Phineas case could linger for months - Local News

Phineas case could linger for months

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Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 11:00 am

Phineas, the yellow lab sentenced to death after biting a young girl, will remain embroiled in litigation for up to six months, according to Wm. Camm Seay, Salem city attorney.

The existing court judgment, entered by Judge Scott Bernstein of the 42nd district circuit court April 10, upheld Mayor Gary Brown’s decision declaring the dog vicious, and ordering him to be put down, according to court documents.

“We have an existing court order, the court ratified the mayor’s decision, and we have to abide by that,” said Seay.

Joe Simon of St. Louis, the attorney for Patrick and Amber Sanders, Phineas’ owner, says that is not so. According to Simon, if an agreement is reached as to the fate of the dog, the litigation stops.

“They can vacate the order,” Simon said.

City Ordinance 5-58 would allow the dog to be kept in the city limits with certain safety restrictions, and with the owner paying a $250 yearly fee. The city ordinance does not require the dog be put down, even if declared vicious, but Brown stated the reason he opted to have the dog destroyed was the information that there had been two previous bites to the children. Simon has not argued for this alternative sentencing option.

Brown told The Salem News May 13 that he would be “tickled” if the dog was released.  In an interview May 23 Brown said that if he had information that there had not been previous bites by the dog, he would reconsider the dog’s sentencing.

In an email to Simon supplied to The Salem News, Wayna Woolman, mother of the biting victim, stated she may have misinterpreted previous marks left on her children by Phineas.

“I am aware that there was only technically one bite that occurred, that’s why I was even surprised with the ruling that they gave,” she wrote. “The other two incidents were witnessed by Patrick or Amber and they disciplined him, so I didn’t even think twice about them. Dogs jump and play and some do it harder than others.”

Woolman also stated that she did not attend a council meeting held May 6 because of threats that had been made against her and her family.  The Woolman family also issued an official letter dated April 24 asking that Phineas be moved out of the city, given proper veterinarian care, vaccinations, and be neutered, instead of being euthanized.

 “Had (the Sanders and the Woolmans) come to me for this conversation before the attorneys compounded things, this might have gone differently,” Brown said when advised of the Woolmans’ stance.

Bernstein’s ruling has been appealed to the Southern District Appellate court by Simon. Action has not yet been taken by that court. Seay says it is this appeal that prevents the city from vacating the order to have the dog euthanized, or finding alternative sentencing.

“The appeals process has circumvented the option for an agreement (about the fate of the dog),” said Seay.

Seay said the cause in appellate court would be handled by the assistant city attorney. The assistant city attorney is Scott Killen, according to city clerk Mary Happel.

As Phineas works his way through the court system a support group, comprised mostly of people from out of state, have rallied around his cause.  In a letter to the Salem Chamber of Commerce from the group Friends of Phineas, his supporters state that they will be instituting a “boycott Salem, MO” campaign.

Alternatively, city administrator Clayton Lucas says the city has fielded phone calls threatening the life of the dog. Lucas says that is one reason that after the dog was stolen from and then returned to the Dent County Animal Welfare Society shelter, Phineas was moved to an undisclosed location. Lucas said that since the city was liable for the dog, they did not want anything to happen to it.

According to Salem resident Jackie Overby, who stated she is a friend of the Sanders and chosen to speak on their behalf at the initial hearing in 2012, she was approached by Lucas at her place of business on May 14 and told that Phineas was going to be moved back to the DCAWS shelter.

“He looked at me, smiled, and said ‘whatever happens, happens,’ ” Overby stated.

Overby then called Brown and recorded his conversation, during which he said he was ok if the dog went missing. Never during the tape does the mayor confirm that the dog would be at the shelter, or confirm there was a plan to have Overby take Phineas.

“I never conspired to have the dog stolen. If he was stolen, though, we would not pursue the issue any farther,” Brown said.

Lucas, who is acting as the dog’s custodian, said there was discussion on what would happen if the dog went back to the shelter, but no plan or conspiracy.

“Jackie asked that the dog be moved out to the shelter, and that it could just disappear and it would be done,” Lucas said. “I told her we cannot and will not do that. I jokingly told the mayor about it, but we would be liable if something happened to that dog. I told her that was not going to happen.”

Overby denied that she asked that the dog be moved to the shelter.

During the Department of Agriculture’s inspection of Phineas’ kennel on May 13, plans were made to move the dog to a veterinarian’s office as soon as possible. Code Officer Jarred Brown stated that same day that he had already confirmed that Dr. J.J. Tune, DVM, would board Phineas if needed.

“The only reason he didn’t get moved (to Dr. Tune’s) that day is that we had to get bids and choose the lowest cost option,” said Lucas.

At this time Phineas is being kept at the offices of Dr. Tune. As a private business, visitors can be restricted. The Sanders have been to visit Phineas. The Sanders and their attorney are on the agenda to speak at the board of aldermen meeting 7 p.m. today (Tuesday).

  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • Jill Rhodes posted at 6:19 pm on Tue, Jun 4, 2013.

    Rerabo Posts: 1

    Come on, Salem. You all look like fools...all over the world!!! Find your voice!! Get Phineas set free. Why are you sitting on your hands. If for some insane reason you don't agree, if you just let the dog be set free, you will at least be left alone. I live in St Louis and you are giving the whole state a bad name. If you don't act quickly, this story is on the brink of going national...Big. No one will EVER leave your town alone....ever! I would take action quickly, if I were you.

  • Beverly Stevens posted at 8:38 am on Mon, Jun 3, 2013.

    Caregiver Posts: 1

    Sent to every news outlet I could find.

    There is a dog named Phineas in the Missouri that has a story that needs to be investigated and reported on.  Elements of corruption, animal cruelty, whistleblowing (a fireman was fired for trying to help the dog), social media, and animal welfare/regulations are involved.  

    This is a human story, in the end.  How a people treat animals is a glimpse into how the treat and in this case govern their people, to paraphrase a far better person than I.  The good 'ole boy network is alive and thriving in Missouri and now the world is watching.  Social media is powerful and we aren't looking too good in this case.  

    Please consider this story.

  • STL dog lover posted at 12:38 am on Thu, May 30, 2013.

    STL dog lover Posts: 1

    What does anyone expect from the government in this great state with regards to animal welfare?? This is the same place that protects puppy mill owners. The same state government that overturns a vote in favor of protecting animals. Why would you expect the mayor of a small town in Missouri to be any different? He is just following the leaders... This whole episode from start to finish is ridiculous. The games that the city government has played, the fact that Salem, MO resident's tax money is being wasted in court, and not to mention, a poor dog is languishing in his various 'hiding places'. The humane and sane one in this entire debacle is the vet who has stepped up to help the dog and the family. Thank goodness for one good soul in that entire God forsaken town. 

  • janice garcia posted at 3:59 pm on Wed, May 29, 2013.

    janice garcia Posts: 2

    I think its simple, just vacate the order. The initial ruling was completely out of order, the dog is not vicious, anyone following this from anywhere can see that.  

    Where is proof of the 2 other bites? Not from the same girls? Is there proof then? Killing an animal is a terrible thing.

     I find some comments from Phineas supporters seem as crazy as well, like the bite isn't a dog bite. It looks human. IS it? I mean after looking at the picture it doesn't look like canine teeth did any tearing which is what they do right?  Of course it wasn't a bite only a nip so I guess that crazy theory is wrong. But, a nip isn't vicious is it either?

    It it really seems like the Mayor and folks behind him are doing this to the dog to "teach the owners a lesson", in my opinion, its just as plain as the nose on your face. They want to hurt the owners of the dog. Guess what - you are, and the victim too.  I imagine the area is overrun with negligent dog owners and they just don'
    t know what else to do. 

    How about mandatory community service in Shelters for owner who don't have shots up to date & are involved in a nip incident. Or mandatory community service at a vet or kennel for dog owners who let their dogs run loose (repeat offenders).Really, there must be something other than destroying a perfectly decent family pet!


  • Susan Freuler posted at 11:16 am on Wed, May 29, 2013.

    Sfreuler Posts: 3

    How come this site says Welcome to Discussion, but you see no comments? This Salem News is not biased to one corrupt Mayor and his friends is it? I would hope not. I am so saddened that this could take another 6months for the dog Phineas to find out his fate. Hasn't 11 months been enough? This is just crazy what is going on.

    Justice for Phineas!

  • alice tanner posted at 7:44 pm on Tue, May 28, 2013.

    alicetanner Posts: 1

    One can only hope that the legal system will somehow work to a speedy and just conclusion.

  • Jon Ogden posted at 5:27 pm on Tue, May 28, 2013.

    Oakden Posts: 3

    Is this just an attempt to up the attorney's fees or is it simply Brown's vindictive agenda?

  • Susan Freuler posted at 3:35 pm on Tue, May 28, 2013.

    Sfreuler Posts: 3

    If the Mayor of Salem was misinformed on how many bites this dog made and knows the truth now, then the dog should be spared and he should just drop this. It is also not fair to the tax paying citizens of Salem for them to continue this propaganda. Enough already Mayor Brown! 

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