San Francisco, CA— A woman who believed she was rescuing a lost dog from Union Square traffic was acquitted of stealing the animal by a San Francisco jury Wednesday.
Vierra Morris, 21, of Fairfield, was found not guilty of misdemeanor grand theft following a two day trial. The jury deliberated for 90 minutes before reaching its verdict.
Morris, a college student whose family has rehabilitated several rescue dogs, was Christmas shopping in downtown San Francisco on Dec. 4, 2008, when she spotted a Yorkshire terrier that appeared lost. The 4-pound dog–which was wearing a cashmere sweater but no collar, identification tags or leash–was running in and out of stores on the unit block of busy Grant Avenue, witnesses testified.
After a security guard at a nearby store told Morris he didn’t know if the dog belonged to anyone, Morris took the animal home.
Meanwhile, the dog’s owner had been talking on his cell phone inside his parked vehicle while his wife tried on clothes in the Ted Baker store on Grant Avenue.
The 42-year-old San Francisco resident told police that he and his wife had let their $2,500 dog run unleashed as they shopped in the high-end British clothing store. He had been was unaware his pet had followed him when he left the store to take a business call, according to a police report filed in the incident.
By the time he hung up, Morris had already asked passersby about the animal, picked it up, and driven away. Witnesses provided the dog owner with Morris’ description and informed him that her car had been ticketed while she shopped.
Morris testified that when she was contacted by San Francisco police, she gave them the address of a neighbor who was caring for the dog. Morris believed the matter was resolved and had no knowledge a warrant had been issued for her arrest, she said.
Morris, who had no criminal record, was arrested on the warrant nearly a year later, on Aug. 26, 2009. The case was charged as a felony, causing Morris to lose her college financial aid. A judge reduced the charge to a misdemeanor in January.
Morris’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Cindy Elias, said both witnesses and store surveillance videos played key roles in clearing her client.
“The surveillance video showed the defenseless dog with no collar or identification running from store to store on Grant Avenue during peak traffic before being scooped up by Ms. Morris,” Elias said. “The intent to steal simply wasn’t there. It was clear to the jurors that Ms. Morris truly believed she was rescuing the dog from a dangerous situation.”
The prosecution’s star witness, a former employee of the nearby Ed Hardy store, testified that the dog had been running up and down the street for 15-20 minutes, contradicting testimony of the owner’s wife, who claimed the dog was out of her sight only 3-5 minutes. The prosecution’s two other witnesses testified that the dog appeared lost.
In the year following the incident, Morris’ neighbor had found a home for the dog. Morris and her mother helped police inspectors track down the dog, which was recently reunited with its original owners. Morris’ mother, a longtime SPCA worker, now works to recover lost pets.
“The circumstances of this case were so strange that it could have been the plot for a Hollywood movie,” said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “Fortunately, this real life drama ended on a just note after a jury heard the evidence.”