Phineas at safe house; Judge says he's innocent - thesalemnewsonline.com: Local News

Phineas at safe house; Judge says he's innocent

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Posted: Friday, October 25, 2013 9:06 pm | Updated: 4:12 pm, Sat Oct 26, 2013.

Phineas has been found, attorney Joe Simon this afternoon released on the Save Phineas facebook page.

Patrick and Amber Sanders, the dog's owners, have been allowed to see the dog, along with the attorney.

Simon also released that the dog was dropped at a safe house. He said he could not release any further information due to the "delicate situation."
 
Simon and the Sanders did not immediately return phone calls for comment.

Associate circuit judge Scott Bernstein ruled Friday that Phineas, a yellow lab sentenced to death after being accused of biting a seven-year-old girl, is to be released and sent back to his family.

In the Crawford County judge's ruling, based on facts that came to light in an Oct. 17 hearing, Bernstein ruled that Phineas had not bitten before and did not bite the seven-year-old. He also ruled the city should not euthanize Phineas.

Phineas, as of Friday afternoon, was still missing and could not be returned to the Sanders. He was stolen from the Dent County Animal Clinic between 4:30 p.m. Oct. 11 and 8 a.m. Oct. 12, according to a Salem Police report. Police Chief Keith Steelman said that there were no signs of forced entry and that the department had no leads.

The Oct. 17 hearing for relief of judgment for Phineas was held in Dent County, with Bernstein presiding. Representing the Sanders was Jeffrey Lowe, of St. Louis.

Bernstein, who in a previous hearing upheld a city of Salem decision to euthanize Phineas, wrote that his decision released Friday in a court order "is based on the testimony of Dr. J.J. Tune, petitioners' expert witness Dr. James Crosby, as well as the appearance of the bite in the pictures."

Bernstein also wrote he was "troubled" by the changing story of the girl Phineas is accused of biting, and photographs of her pants and shirt taken at the hospital that showed "no signs of blood."

Also, regarding alleged previous bites that led to Salem Mayor Gary Brown's decision to have Phineas euthanized, the mother of the seven-year-old girl said during the Oct. 17 hearing that the dog had only "mouthed" her daughters.

"The allegation of two previous bites was crucial to Mayor Brown's original decision that Phineas should be euthanized as a vicious dog under the Salem ordinances," Bernstein wrote.

Bernstein's order also said Brown's decision to euthanize Phineas was made before the city's hearing and based on incorrect information.

Bernstein wrote that there were substantial violations of the Sanders' due process rights at that original hearing before Brown, including Brown conducting the hearing without a legal advisor, his decision based on incorrect hearsay contained in the police report and a photograph "for which no proper foundation had been laid."

Bernstein during the Oct. 17 hearing made a personal statement regarding the attention the case has gotten, and the personal attacks he and other involved parties on both sides had sustained.

“There are no bad people involved in this case. The publicity has been unfair. We need to be a little less harsh,” he said.

Simon told The Salem News that he believed Phineas had been vindicated at the hearing.

He posted a portion of the judge’s ruling on the Save Phineas facebook page Friday evening with a simple statement: “Now lets go find our boy!”

Brown told The Salem News Saturday morning that he hoped the judge's decision was right, but he would not change how he handles dog bite cases in the future.

"I will go by the facts that I have," said Brown.

Last week the Save Phineas group posted to facebook a letter from a supporter saying that Phineas was safe and “playing with friends.”

“We have reason to believe the letter is legitimate,” Simon said. He would not elaborate as to what that reason was.

Simon offered a $25,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who stole Phineas, and a $1,000 reward for his safe return, he said.

This is the second time Phineas has been taken from his accommodations. He went missing from the DCAWS shelter in early 2013.

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