two photographs of the same dog. The most recent video shows the second dog, which clearly resembles a cane corso. Metamora Police Chief David Mallet said the man's arms were badly bitten. Craig Sytsma died of bite wounds and blood loss. Family members were angered to learn the same dogs had attacked two people in the past, in 2012 and 2013.
It would be interesting to know what, if any, restrictions were imposed upon the dogs' owners by animal control (or the local or county ordinance) after two separate injurious off-property attacks.
07/24/14: Jogger Dies After Dog Attack
Metamora, MI - A man is dead after being attacked by a pair of bullmastiffs while jogging on Wednesday. The attack occurred about 5:30 pm on the 5500 block of Thomas Road in Metamora Township. Officers were initially dispatched for gunshots fired. It later became apparent that a neighbor had shot at the dogs to frighten them away from the victim. Craig Sytsma, 46, was transported to McLaren Regional Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. He did not survive.
The two dogs were located and taken to Lapeer County Animal Control. ClickOnDetroit.com shows photographs of the dogs that police describe as 3-year old bullmastiffs. Police said the victim lived in Livonia and was in the area because he works at Eltro Services in Oxford Township. Sytsma is divorced with three children. Police said both bullmastiffs have been involved in previous bite cases. Police say it is too early to determine if the dogs' owner will face any charges.
In an afternoon report from CBS Detroit, Metamora Police Chief David Mallet said the dogs were actually cane corsos, a similar mastiff breed. Mallet said a neighbor who was cutting his lawn saw Sytsma in a ditch being mauled by the two animals. Mallet said police have received a "couple of calls about animal bites in the past with these dogs." He added, "I do hope something is done…This is disastrous." The Oakland County Prosecutor is investigating possible charges.
2According to some quick Google searches, Michigan has a fairly expansive definition for second-degree murder. As Michigan criminal defense attorneys note on their websites, second-degree murder charges can be brought in drunk driving cases. See also the website, Michiganprosecutor.org, that helps explain these charges.
3Read an overview of the Diane Whipple case on DogBiteLaw.com.
4Read the original 5:17 pm Detroit Free Press news report, which we based our 7/25/14 update upon.
09/05/12: 2012 Dog Bite Fatality: Trotwood Senior Citizen Killed by Own Dogs
06/30/11: Justice for Lincoln Park Fatal Dog Attack Victim Finally Emerges
05/29/11: 2011 Dog Bite Fatality: 'Monster Dog' Kills 4-Year Old Brooklyn Boy
07/27/08: Coverage of the Double Fatal Dog Attack in Livingston, Michigan