A county judge heard evidence Wednesday against the owner of a Tinley Park animal sanctuary, denying the defense's efforts to impeach state witnesses, in what could be the first of three trials on accusations of animal cruelty and neglect.
Early on Feb. 11, 2011, Cook County sheriff’s police from the animal crimes unit, accompanied by local animal control officers and members of the Animal Welfare League (AWL) in Chicago Ridge, confiscated more than 100 animals from Dazzle’s Painted Pastures Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in unincorporated Tinley Park.
The raid was triggered on the word of a former employee and netted its owner, Dawn Hamill, more than 30 charges in total.
Prosecutors called six witnesses in front of a Cook County Judge Christopher J. Donnelly Wednesday, several of whom were present during the raid and described finding a dead cat, a dead miniature horse and eight sickly puppies in an unheated garage, their food and bodies matted with urine and feces. For hours the courtroom was redolent with words like “horribly” and “atrocious.”
At the center of the state’s case was Officer Larry Draus, of the Cook County animal crimes unit, whose credibility defense attorney Purav Bhatt repeatedly tried to undermine. He called Draus’ handling of the case “sloppy,” showing, in one instance, how a food bowl which Draus' report said didn’t exist in the dead cat’s cage could be seen in the officer’s own video.
In another instance, Bhatt asked Draus how the puppies could have been energetic-looking and sickly at the same time—to which Draus smirked and said, “They were very happy to see us.”
Photos of the cat showed a crusty gray-colored substance building around its eyes and mouth, which Draus explained was gravel stuck to a diseased discharge.
Several eyewitnesses, including Linda Estrada, executive director of AWL, testified that the dogs had been chewing the installation around their cage, embedding their skin with fiberglass. According to Crystal Broccado, by the time she and other AWL employees finished giving the dogs several baths, their own hands and arms were burning.
Prosecutors presented a report from AWL veterinarians who treated all eight of the dogs for parvo, a virus that attacks an animal's intestinal tract.
Greg Papaleo, a retired officer for the Cook County animal control unit, testified he had visited Painted Pastures a few days before the raid on a routine animal transfer. Though the animals in one of Hamill’s barns were subjected to “subzero” weather, he said he regrettably cut her a break on her promise to fix the heater.
None of the witnesses could say with certainty how the animals had died, but Christine Kelly, the woman whose tip led to the search warrant, testified that she had seen the miniature horse alive two days before the raid.
In his opening statement, Bhatt called Kelly a “disgruntled employee” and blamed her for bringing too many animals into the rescue. She, however, testified that in January 2011 she had taken a trip to Missouri, on Hamill’s order, to pick up a couple dozen dogs for an annual adoption event that was to begin Feb. 12.
She claimed Hamill decided against bringing a veterinarian out to look at the horse, which had stopped eating and drinking. She also said she opted to not test the puppies for disease because there wasn’t money in the budget.
Though she continued to lend a hand when Hamill wasn't around, Kelly quit a few days later because Hamill was being “unreasonable,” she said. Since the raid, Kelly has filed several harassment complaints with local police alleging her former boss was stalking her.
“Some of these animals met their demise because of the defendant’s cruel treatment,” assistant state’s attorney Sarah Naughton said. “These conditions did not occur overnight.”
Bhatt, on the other hand, painted Hamill as a caretaker with good intentions, one who saw the taking in of sick animals as “the mission of her life.”
He’ll have an opportunity to prove that claim when the trial resumes March 19.
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