Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 46
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
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Judge Upholds Dog’s Death Sentence

Matthew Hersh

Amid a swarm of protestors, increased police detail, and national news coverage, Princeton Township Municipal Court Judge Russell Annich Jr. upheld his decision Tuesday afternoon to label as “vicious” and euthanize Congo, a two-and-a-half-year-old German shepherd for attacking a landscaper at the dog’s owners’ Township home in June.

Judge Annich also denied a motion by Congo’s owners, Guy and Elizabeth James, that would allow the dog to return home while they appealed to Mercer County Superior Court. The animal, which is being held at SAVE in Princeton Township, will remain there until the case is resolved, Judge Annich said. The judge agreed to stay the imposition of Congo’s sentence pending an appeal to Superior Court.

The court hearing, which recessed midway following a brief outburst by Congo supporters, is the latest development in a case where landscaper Giovanni Rivera was severely mauled by Congo along with four other dogs owned by the James family. Judge Annich upheld his verdict that the four other dogs should be labeled “potentially dangerous.”

According to Mr. James, Mr. Rivera and his co-workers showed up for a landscaping job at the family’s Stuart Road residence on June 5. The landscapers were told to wait in the car, Mr. James said, but began raking the yard while the dogs were still unrestrained.

The stories differ from there. According to the James family, as one of the gardeners began striking one of the pups with a rake, Mr. Rivera sought safety behind owner Ms. James, causing her to fall, which caused Congo to attack. However, Township Animal Control officer Mark Johnson said his investigation indicated that Mr. Rivera had used a rake to keep the dog away, but not to strike the pup. Mr. Johnson added that only Mr. Rivera, not Ms. James, fell to the ground, as Congo, and subsequently the other dogs, attacked him.

Mr. Rivera was awarded $250,000 in an insurance settlement.

On Tuesday, James family attorney Robert Lytle said the family would make an effort to bring their dog home while the case is pending in Superior Court because of Congo’s “worsening condition” while in detention. “He is deteriorating,” Mr. Lytle said, with Ms. James saying that Congo was “extremely distressed, extremely sad.”

Mr. James, in an interview prior to the court proceedings, acknowledged the conflicting reports, but stuck by his assertion that “if the guys didn’t hit the dogs with rakes and if my wife didn’t get grabbed, no one gets bitten. That’s the story.”

The grassroots campaign generating sympathy for Congo and the James family gained momentum following Judge Annich’s first ruling last Tuesday. Pat McAffee, a Griggs Farm resident who “never met Congo,” said she wanted to rally support to “continue to build the coalition as we move forward to appeal.”

Mr. Lytle, the James family attorney, said the family’s option of having Congo ruled potentially dangerous was “not really a choice.

“It’s a request to pick between the lesser of two evils, and the Jameses believe their family is innocent,” he said.

The appeal will likely take several months, Mr. Lytle said. The James family has also filed a notice of tort claim against Princeton Township to preserve the right to file a defamation suit regarding how the Jameses were characterized by Animal Control in the department’s investigation.

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