City’s enforcement of pit bull ban draws lawsuit

Distinguishing one breed of dog from another can be tricky. It is an especially contentious matter for some Lakewood dog owners who regularly get sideways glances from strangers, and police scrutiny because their pets resemble  pit bulls — which the city banned nearly two years ago.

Last summer the issue of breed identification came to the forefront after a Lakewood police officer tasered a dog in Birdtown. There was debate about whether or not the canine was a pit bull or not. The dog’s owner claimed it wasn’t, although Mayor Edward O. FitzGerald later said DNA testing proved it was. Eventually, Otis and his owner made a deal with the city to relocate to another municipality.

The tasering incident whipped-up a lot of fury among dog lovers. Most of it was Internet-based, but there was one committee meeting last summer where  animal control officer Michael Stewart got a little testy after some residents questioned his ability to identify one dog breed from another.

Before there was Otis, there was Rosco

According to a lawsuit filed against the city on March 19th (read the .pdf), it seems at least one other person was challenging Stewart’s pit bull identification skills that summer.

Former Lakewood resident Leonard Shelton alleges that he suffered “economic damages, psychological damages, and other compensatory damages” when the city harassed him about Rosco, his Boston Terrier mix, and forced them both to move out of the city. Shelton is seeking a minimum of $475,000 in damages.

According to Shelton’s complaint, Stewart and Lakewood police officer Kenneth Kulczycki stopped him on the street in April, 2009, and told him his pet was a pit bull and needed to be removed from the city, or else he would face criminal charges.

Shelton, who now lives in Brooklyn, immediately told the city officials his dog was not a pit bull.

Over the course of the next few months, Stewart and unidentified Lakewood police officers repeatedly visited, and stopped him on the street to deliver the same message: Rosco must go.

At one point, Shelton claims, Stewart told him if a DNA test proved his pet wasn’t a pit bull, it could continue to live within the city.

In June, 2009, Shelton provided DNA results that showed Rosco wasn’t a pit bull, but Stewart declined to accept them. Shelton alleges that continued harassment from city officials over the breed issue caused him to move elsewhere.

Shelton’s complaint against the city says  its inability to correctly identify the breed of his dog, the harassment, and refusal to accept DNA proof was motivated by “among other things, malice, ill will, discrimination, and bad faith and constitutes violations of [his] constitutional rights.”

He blames the city for not properly training its personnel to correctly identify dog breeds, and says the city is using the pit bull ban to force out individuals it has judged to be “undesirable or unsavory.”

More on Leonard Shelton

Fox 8 News apparently did a story on Shelton and his dog, but it is no longer available online. The KC Dog Blog mentioned the situation in May. Scene Magazine did a piece on Shelton’s Iraq war post-traumatic stress disorder and his anti-war efforts.

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