Tag Archives: Animal Cruelty

Canine Controversy — Council President Lee Loder hires lawyer over animal cruelty issue

Canine Controversy

Council President Lee Loder hires lawyer over animal cruelty issue.

Council President Lee Loder’s dog, Stokely, at the time of its impoundment by police on September 26.

On Tuesday, November 19, the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) convened a press conference to address recently dismissed charges of animal cruelty against Birmingham City Council President Lee Loder. Birmingham police impounded Loder’s dog on September 26 after Paul Clark, a carpenter working in the neighborhood, reported that the animal appeared to be “skin and bones” and “right at the point of starvation.” Clark observed the dog over a two-day period and claimed that the chain around the animal’s neck was so knotted that he could not reach shelter from rainfall at the time. The dog was reportedly soaking wet.

The case was dismissed October 17 by Municipal Court Judge David Barnes for a variety of alleged illegal actions by police and the city’s law department, both of which dispute the judge’s claims. (Barnes was re-appointed by the city council this past August at the recommendation of Loder’s Administration Committee. Mayor Bernard Kincaid recently removed Barnes from his position as presiding judge, though Barnes remains on the municipal bench.)

After a meeting between GBHS director Jacqueline Meyer, GBHS attorney Angela Turner, and Loder, the council president and Turner spoke with local media in the hallway outside the council chambers. Turner read a statement acknowledging that Loder is prevented from commenting on the case, as it has not been fully resolved. Turner further stated that Loder had requested communication between the GBHS and other animal rights agencies to “engage in dialogue that addresses some of the issues involving the people and animals in this community.” Loder fielded questions following Turner’s statement. “If there is any way to make this incident useful to those who may be interested in [obtaining] more information about the cause of animal rights, then I think that’s a good move,” he said.

A day before the scheduled press conference, the GBHS sent out a release announcing the event. Several hours later, a faxed letter from Loder’s attorney, Arthur Shores Lee, was sent to Black & White requesting, in part, that retractions be made for “any statements, express or by innuendo, made in past or present that state that Mr. Loder has committed a criminal act and/or that state that Mr. Loder has engaged in criminal and/or immoral conduct.” The letter emphatically stated that Loder had not engaged in such conduct. According to the letter, Loder has authorized his counsel to take “immediate legal action to prevent continuous and irreparable harm to his reputation” should the retractions not be made or if any future statements cast further doubt on Loder’s character. Included in the fax was a letter to Judge David Barnes from Loder’s veterinarian, Dr. Jerome Williams, stating that the health of the dog, a mixed breed German Shepherd named Stokely, was in an “acceptably normal range.” When asked at the press conference about the threat of legal action in the letter made to the GBHS and various media outlets, Loder replied: “I obviously have to protect myself; I have to defend myself. Just because I’m a council president doesn’t mean I have to lie down and let everybody stick daggers in me.”

When later asked about the claim that Loder has not committed a “criminal act” or “engaged in immoral conduct” even though he was arrested in late September by Birmingham Police for neglecting his dog, attorney Lee stated that a violation of due process had occurred because Loder was arrested on a misdemeanor charge without a warrant. “Officer Dana Johnston [Birmingham Police animal cruelty officer] did not see this [abuse of the animal while the act was being committed]. She went by hearsay, what was told to her, and she looked at the dog and said, ‘He looks thin, I’m going to arrest Mr. Loder,’” said Lee. “There was a violation of due process, and that was our sole argument. That case was due to be dismissed because the officer failed to follow the proper steps, as far as probable cause goes. She made an arrest based upon her observations and you cannot do that.” Lee also maintained that “any veterinarian will tell you that you’re actually supposed to be able to see a dog’s rib cage. If you can’t see a dog’s rib cage, then that dog is probably overweight.” When asked if the dog was still in the vet’s care, Lee said it was his understanding that the dog was at the vet while Loder was having improvements made to the dog’s living quarters. He added that the doghouse and the lack of grass in the pen in which Stokely was chained to a tree had elicited criticism. “If you chain a dog up and he’s in an area, and he has 15 yards to run around and play in, most likely in that spot where he runs, there’s not going to be a whole lot of grass growing there,” concluded the attorney.

GBHS veterinarian Dr. Ingrid Oakley determined from photographs made at the time of the animal’s impoundment that the dog was “generally neglected via the owner.” Oakley stated that the photos show “extreme emaciation,” and added that the dog had a chain (without a dog collar) that was tight around the neck and short in length. The vet included in her observations that “the dog seemed not to be able to reach shelter” and “was in mud, rain, and seemed to be living in general squalor.” Oakley concluded that “the living conditions were not conducive to the general health of an owned animal.” Loder’s veterinarian, who has been the caretaker of Stokely for approximately the past 8 weeks, noted that the dog was underweight when he first examined him two months ago, and added that the animal had gained 15 pounds in that time.

It was evident from initial communications with the Greater Birmingham Humane Society that the press conference was to have included criticism aimed at Loder over the mistreatment of his pet. This criticism failed to materialize. After meeting with the GBHS representatives, Loder made the following remark at the press conference: “I think my position as Council President places me in a unique position to either advance or hinder all kinds of causes.”

The GBHS does not currently receive any funding from the city of Birmingham, though attorney Angela Turner did note in a follow-up interview that GBHS had not ruled out seeking funds from area governments and other governmental entities for a proposed new facility for the animal shelter. “We are approaching the city, potentially, for a bond issue-and the county, for some money there,” acknowledged the attorney. “It doesn’t really benefit us to just focus in on just [Loder] and this one case when there are hundreds of thousands probably just like it in this community. So we kind of felt like it was an unfortunate situation that maybe we can now use to help get the education out to the community about what it means to take care of your animal,” said Turner.

Special prosecutor John Stokesberry said his only option for having the case re-opened is to file a writ of mandamus (a writ issued by a superior court commanding the performance of a specified official act or duty) in circuit court. Stokesberry, who was appointed by the city attorney’s office due to a conflict of interest in the city’s representation of Loder as council president, remains appalled that the case was dismissed by Barnes. “The judge should never have dismissed it to begin with. You can’t dismiss a case unless you have an evidentiary hearing. You just don’t dismiss it out of the wild blue yonder with no motion, with no hearing. He just dismissed it period. No hearing, no notice, no evidence, nothing. [Barnes] should have disqualified himself because there’s no question that there’s an appearance of bias, and there’s a conflict of interest.” The special prosecutor added, “All he did was, in essence almost, call a press conference and then dismiss the case, period. Didn’t hear a word from the city prosecutor or nothing. They just dismissed it. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” &

City Council President Arrested In Animal Cruelty Case

City Council President Arrested In Animal Cruelty Case


One week before the originally scheduled hearing on Birmingham City Council President Lee Loder’s animal cruelty charges, municipal Judge David Barnes dismissed the case in an “expedited” hearing called on October 17. Barnes questioned not only the arrest of Loder without a warrant, but also misinformation on the police report regarding where the dog was found and what the judge termed “inappropriate” procedure taken by the city’s law department. Due to the law department’s representation of Loder as president of the City Council, it recused itself from the case and appointed a special prosecutor. Barnes complained that the department had issued subpoenas for the hearing even though it had recused itself.

The emaciated dog being bathed by the authorities after impoundment.

In a telephone interview the day after Barnes dismissed the case, City Attorney Tamara Johnson disagreed with the judge’s assessment, explaining that even though special prosecutors were hired, the city can still provide resources [including subpoenas] with which to try the case. The law department, however, can not tell a special prosecutor how to try cases, according to Johnson. The city attorney said she had contacted Barnes to tell him that a conflict of interest existed with the law department as well as with any municipal judge handling the case, since municipal judges are appointed by the City Council. (Loder’s Administration Committee recommended reappointment of Barnes this past August.) Johnson added that the law department was not informed of the expedited hearing until two days before it was scheduled. She said she had no idea Barnes was going to hear the case when she first contacted him. It had originally been scheduled to be heard by Judge Agnes Chappell on October 24.

According to a police report filed September 26, Lee Loder’s dog was reported by Paul Clark, a carpenter working in the neighborhood. Clark described the dog, a 60-pound mixed breed named Stokely, as “skin and bones. I saw the condition of the dog. You had a chain that was so knotted up it was like a rigid bar. It wouldn’t even sag. For me that’s inexcusable . . . He had severely limited movement. I’d be surprised if he had more than a three or four foot radius that he could maneuver in . . . The dog’s ribs were sticking out and its eyes were sunk in. The dog was right at the point of starvation.” The police report confirmed that the dog appeared to be starving and was so emaciated that “all bony prominences [were] evident from a distance.” The animal was chained up in a fenced-in area out of reach of shelter due to the chain being “wrapped and hooked on his neck,” according to the report, which added that the dog was soaked and shivering after two days of rain. Animal cruelty officer Dana Johnston, who investigated the case, called Birmingham-Jefferson County Animal Control, which impounded the dog until October 10, when it was released into the custody of Loder’s veterinarian, Dr. Jerome Williams (who will eventually return the dog to Loder).

Photos taken September 26 of Lee Loder’s dog chained in the rear of Loder’s house.

The dog reportedly had heartworms, intestinal and external parasites, and fleas. Williams examined the dog within 24 hours after impoundment. “I found the heartworms. I was told by the vet [at animal control] that she found intestinal worms and fleas.” Williams wrote in a letter regarding his observations to Judge Barnes, “Based on my personal observations of Stokely’s demeanor, his age, his vital indicators, his laboratory tests, and his medical history, I am of the opinion that the animal’s condition at the time of his impoundment was within acceptable normal range.” In an interview the day after the case’s dismissal, Williams described the dog as underweight when taken to animal control, but added that “skin and bones” was not a description that he would use, as the police report had.

The chain had become so knotted that the dog was unable to reach shelter.

Williams has been seeing Loder’s dog since 1996 and reports that worms have been a problem in the past. When asked if Loder had regularly addressed health problems concerning the dog, the vet described Loder as “not being an ‘ideal’ client,” but added that the majority of his clients “are not optimum.” He said that Loder had brought the dog in regularly for shots [according to the police report, Loder could not tell the arresting officer the last time the dog had received his rabies shot]. The dog was still in Williams’ custody at press time. The veterinarian reported that the dog was “responding well” to care.

Police spokesperson Lt. Henry Irby said animal cruelty officer Dana Johnston’s office received a call stating that there was a dog being abused. Irby said that officers did not know who the dog belonged to when they impounded it. Loder was contacted once he was discovered to be the owner. “We asked Mr. Loder to come in to talk,” said Irby. “At that time he was placed under arrest and then released on a $500 bond.”

Loder addressed the issue in an October 15 interview, two days before the case was suddenly dropped. “We do dispute the claims that there was criminal neglect,” said Loder, who would not comment on whether the dog was kept chained on a regular basis. “I don’t have any problem talking about this but because it’s a legal matter and the matter’s in court, I really don’t want to go into details.” Loder insisted that the dog was given “reasonable care,” adding, “I’ve had a dog all my life and taken care of dogs very well. I don’t think that’s a question. I love them, and that’s why I have them.” The Council President said that no complaints had been lodged against him in the past regarding the animal. Loder expressed concerns about the impoundment and arrest procedures, noting that provisions for a 10-day notice were not utilized, which Loder says is often the case. “I wasn’t given the opportunity that I think other people are generally given, which is if there was a concern that was raised, to address it . . . and I’m not agreeing that the concern was one that had to be addressed. . . . That was an option [giving notice] for somebody who believed I was a credible person. . . . One of the things that I cherish and try to make sacred is being honest, being responsible, and being credible. And you do that for days like this-I don’t want to be treated differently than anybody but I think I’m a credible person who is responsible and who ought to be believed when they make a statement about something.” Loder added, “After this is all over-and this is going to be resolved very soon-there will be no question regarding my care for this dog.”

Loder said he explained to animal control officers that it was “all a misunderstanding.” He said that he offered to take the dog to the vet before he signed the $500 bond but was “not given that opportunity.” Loder said, “I expect my name to be cleared through the courts. And after that, for those who still have suspicions, I’ll have the dog and he’ll be there [at Loder's home] and I’ll let folks see him since he’s become a public figure now.” &