Monday, June 11, 2012

Lynching Sylvia: Humane Justice in Upstate New York

Town of Wallkill and Mob Rule

"Deplorable" conditions and injured dogs? 
Or is something else going on in Wallkill?

Dog lovers were rocked by news coverage of 76 Rottweilers living in "deplorable" conditions in rural Orange County, New York.

The all-too-familiar cry of "down with greedy breeders" was quickly raised.  The public was exhorted to write to the police department and the town judge and demand that the dog owner be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  Donations are being solicited. Online petitions circulated.  Facebook pages. Twitterings.  Care2 discussions.  We all know the drill. 

At the moment, Rottweiler breeder Sylvia Panetta faces some 150 criminal charges stemming from allegations of cruelty to animals.  The chain of events was initiated by an unnamed complainant and continued when various Wallkill town authorities conducted a series of alleged illegal searches of her property.  Over a period of 87 days and after multiple searches of her home and property by the Town of Wallkill Police Department and other individuals, all of her 76 Rottweiler dogs were impounded and ultimately removed by volunteers associated with the private, not for profit Mountain Rotti Rescue and/or persons authorized by them.

Blogger's note:  Because this is an active criminal prosecution, below I've restricted myself to some matters already on the public record and will not discuss the merits of the charges against Panetta. 

So commenters, be aware:  defamatory and potentially libelous accusations based solely on newspaper coverage?  Or what you heard from someone who knows someone?  We're not going there.  I prefer to wait for a verdict from an impartial judge and jury before I howl for blood. 

Strained Quality of Justice in Wallkill

Under the terms of two documents signed by Wallkill Town Justice Patrick S. Owen (one dated March 6 and an April 29 Order*)  all of Panetta's dogs were impounded and finally removed from her property.

The March 6 Order authorized the taking of personal documents that were not the items of probable cause.  

A search warrant cannot authorize taking pictures of the property and it cannot authorize a municipal assistant building inspector to execute the search warrant.  It would be contrary to state law.

The April 29 "Search Warrant and Seizure and Impoundment Order" combo?  Crazier still.

The "Search Warrant and Seizure and Impoundment Order" dated April 29, also signed by Judge Patrick Owen, finds reasonable cause to believe that "a search will discover. . .evidence of additional violations."

Folks, Wallkill is located in the United States.  The 4th Amendment applies, and even in Wallkill search warrants must be specific as to the object to be searched for and the place to be searched.   Cops cannot be authorized to willy-nilly poke around the private property of persons not convicted of a crime and seize whatever strikes their fancy.    They aren't gathering Easter eggs.

The warrant/order authorizes a range of private individuals and non-law enforcement personnel, including the Assistant Town of Wallkill Building Inspector, Adult Protective Services, the Town of Wallkill Volunteer Ambulance Corp, an unnamed veterinarian, members of Mountain Rotti Rescue and its agents and members of the [unnamed] "local Humane Society" and others to assist in its execution.

Again, this is not consistent with New York State law.  Police officers execute search warrants.  Not building inspectors, ambulance drivers and EMS technicians, social workers, veterinarians in private practice and volunteers associated with unnamed local humane societies.

It gets better even more bizarre.
On June 1 Panetta went to jail for allegedly violating a temporary Order of Protection, also signed by Judge Patrick Owen, granted to unnamed individuals who are not victims of a crime.

New York State law doesn't support this, either.  Under NYS Criminal Procedure Law Part 3, Title P, Article 530.13(1) Orders of Protection are granted to specific individuals who are victims of a crime, following a hearing.

Panetta's arraignment on the Order of Protection charge was presided over by Judge Patrick Owen's  brother, Judge Joseph Owen.   Judge Joseph Owen sent Panetta to jail.

Currently out on bail, she will need to be present for a hearing on the criminal charges of violating the Order of protection scheduled for June 12.  This will be her third court appearance on the matter.  She still does not have an attorney to represent her, in violation of Panetta's 6th Amendment rights.

Security bond/forfeiture hearing scheduled for June 15

On June 15, Panetta must answer a petition from the impounding organization now in custody of her dogs.  They are asking for $36,000 as an initial down payment for the upkeep of her dogs seized in evidence.  If the judge finds in their favor, Panetta will have five days to come up with the money or forfeit her dogs.  Pre-trial and pre-verdict. 

While innocent under the law, and before being able to do anything in her own defense, she will either need to shell out $36,000 or lose her dogs.

Right to counsel ?  Still waiting.

Panetta does not have a lawyer, yet was required to appear at multiple hearings pertaining to criminal matters, was arraigned on criminal charges and sent to jail . . .  without being able to consult a lawyer. 

Her request for an adjournment until she could obtain a lawyer prior to being sent to jail for allegedly violating an Order of Protection was denied by Judge Joseph Owen.

There's plenty more wrong.  I picked the things that were quickest to detail.  No doubt the legal beagles among my readers will find more.

"Copland in the Catskills"

Worth noting:  in 2001 a federal civil rights suit was filed against the Town of Walkill by the New York State Attorney General following complaints of systematic police harassment, lawless behavior, abuse of police power and retaliation against critics of the Department.

Under the terms of the consent decree arising from the suit, the town's police department was placed under a federal monitor until 2006.

Lynching Sylvia in broad daylight

What the hell's going on here?

Has the Town of Wallkill and its various departments and employees and agents all lost their minds?

Do they believe no one will bother to examine the documents available to the public and question what they have done?

The presumption of innocence, right to counsel, due process, freedom for unreasonable search and seizure, equal protection of law . . .  do they really think they can dispense with these fundamentals?

And regardless of your opinion of Panetta, is this the society you really want to live in? 

Or do you live in the hope that the rule of law will prevail, no matter what the allegations are?

*two pages:  click both "April 29" and "Order" to access each