Kendall Woolman spent much of her time playing at her friend Lexi Sanders’ house. According to court documents, Woolman stated that several days a week she would travel from her mother, Wayna Woolman’s office, to Sanders’ yard, where the girls would play, often with Phineas, a three-and-a-half-year old yellow lab.
Phineas lived chained in the Sanders’ fenced-in back yard, according to Patrick Sanders’ court testimony. The girls were not always supervised by Lexi’s mother or father, Amber and Patrick Sanders.
According to a police report filed June 22, 2012, it was during one of these play dates that Phineas bit Kendall Woolman. Police reports corroborate that as Kendall was attempting to leave the yard, she ran past Phineas, who was being held by Lexi. Phineas escaped Lexi’s grasp and bit Kendall on the abdomen, she fell to the ground and Phineas drug her by the abdomen for a few feet, the report states. Information obtained from another young girl playing with Kendall and Lexi, by the Salem Police Department, confirms Kendall’s statement.
After alerting Amber Sanders to the fact that Phineas had bit Kendall, Woolman took her daughter to the emergency room for treatment. According to the medical records dated June 22, 2012, obtained by The Salem News, Kendall was treated by Dr. Ralph Ford. Ford diagnosed Kendall with a dog bite, crush injury to trunk, contusion, laceration and puncture wound. Ford prescribed Augmentin, an antibiotic ointment, and advised the wound be rechecked within three to four days.
Woolman contacted the Salem Police Department in order to check on Phineas’ rabies vaccination, according to an incident report signed by patrolman Joe Cochran. In that report Cochran stated that Woolman did not wish to press charges for the bite. Cochran contacted Patrick Sanders by phone to request Phineas’ shot records. Sanders could not produce them, so according to the report Cochran and Code Officer Jarred Brown responded to the Sanders’ residence and took custody of Phineas. According to police and court records, Patrick Sanders was not able to produce shot records for Phineas at any time.
Salem City ordinance Sec. 5-15 defines a vicious dog as “any dog with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury to, or otherwise threaten the safety of human beings or domestic animals.”
Sec. 5-58 outlines the disposition of vicious dogs. A hearing must be heard within 30 days of the accusation, and a hearing examiner will be appointed by the mayor. In the case of Phineas, the mayor, Gary Brown, appointed himself.
“I just didn’t want this to fall on anyone else,” said Brown.
According to Brown, two other dogs had been disposed of for being vicious that year, of differing breeds. Brown said that in the case of Phineas, he based his decision to put the dog down on photos taken of Kendall Woolman’s injury, and police reports citing three prior bites by Phineas.
The initial police report states that besides the June 22 incident, Phineas bit Kendall previously June 6 or 7, and Kendall’s older sister, Alexus, May 23. Woolman describes the marks from those bites as “teeth scrapes.” Records of testimony from Alexus Woolman confirm that Phineas did “nibble” on her arm before Patrick Sanders hit him across the nose.
Based on the reports, Brown ruled on March 16 that Phineas was vicious and would be destroyed, according to Brown. He said the previous bite records brought him to that conclusion. City ordinance 5-58 allows for a vicious dog to be retained by its owner within city limits if certain safety provisions are met and a yearly fee of $250 is paid.
After the mayor’s decision was heard, Phineas, who was being housed at the Dent County Animal Welfare Society shelter, was missing from his kennel. According to court records Cochran questioned Patrick Sanders and examined the outside of the Sanders residence but did not see Phineas. Phineas was returned to the DCAWS shelter the next day. It was because of this incident, city administrator Clayton Lucas said, that Phineas was moved to the Dent County Fire Protection District, at the time an undisclosed location.
“He had been stolen once; we didn’t want it to happen again. We would be liable if something happened to him, or if he harmed someone else,” said Lucas.
The Sanders enlisted the services of Rolla attorney Ginger Joyner and filed an injunction against the city to stay Phineas’ order of execution. According to court records Phineas’ cause and testimony was heard on March 14, and on March 15 Judge Scott Bernstein with the 42nd Circuit Court ruled that Phineas was, indeed, a vicious dog.
A restraining order was filed against the city by the Sanders’ new attorney, Joe Simon, St. Louis, April 22, to prevent the dog from being destroyed. Simon works on a pro bono basis in conjunction with The Lexus Project, an animal advocacy group based out of New York, according to Simon.
Simon has used social media as a platform to distribute videos showing the location Phineas was kept after being moved from the DCAWS shelter. During one 26-second video posted to facebook May 10 Simon barks at the door, and you hear a dog return a bark. During another video posted May 11 Simon shows the door to the fire station and describes the basement within. Fire chief Brad Nash said that no one had been allowed to, at that point, see where Phineas was kept for security purposes.
April 18 supporters of Phineas took to social media in the form of Save Phineas, a facebook page administered by The Lexus Project, according to the page. Save Phineas has over 6,600 followers, and frequently posts pictures labeling Brown, Bernstein, city attorney Wm. Camm Seay and fire chief Brad Nash as animal abusers. Page administrators have compiled lists of city officials’ private phone numbers and urges their followers to call day and night. Scrolling through comments and photos you will frequently find political threats, defamatory comments and threats of violence, all directed at city officials and members of the press. Lucas, Nash, Brown and the biting victim’s family all confirm that they have had phone calls containing threats of violence and threats of death against them, and in some cases, their families, since their private information has been published.
These threats stem from allegations on the page from administrators and the public that while at the DCFPD fire station Phineas was tortured, starved, forced to stay in his own feces, and never allowed outside. Due to the knowledge of his whereabouts, Phineas was moved again Thursday to a new undisclosed location.
Brown and other city of Salem officials claim that at this point they have no control over Phineas’ ultimate fate, but rather it is an issue for the court.
“If the court returns the dog to (the family), I would just be tickled,” said Brown.
Bernstein denied Simon’s motion for a new trial and for a new judge. The Lexus Project by way of their facebook page is claiming bias on Bernstein’s part, saying that he holds a conflict of interest due to the fact that Seay’s wife, Sarah, works for Bernstein. According to Bernstein he does not have any direct employees. All those he works with are employees of the 42nd Circuit Court.
At this time Simon has entered a new cause against the city, with Gary Brown, et al as the respondent. No date has been set by the court.
According to a May 10 letter written and signed by the Salem city clerk, Mary Happel, to date, the city of Salem has paid $2,425 in attorney’s fees to Seay on the case of Sanders vs. the City of Salem alone.