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


bealsie2 said...

Based on my recent (not dog-related) court proceedings in my local town court - and I have no knowledge of Sylvia's case other than news reports - she is screwed. Local justices have little to no knowledge of the law, and little to no knowledge of criminal procedure, and what they do know they ignore. Illegal, incompetent, unsigned or affirmed paperwork? They don't care. Certainly at the local level in NY our "justice" system is a joke.

Tom said...

These judges belong in jail in the prison courtyard with their most violent victims.

Anonymous said...

Where to start?! First, please stop referring to Ms. Panetta as a “breeder” as it gives licensed, respected breeders who follow the law a bad reputation.
Yes, Ms. Panetta has a right to an attorney. If she chooses not to exercise that right then that is her choice and not a violation. You don’t wait until you are found guilty to ask for an attorney, you hire one before your court date. She had ample time and opportunity to obtain legal counsel or prove a need to have one appointed for her.
Regarding the search warrant.
Third parties may accompany and assist police officers when executing a search warrant as long as it is stated in the warrant. If evaluating the health of an animal, it is practical to have a veterinarian present to say the least. If assessing possible illegal structures on a property, why is it so abnormal to bring the town’s building inspector?

Since seizing pounds of feces, yards of dilapidated fencing, dozens of broken dog houses and boards with nails sticking out and transporting them to court is just plain silly, it is acceptable that photos are being used as evidence found when executing a warrant.

Regarding the restraining order. As this did not stem from a family/domestic matter the information you linked is invalid to this matter. There are several different types of protection orders and this one was done properly. (I will look it up later for you, if you’d like)

Lastly, please review NYS Agriculture & Markets Law § 373 which states (among other things)
(6) the “impounding organization” may petition the court for the posting of a security bond, in an amount sufficient to secure payment for all reasonable expenses expected to be incurred in caring and providing for the animal pending disposition of the charges. For purposes of this section, an impounding organization” shall mean the duly incorporated society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, humane society, pound, animal shelter or any authorized agents thereof. “Reasonable expenses” shall include,
but not be limited to, estimated medical care and boarding of the animal for at least thirty days taking into account all of the facts of the case. The ‘petition’ is filed with the court, and then served upon the defendant and the district attorney as well as any other interested person having a pecuniary interest in the animal. The ‘petition’ shall be brought at the time of arraignment. A hearing on the petition shall be held within ten days of filing. The Petitioner has the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence, and the court has discretion to waive the posting if respondent shows good cause. If the court orders the security, it must be posted with the clerk of the court, within five business days. The impounding organization may then draw from the security, the amount incurred.

BlueDogState said...

@alphabet city

1. Panetta's efforts to obtain counsel are well documented. The court had a number of remedies available, but chose to send her to jail on criminal charges without benefit of counsel.

2. S/W: link is on the blog but for your reference CPL 690.25:

"A police officer to whom a search warrant is addressed, as provided
in subdivision one, may execute it pursuant to its terms anywhere in the
county of issuance or an adjoining county, and he may execute it
pursuant to its terms in any other county of the state in which it is
executable if (a) his geographical area of employment embraces the
entire county of issuance or (b) he is a member of the police department
or force of a city located in such county of issuance."

That's who can execute a search warrant in the State of New York.

Restraining order (?) -- Judge Owen signed an Temporary Order of Protection. And it cited the section of state law mentioned on the blog.

AML 373 LOL You're going to go there? Really? I strongly suggest you read it carefully, and compare it to events in Wallkill.

Rule of law.

It's what protects us all, and the details count. No cherry-picking. No do-overs.

Late Bloomers said...

Hey Blue Dog, our friends are looking for employees... times are hard everywhere but at Pets Alive I guess?


Anonymous said...

Sound's like the warrant is deficient and illegal on its face, general and overly broad and lacking particularity or protocol.
Yes, in some circumstances help can be enlisted from non-police, but only if there is a showing of what it was impossible to have the police do that function and exigent circumstances did not allow for time to have a police officer do the function. bond hearings before a finding of guilt are common, also unconstitutional, see Louisville KC case.I think she has a great case for dismissial wilson v layne, 4th amendment violations galore. and should sue the pants of of the city and third parties who acted under color of law. You cant bring parties to search for items not listed in warrant, and cant make the search a general search without listing the probable cause why your looking for each particular thing.