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Family alleges discrimination in animal cruelty investigation

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Monica Jones-Walker decided to speak at a public forum in Federal Way on Thursday and defend her family, the owners of a three-month old pit bull whose death has focused the attention and anger of many people on police and county animal control officials.

Investigators also revealed the substance that covered the dog and led to its death. A $15,000 reward is being offered for the arrest and conviction of whomever abused the dog. If a suspect is arrested, they could be charged with felony animal cruelty.

Jones-Walker said during the forum at City Hall packed with more than 70 people that her family cared for Mooie, the puppy, and the authorities would have done more if the dog had been a different breed and the owners not African-American.

If the dog had been a poodle in Bellevue, the outcome would have been different, she claimed.

"Trust me, they would have had a suspect in two hours," Jones-Walker said.

Mooie was found March 10 almost a block from her owner's back yard. The puppy was covered with chemical burns, bleeding and most of her skin either burned off or sloughing off. She was taken by a citizen to an Auburn veterinary clinic, where she was euthanized because nothing could be done to save her.

Walker-Jones said her daughter-in-law, the owner of the dog, was afraid to speak because people in the room seemed intent to blame them for the dog's death.

Several people, including members of a non-profit animal advocacy group, assured Walker-Jones that wasn't the case.

Investigators have said the owners weren't aware the dog had left the yard, and Walker-Jones maintained on Thursday the family didn't know what happened.

"We do have leads," said Brian Wilson, deputy chief of the Federal Way Police Department. Wilson and other investigators said they couldn't comment as much as people wanted because the case is ongoing.

King County Animal Services and the police have become the focal points of many people's outrage over the case and how it's been handled. Many say the county agency's decision to cremate the body meant the destruction of evidence without doing a necropsy. Others said both agencies didn't take the case seriously, didn't communicate properly about who was in charge, and that protocols need to be in place to deal with such cases.

Officials said they were working together on the case.

But Walker-Jones said now that people are mad at the police and animal services, the agencies are "trying to pretend that they're really out trying."

Walt Washington, director of the animal services department, took responsibility for the decision to cremate the puppy.

He also announced the chemical on the dog was concentrated ammonia, which can cause serious burns to the skin, eyes and lungs. The State Patrol Crime Lab got a sample of the chemical from the dog's collar after rushing the evidence through the lab's long line of evidence waiting to be processed. Even evidence in homicides and felony cases related to humans can take months to process.

At the time of Mooie's death, what was on her was unclear, but it did make the veterinary staff sick to the point some were hospitalized and a hazardous materials team was called to the clinic.

After the dog was euthanized on a Friday, the body was held over the weekend in a large refrigerator at the county animal control office. When Washington came to work the following Monday, he ordered the body cremated to keep his staff from being exposed to fumes and because the corpse was starting to rot.

Members of Pasado's Safe Haven, a non-profit animal shelter in Sultan whose representatives have been among the most vocal in criticizing the police and animal services, offered to pay for a freezer.

Susan Michaels, one of the co-founders of the organization, said there were contradictions between the two agencies. She animal services officials stated the case was animal cruelty, while the police were still leaving the possibility open it was accidental.

Michaels asked what it would take for the police to rule out an accident. Wilson said it could require knowing the dog's whereabouts prior to its death and what was the reason for it coming in contact with the ammonia, or if a witness came forward.

Michaels also said the woman who found the dog was still finding pieces of its skin and was holding them. Detective Tom Robinson, who is leading the police investigation, said he wasn't aware of that and would contact the woman to collect the skin.

There has been criticism why police didn't searched the owner's home more thoroughly. Michaels said neighbors reported seeing officerrs spend mere minutes in the house and out in the yard, and the owner told Pasado representatives that police only made a cursory search. Robinson assured the forum audience that he had searched the owner's home "top to bottom" and the yard for anything that could have caused the burns.

Chris Tolman, one of the veterinary technicians at the clinic where Mooie was taken, said she and her colleagues have nightmares about the puppy. She demanded that Washington visit the clinic and talk to the staff. He said he would and asked if Friday was good.

State Sen. Pam Roach called on Federal Way's Police, the county's animal services and the state's police academy to develop policies for how law enforcement should respond to animal cruelty cases.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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