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City wins dog shooting case

By Melissa Crowe
Sept. 4, 2013 at 4:04 a.m.

Francie Byrne stands outside the courtroom of Justice of the Peace Court Precinct 1.  Byrne sued the City of Victoria over a dispute regarding her son's dog, which was shot by police officers responding to a call at her home on Taos Street.

A nearly yearlong lawsuit against the city of Victoria for a $1,400 vet bill came to a close Wednesday.

The case hinged upon the definition of "take care of it," and what two women, Sgt. Eline Moya and Francie Byrne, intended and understood.

"It's not that Boo was shot; the point is the city made a promise; and I did not get it in handwriting - I got a handshake," said Byrne, who represented herself.

Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Richard Castillo dismissed Byrne's case after hearing an hour of testimony and arguments.

Byrne sought payment from the city to cover vet bills after police officers shot her dog in her backyard while responding to a burglar alarm April 4.

She has 14 days to appeal the decision.

Castillo, a self-declared "animal lover," said he understood the emotional weight of the situation.

"Had there never been an alarm, never been a police officer, then there'd never been a dog shot," he said. "The dog was shot because of the alarm."

Lee Lewis, an attorney with Hatley and Lewis of Victoria, represented the city in the case.

Police officers responded to alarms at Byrne's home 25 times, he said.

Lewis maintained from his opening statements that Byrne "had a misunderstanding with the city."

After the incident last April, Byrne, her family and a close friend met with Sgt. Eline Moya to fill out paperwork.

"She said they are so sorry this happened; the city of Victoria will take care of the vet bills," Byrne recalled. "She said they would take care of everything."

However, Moya, who has worked with the police department since 1999, said she has no authority to make such claims and would not make them.

Moya said the only thing she told Byrne was that she was sorry the shooting happened and that she would take care of the paperwork for the claim, which was denied by the city's insurance carrier.

"There is no way I could say we will take care of that - as if I had a checkbook in my hand," Moya said.

From the witness stand Wednesday, Moya called the visit with Byrne "a courtesy."

Tracey Sage, a witness in the case, recalled the conversation as being "clear as a bell."

"They said they'd pay for everything," Sage said.

After Castillo made his decision, Byrne thanked the veterinarian who saved the dog's life.

Byrne said she would not appeal the case.

"A handshake doesn't mean squat anymore," she said.

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