Jogger given probation after pleading guilty to hitting Dalmatian with bat

March 23, 1994|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Staff Writer

With a jury deadlocked but leaning toward conviction, a Baltimore County jogger decided to end a seven-month fight yesterday and plead guilty to a charge of cruelty to animals for hitting a 4-month-old Dalmatian in the mouth with a baseball bat.

James E. LaBoard, 48, a Mass Transit Administration bus driver for 22 years, always admitted hitting the dog, named Sparky, with a baseball bat in an incident July 26.

But he testified that the dog was inches from him -- while his attention was focused on three large golden retrievers that had charged him earlier as he jogged his regular route along Paddock Way near Patapsco State Park.

After first pushing at the Dalmatian as a larger dog approached, he said, "I swung the bat and hit the little dog, the closest dog, because he was trying to bite me on my ankle."

He also said the dogs' owners told him he didn't belong in their neighborhood -- although he lives there -- and hurled racial epithets at him. Mr. LaBoard is black. He said he yelled at them to leash their dogs.

Mr. LaBoard, who lives nearby in the same development, said he had made numerous complaints about unleashed and stray dogs to the police, animal control officers and the Parkview Homeowners' Association. He said he carries a bat for protection against stray dogs.

"I jog because I live in the neighborhood, and I have a right to jog in my neighborhood," he said.

But Sparky's owners, Kimberly Witt and David Stepherson, both of the 7700 block of Paddock Way, said Sparky didn't attack Mr. LaBoard. They said they were out trying to train the young animal, but gave up when Sparky began frolicking with their neighbor's bigger dogs.

Mr. LaBoard jogged by three times, they said. The first time nothing happened; the second time, one of the retrievers ran toward him but halted on command.

On his third pass, they said, Sparky ran out and Mr. LaBoard -- now carrying a bat -- hit the dog in the mouth, knocking out its teeth and sending the animal reeling with blood pouring from its mouth.

Since the attack, Mr. Stepherson testified, "If he [Sparky] doesn't know you, he is very apprehensive. He's very nervous. He chews everything. It seems like he's a different animal."

Two days later, he said, Mr. LaBoard ran by again, carrying the bat. This time Mr. LaBoard taunted them, he said.

Mr. Stepherson said they had never seen Mr. LaBoard before.

"We didn't know if he lived in the city, and we were saying to him, 'Why are you running by here?' Maybe this guy's from another area. Why is he doing this?"

Mr. LaBoard had resisted pretrial offers from both District and Circuit Court judges of probation before judgment on the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. He was convicted anyway in District Court, receiving probation before judgment and a $450 fine.

Mr. LaBoard then exercised his right to a new trial before a jury in the Circuit Court.

But with the jury deadlocked 11-1 against him after two hours, he yielded to a renewed offer by Judge John Grason Turnbull II, who gave him unsupervised probation before judgment and eliminated the fine.

If he successfully completes the probation, he will have no criminal record.

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