Police will urge animal control to put family's pit bull to death

North Laurel family's dog is dangerous to the community, Livesay says

June 03, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

Howard County police Chief Wayne Livesay says his department will recommend that a North Laurel couple's pit bull be put to death in an effort to protect the community.

Speaking before a group of residents attending a North Laurel Civic Association meeting, Livesay said the dog belonging to Vincent and Teresa Gibson of the 9500 block of Washington Ave. is a threat to area residents.

"We're going to petition the [county Animal Control Hearing Board] for the destruction of the animal," Livesay told residents Tuesday night. "This has nothing to do with who owns these dogs, but the pit bull is a danger to the community."

Residents file complaints

Livesay's comments came days after an animal control officer impounded the couple's pit bull, Diamond, and gave the Gibsons a citation carrying a $750 fine.

The dog allegedly ran into a neighbor's yard and attacked a chained 6-pound Yorkshire terrier. "My dog was almost dead," said Paul Daniels, who lives across the street from the Gibsons. "She was in Diamond's mouth."

In the past year, residents have logged more than a dozen complaints against Diamond with the Animal Control Division, which falls under the Police Department.

In January, another neighbor, Charles Alongi, said Diamond ran onto his front yard and killed his 8-pound poodle.

Vincent Gibson denied Alongi's claims. But in May, the hearing board ordered the couple to pay $700 in fines and to strictly supervise Diamond, as well as the couple's three other dogs -- another pit bull, a German shepherd and a schipperke.

The board ordered that Diamond, when outside, be muzzled at all times and not leave the Gibsons' property with any individual under the age of 18 -- precluding all four of the Gibson children.

Last month, Vincent Gibson appeared at the hearing board to appeal a $600 citation after the couple's other pit bull, Cinnamon, was captured by an animal control officer.

The board reduced the fine from $600 to $50.

Vincent Gibson said he believes that someone might have freed Cinnamon from its chain and called authorities to report the dog running loose.

Accusation of racism

For months the Gibsons have charged that neighbors have been targeting them and their children because they are black.

"These are all accusations," Vincent Gibson said. "I said that before and I'll say it again. These people are racists."

The Gibsons' attorney, Ellen G. Spencer, said she is concerned that residents have been using racial epithets toward her clients.

She has recommended that the neighbors and the Gibsons go through a mediation and conflict resolution class sponsored by Howard County Community College.

"I think this is appropriate given the situation," Spencer said. "This needs to be resolved as soon as possible -- Mr. Gibson and his family want to be good neighbors."

Neighbors, however, say that the Gibsons' claim of racism is unfounded.

"I am tired of them hiding behind that," said Daniels. "It's been their avenue of defense that they've chosen to pursue, but it's completely false."

Residents say their community will only be safe once Diamond is put to sleep and the couple's other dogs are removed from the home.

The board will hear the Police Department's recommendation at a public hearing June 15, but the panel can make its own determination about the fate of Diamond and the couple's other dogs.

The board will also determine whether the Gibsons must pay the $750 citation issued last week.

Livesay said the board also can declare the couple's home a nuisance, remove all of their dogs and prohibit them from owning any others.

Several years ago, Prince George's County banned pit bulls. Some Howard County residents want the same law.

"If you want this done, it's going to take getting a County Council member to make this an issue," Livesay told residents.

Meanwhile, Diamond remains in the county shelter.

Vincent Gibson says his children would be devastated if the dog is put to sleep.

"These dogs are the kids' dogs," he said. "I could really care less because I don't really need to have the dogs -- but the kids have a love for these animals. To take them away would be wrong."

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