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.” &