City man accused of beating dog ordered to volunteer at SPCA

Organization did not know of deal before OK'd by court, denies application

  • Aileen O. Gabbey, executive director of the Maryland SPCA, objects to having someone accused of animal abuse working at the SPCA, adding that she doesn’t believe "that abusers should be given the chance to be around animals and learn how to be kind."
Aileen O. Gabbey, executive director of the Maryland SPCA,… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
September 22, 2010|By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore man charged with beating a dog to death has been ordered to work at an animal shelter, angering animal advocates who say that is the last place someone who abused a pet should be.

The head of Baltimore's new animal-rights task force has protested the decision, which came as part of a deal with prosecutors who dropped criminal charges against the man, calling it a grave error in judgment that leaves animals at-risk.

Caroline Griffin, chairwoman of Baltimore's Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force, said the man should be kept away from animals, just as criminals who harm humans are often ordered to stay away from their victims.

"The prosecutor had substantial evidence to try this case, but instead, dropped the ball," said Griffin, whose committee discussed the case at a scheduled meeting Monday night.

Late in the afternoon of Aug. 6, neighbors spotted Derrick Chambers beating a miniature pinscher, clubbing the dog repeatedly with a pipe in the 4000 block of W. Franklin St. in West Baltimore, according to a police report of the incident. A min-pin is a small breed of dog that typically weighs less than 10 pounds. According to police documents, Chambers weighs 260 pounds.

When police arrived at the scene, they found the dog, lifeless, with a cord around its neck. It had been stuffed into a plastic bag and tossed into the bed of Chambers' pickup truck.

Chambers, 48, told police he beat the 4-year-old dog because it had become "unruly," nipping his finger and jumping on the back of his cat.

When police realized the dog was still alive they rushed it to the city animal shelter, where veterinarians found it had a broken right leg, shattered ribs, a broken jaw, missing teeth and was bleeding from the head. Doctors euthanized it within an hour.

Chambers was charged with four counts of animal cruelty, one of which was a felony. If convicted of all charges, he would have faced nearly four years in jail and $8,000 in fines. Instead, at his Sept. 8 trial, in district court before Judge Charles A. Chiapparelli, prosecutors agreed to "stet" the charges, meaning they would drop the case if Chambers stays out of trouble and performs 50 hours of community service at the Maryland SPCA.

Prosecutor Randi Lifson told The Baltimore Sun in an e-mail that she agreed to the community service arrangement after defense attorney Alan Cohen told her Chambers had beaten the dog because it bit Chambers' wife. The initial police report said nothing about the dog biting Chambers' wife, though Cohen showed Lifson photographs and a medical bill.

Monday Cohen said Chambers is not "a crazed maniac that beats animals," explaining that Chambers had adopted the dog, a rescue, about a year ago.

Chambers had no problems with the dog until he got a call from his wife that the animal had bitten her, Cohen said. Chambers was then bitten himself when he got home, he added.

"The dog goes nuts on him," Cohen said. "Yes, he did hit the dog a lot and unfortunately the dog is deceased as a result of that…. But this guy likes animals. He's not a crazed maniac. The dog would just not let up."

Cohen said he thought that the arrangement to have Chambers work at the Maryland SPCA was a good compromise. "I was trying to think what would make everybody happy," he said. "In a perfect world I'd like the case dismissed."

Officials at the Maryland SPCA were not contacted by the prosecutor's office before the deal was made to send Chambers to work at the shelter. Executive Director Aileen Gabbey found out about it when Griffin told her.

Gabbey says she objects to having someone accused of animal abuse working at the SPCA, adding that she doesn't believe "that abusers should be given the chance to be around animals and learn how to be kind." She said Monday morning that she received and denied an application from Chambers. It's unclear what will happen next with Chambers' sentence.

According to Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office in Baltimore, the court order requiring Chambers to work at an animal shelter remains in force even if the SPCA declines, leaving it to Chambers and his attorney to ask the judge for a new sentence if he can't comply.

"We don't have the power to change it," Burns said. "Right now the defendant is subject to this court order."

Directors of the three largest animal shelters in the Baltimore area say their institutions have community service arrangements, but none of them will work with violent offenders — and certainly not anyone who has abused animals.

Furthermore, a director of the Humane Society of the United States said she doesn't support the idea of court-ordered community service at shelters for animal abusers.

"That's so clearly inappropriate," said Ann Chynoweth, the Humane Society's senior director for animal cruelty and fighting. "There needs to be accountability for this violent crime."

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