Brooklyn infant is killed in home by family pit bull

Parents had stepped out on porch

police shoot dog

August 09, 2003|By Jessica Valdez and Alec MacGillis | Jessica Valdez and Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

A 2-week-old Brooklyn infant was killed yesterday by his family's pit bull after the baby's parents stepped outside and left him alone in their house with the dog, police said.

Responding to the incident at 3:15 p.m. in the 4200 block of Audrey Ave., police found the dog loose in the street and shot it, firing multiple times to make sure it was dead, witnesses said.

The child's death and the shooting shocked a neighborhood where residents said they had not had any problems with the dog.

Neighbors identified the baby as Terry Allen Jr. He was lying in a swing on the second floor of his family's rowhouse when he was killed, neighbors said.

Tonya Everhart, a friend and co-worker of the baby's mother, Stacie Morgridge, said the baby's parents left the infant alone briefly while they stepped outside to smoke cigarettes.

"They don't smoke around the baby," Everhart said.

When Morgridge and her 29-year-old boyfriend, Terry Allen - the father of the child - went back inside, they found the swing knocked over and the baby lying on the floor looking blue and limp but not mauled, said Everhart, who works with Morgridge at the nearby Charlie Ward convenience store.

The baby, who went by the nickname "T.J.," was rushed to Harbor Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police spokeswoman Nicole Monroe confirmed that the parents were on their front porch at the time of the attack but said police aren't sure what they were doing there.

Monroe said that no criminal charges have been brought against either parent but that that has not been ruled out.

"At this point, no one has been charged. The investigation is ongoing," Monroe said. "Of course we're not ruling anything out. The detectives are being open-minded."

The dog bit the baby "multiple times," Monroe said.

Neighbors who spoke with the parents speculated last night that the baby might have died because of being knocked out of the swing.

"The dog didn't intentionally hurt the child," said Michele Schmidt, who lives across the street.

After calling 911, Everhart said, the baby's parents chained the dog in the front yard, but she said the dog broke loose and jumped the fence.

When police arrived, Monroe said, the dog was roaming the street. Police shot it because they were worried it might jump into nearby yards where residents had gathered to watch.

"The dog was shot and killed because he posed a threat to everyone in the neighborhood," she said. "Children were out, and we didn't want it to get into yards where people were standing."

In the shooting, some bullet fragments smashed through a nearby car window. The breaking glass injured one of the car's occupants, who was treated at the scene.

Some neighbors watching the shooting questioned whether police overreacted by shooting the dog multiple times, saying one shot would have sufficed.

"It took five police and 15 to 20 [shots] to kill this dog," said John Pegram, who was moving furniture into his nearby business at the time of the shooting.

"They're here to protect and serve, and then they endanger people's lives. It doesn't take five police to kill a dog."

Added Cindy Shimel, a 10-year-old who lives across the street, "It was down on the ground, and they still kept on shooting for no reason."

Neighbors said the dog, who they thought went by the name "Jigga," lived inside the house and had never shown signs of viciousness. They said they often saw Morgridge, who was well known in the neighborhood, walk the dog around the block.

"He was the nicest dog in the neighborhood," said Cindy Shimel.

Neighbors estimated the dog's age to be about 7. Several said Morgridge had reported that the dog had appeared out of sorts since the baby was born.

Three hours after the shooting, the dog's carcass still lay in the middle of the street.

The child's death occurs roughly two years after the City Council narrowly defeated a bill to ban the city's estimated 6,000 pit bulls, a proposal prompted by a string of non-fatal dog attacks on children. City health officials said then that the Bureau of Animal Control lacked the resources to enforce a ban.

"We oppose this," Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson said at the time. "We don't have the staff. If we pick up an animal, proving it is a pit bull is difficult."

Last year, the council passed a less stringent law to rein in violent dogs, a requirement that all cat and dog owners purchase a license for their pets and tag them with a tiny microchip implant that would make it easier for animal control officers to identify and seize violent dogs.

Anthony Bradford, director of the Bureau of Animal Control, said yesterday that he was unsure how many dogs have been licensed or seized under the new law.

About 1,000 dog bites are reported to the city Health Department each year, about 30 percent of them by pit bulls. But they are rarely fatal.

In 1994, a baby was mauled to death in an East Baltimore apartment when its mother visited a friend who was keeping her incarcerated boyfriend's pit bull. In 1985, a 57-year-old Edgemere woman was killed by her pit bull terriers.

Nationally, about 10 people a year are killed by dogs, most of them either by pit bulls or Rottweilers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Several jurisdictions have passed or considered bans on pit bulls.

At the same time, several cities and counties that have passed bans have encountered difficulties. In 2000, Cincinnati repealed a 13-year ban on pit bulls because the city was spending $200,000 a year to seize and euthanize less than 20 percent of the city's pit bulls, most of which had never bitten anyone.

Sun researcher Elizabeth Lukes contributed to this report.

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