Wednesday, February 24, 2016 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A jury acquitted a San Francisco man of abusing his pit bull puppy after video showed that bystanders’ accounts were greatly exaggerated, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated half a day Friday before finding Donald Barros, 55, not guilty of one count of misdemeanor animal abuse. If convicted, he faced up to a year in jail, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Landon Davis.
On July 31, Barros was walking near 5th and Market streets with his 2-month-old puppy named China. The puppy, who was not yet leash trained, lagged behind Barros, who pulled firmly on her leash. China became tangled up in Barros’ legs, causing the half-blind man to step on her, eliciting a squeal. Barros pulled hard on her leash to drag her out from underneath him.
A nearby 27-year-old woman confronted Barros and offered to pay $20 for the dog. Barros refused. While Barros was occupied talking to the woman’s boyfriend and other onlookers, the woman snatched China from his arms and ran into the Westfield Shopping Centre. She told a shopper that Barros had tried to kill the puppy and to call 911.
The woman fled with Barros’ puppy before police arrived, but investigating officers arrested Barros after talking to other witnesses. Barros vehemently denied abusing China. An officer who called Barros’ father noted the older man was surprised by the arrest because his son is a dog lover who treated China very well.
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While he was in jail, authorities presented the illiterate Barros with a form surrendering his rights to China. Barros, who believed he was authorizing a temperament test, signed the document.
Meanwhile, the woman who took China posted a Craigslist ad, stating she rescued a puppy “being abused by a homeless crackhead.”
Barros, a native San Franciscan, is a live-in caregiver for his elderly parents and received the dog as a gift from his brother-in-law.
“It is obvious this puppy is someone’s loved pet and this horrible man stole it,” the woman wrote, asking the dog’s rightful owners to contact her.
The woman, who police tracked down through the ad, testified that she gave the dog to a friend in Seattle.
During the three day trial, she testified she witnessed Barros stomp on the puppy and dangle her from her leash into the street. But surveillance footage from a nearby business contradicted her account. While Barros did appear to pull hard on the dog’s leash, his stepping on the puppy appeared to be wholly accidental when the animal became tangled underfoot. He did not dangle the dog by her leash.
Davis argued that witness accounts were warped by bias. Barros is African American with long unruly hair and one working eye.
“People assumed the worst based on Mr. Barros’ outward appearance and it led to a woman snatching his much-loved pet from his arms and labeling him a crackhead,” Davis said.
An animal abuse conviction requires that someone acts with criminal or gross negligence toward an animal rather than being careless with a pet, Davis explained. China was not injured in the incident.
“In many ways this was a human abuse case,” Davis said. “The owner of the dog got arrested, jailed, and his name dragged through the mud. Nothing happened to the woman who stole the dog.”
Adachi said the case demonstrates how emotion and bias can cloud witness recollection.
“Studies on eyewitness testimony show that people rely on their expectations and prejudices to fill in gaps in their memories or knowledge of an event. Fortunately for Mr. Barros, jurors were willing to look beyond this unreliable testimony and look objectively at hard evidence,” Adachi said.