A Cook County judge on Monday said a animal cruelty case will start over, ruling it a mistrial on grounds that federal extortion charges recently filed against the state’s key witness have prevented the defendant from getting a fair trial.
Cook County sheriff’s police from Dazzle’s Painted Pastures Animal Rescue and Sanctuary more than a year ago after a former employee complained of poor conditions. The raid, spearheaded by Officer Larry Draus, netted Painted Pastures owner Dawn Hamill more than 30 charges related to animal cruelty and neglect.
Draus, an officer with the Cook County animal crimes unit and police vice unit, was from a federal informant posing as a trafficker for contraband cigarettes. The Cook County Sheriff's Office had been cooperating with federal authorities in an undercover probe of Draus and his son—also indicted—since summer 2011.
On March 7, 2012, , prosecutors presented evidence on a third of the charges that relied heavily on Draus’ word, as well as photographs and video the officer took of Painted Pastures and some of its animals.
Draus testified 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.
Prosecutors argued Monday that the charges now facing Draus are unrelated to Hamill’s case and should therefore have no bearing on his testimony, which was corroborated by several other witnesses.
Hamill’s lead attorney, Purav Bhatt, said the charges—though filed after Draus testified on March 7—impacted his ability to properly cross examine Draus and was therefore a Constitutional issue of due process. The indictment, he noted, alleges that Draus was under investigation by federal and county authorities, and was participating in illegal activity, while helping the state build a case against Hamill.
Cook County Judge Christopher Donnelly sided with the defense on the matter of due process, but he denied Bhatt’s motions to dismiss both the charges against Hamill and the search warrant that led to those charges.
Throughout the first day of trial Bhatt challenged Draus' credibility as a witness, showing, in one instance, how a food bowl which Draus' report said didn’t exist in a dead cat’s cage could be seen in the officer’s own video.
The since Draus' arrest in March.
A spokesperson for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office declined to say whether Draus would be used as a witness when a bench trial begins anew on May 2.
In court, Donnelly read aloud an anonymous letter he recently received defending Draus and asking that the officer’s testimony against Hamill be allowed to stand because “two wrongs don’t make a right.” The judge described the letter as “ridiculous” and “outrageous” and put it on record, he said, so that it would not happen again.
Find lots more Painted Pastures news on Tinley Patch. If you'd like us to let you know when we publish more info about this case, click the green "keep me posted" button immediately below this story on the right-hand side.