Civil Liberties

Dropped Animal Cruelty Case Shows How Authorities Manipulate Grand Juries


Corrêa Carvalho

Last summer. the deaths of 20 dogs at the Green Acre kennel in Gilbert, Arizona became a national cause when it appeared the animals were intentionally confined to a room and left to die in the sweltering summer heat. The case took on political implications when the son and daughter-in-law of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) were among four defendants indicted on animal cruelty charges by the grand jury that considered the case. But now that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery quietly dropped the case during Christmas week, saying the facts don't seem to fit the theory of the case, Green Acre may become better known as an example of how authorities manipulate grand juries than as a case of mistreatment of animals.

In a statement dated December 22, Montgomery said:

After thoroughly reviewing the records and fairly considering the points raised in recent Defense motions, the theory of the case as initially presented to the Grand Jury did not take into account the possibility that there were issues with an air conditioning unit. This could impact a Grand Jury's charging decision and how we might present a case to a trial jury.

Dozens of felony and misdemeanor charges were dropped and "The State will confer with investigators and experts to ensure any open questions about the events that occurred at the Green Acre facility are fully answered before making a decision on re-charging allegations of animal cruelty."

More bluntly, Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts says "the Maricopa County sheriff's detective mislead the grand jury into believing that the 21 dogs were intentially left to die in a sweat box."

Yes, that's the sheriff's office under infamous Joe Arpaio, the most headline-chasing lawman in these here United States.

Specifically, the sheriff's department didn't tell the grand jury that its own HVAC expert said it's "very likely" that the air conditioner failed because an evaporative coil froze during the night. The department also didn't reveal that utility records showed a drop off in power usage in the middle of the night consistent with an air conditioning unit giving up the ghost. Arizona's summer climate isn't forgiving. When the AC dies, the temperatures soar—potentially into lethal territory.

"Accidents happen. Rigged investigations shouldn't," the Arizona Republic's editorial board writes.

The missing facts of the case—those never presented to the grand jury—came to light because the defendants (senator's son, remember) had good, diligent legal representation that was able to bypass the legal process and go to the press and the public. That's the sort of recourse not available to every defendant facing a grand jury and a prosecutor looking for an easy kill.

"[I]t's easy to see how different suspects with a less-than-competent lawyer could get railroaded by eager prosecutors and an ill-informed grand jury," notes Ray Stern of the Phoenix New Times.

Then again, maybe that political connection painted a target on the younger Flake's back. Arpaio isn't known for his tolerance of political rivals.

Either way, it's clear that a grand jury can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of unscrupulous officials.

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  1. You mean the cops lied by intentionally omitting facts that didn't further the narrative? I'm shocked!

    1. No, I'M shocked.

      *demonstrates "shocked face"*

  2. You can get the grand jury to indict anybody... if you want to.

    If they don't return an indictment, it's because you wanted the grand jury not to.

    1. I have heard of cases where a grand jury declined to indict.

      Someone ought to investigate this subject and see if judge Wachtler's ham sandwich hypothesis actually adds up:

    2. And you can have your cake and eat it too by letting a grand jury indict ("see, voters, I'm impartially doing my job!), then "discovering" some problem that lets you toss that indictment ("see, political allies, I'm coming through for you!")

  3. And BTW: Brilliant alt-text.

    1. Came here to say this. Top level alt text.

      (though I might have gone with "mount" instead of "bite", for that extra bit of oomph)

  4. Austin and Logan Flake crammed 28 dogs (many of them large; most of them strangers to each other) into a 9x12 room with a poorly maintained AC unit, SEALED the room with tape to prevent the stench from traveling to the rest of the house, thereby cutting off what little airflow there otherwise might have been (the AC return is in another room completely), and called it a night. Six hours later, the dogs were found dead or dying. That a police officer gave potentially inaccurate testimony to the grand jury about the AC working all night is disappointing (and suspiciously convenient!), but the county attorney and his prosecutor had ALL the evidence prior to that grand jury, and they had complete control of what was and was not presented there. There is no "new" evidence; no magic bullet that lets these people off the hook for their negligence and cruelty. (Let's not even talk about the cruelty that ensued afterward when the dogs' owners were told their pets had "run away.") Also, just for the record, please note that the Arizona Republic has consistently misconstrued many of the facts in this case. To date, nobody has proved that the evaporator coil froze or that the AC shut down, just as nobody has proved whether the dogs died of heat stroke (on a not-at-all-sweltering night where outdoor temps were in the low '60s) or suffocation due to carbon dioxide buildup. It hardly matters, though, as this is clearly a case of, at a minimum, negligence no matter how you spin the story.

  5. It was not necessary to take a cheap shot at Arpaio, his deputy is not an AC expert.

    1. If it wasn't necessary, it's still well warranted.

  6. Sound like some serious business dude.

  7. It sounds a lot like negligence, not just an accident. I am not sure what the elements are for animal cruelty, but if negligent behavior which leads to animals suffering counts, then this may have been properly charged.

    The dogs were not supposed to be kept in that small room. It was reasonably foreseeable something bad would happen, like stress, fights, excessive thirst/hunger. Sounds pretty cruel to me. From what I recall, the boarding house told their customers the dogs would have free run of the house and they were not informed they would be kept in a small locked room (fraud).

    I'm not sure how one can draw the conclusion that this is a case of misconduct on the part of investigators. Sounds more like the case was badly presented by a lazy prosecutor.
    Just read the yelp reviews (those which haven't been deleted) for more info. Sounds like some pretty negligent boarders. While it's not absolute proof of course, it sounds pretty fucking suspicious.

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