Owner of dogs that killed Detroit girl charged with murder

Michigan
Girl smiling with face paint on

An undated courtesy photo obtained by NBC affiliate WDIV shows Emma Hernandez.

DETROIT (AP) — A man was charged Thursday in connection with the death of a 9-year-old Detroit girl, who was mauled by three dogs despite rescue efforts by neighbors, her father and emergency workers.

Pierre Cleveland, 33, was charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a dangerous animal causing death, Wayne County prosecutors said. They say Cleveland owned the pit bulls or pit-bull mixes that got free from his yard and attacked Emma Hernandez as she rode a bike Monday in her neighborhood with her older brother on the city’s southwest side.

In this Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 photo taken from a video monitor, Pierre Cleveland, 33, is arraigned in 36th District Court in Detroit. Cleveland was charged Thursday in connection with the death of a 9-year-old Detroit girl, who was mauled by three dogs despite rescue efforts by neighbors, her father and emergency workers. (Todd McInturf/Detroit News via AP)
In this Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 photo taken from a video monitor, Pierre Cleveland, 33, is arraigned in 36th District Court in Detroit. Cleveland was charged Thursday in connection with the death of a 9-year-old Detroit girl, who was mauled by three dogs despite rescue efforts by neighbors, her father and emergency workers. (Todd McInturf/Detroit News via AP)

A not-guilty plea was entered for him Thursday afternoon during an arraignment and bond was set at $2 million. A probable cause hearing was set for Aug. 30 and preliminary exam on Sept. 6.

Defense attorney Emmett Greenwood said Cleveland tried to get the dogs off Emma, and has no criminal history. Greenwood added his client is a machinist and lost three fingers recently in a workplace accident.

“My client and (his) family wanted to convey they are praying for the precious child,” Greenwood told The Associated Press after the hearing.

One of the dogs was shot by a bystander while a medical crew tried to save the girl in an alley. The other dogs were captured. Neighbors threw bricks at the dogs to try to stop the attack, police said.

Emma died later at a hospital.

Her father, Armando Hernandez, said earlier this week the dogs lived at a house behind his, and he had an argument recently with the animal owner about them. Hernandez says the dogs weren’t properly restrained and the fence was too flimsy.

Cars parked outside of detroit homes
An Aug. 19, 2019 photo shows the Detroit neighborhood where a 9-year-old girl was mauled to death by dogs. (WDIV)

Prosecutors allege Cleveland left the dogs loose and went to a nearby store. Investigators say the fence was damaged and unsecured, and a side door on a garage was open, leading to the alley.

Authorities also argue Cleveland knew the dogs were aggressive. A prosecutor said one of the dogs involved in the attack recently killed puppies in Cleveland’s home.

“It is high time that the city of Detroit shines a light on the owners of these dangerous animals that sometimes roam and wreak serious havoc — none worse than what happened here,” Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement.

Animal control officers received a complaint in March 2018 about two of the dogs involved Monday’s attack, according to several media reports. Officers responded to a call about the dogs not being within their fence but nobody answered the door.

Officials say the dogs were expected to be euthanized, though it wasn’t clear when. The Associated Press left a message with Detroit Animal Care & Control.

The incident follows the December 2015 death of Xavier Strickland, a 4-year-old Detroit boy who was attacked with his mother by four pit bulls. Police had to shoot them to free the boy’s body.

The dogs’ owner, Geneke Lyons, was convicted several months later of involuntary manslaughter. Lyons wasn’t home at the time of the attack, but prosecutors said he should be held responsible because the dogs weren’t under control. A judge earlier dismissed a second-degree murder charge.

Numerous pit-bull maulings have made headlines in Michigan and elsewhere. A 2014 American Veterinary Medical Association report says pit bulls are not disproportionately dangerous, though owners of pit bull-type dogs deal with a strong breed stigma. However, some advocates for breed-specific community ordinances say pit bulls are behind most fatal dog bites.

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