FOX 4 Investigation uncovers delays, roadblocks in deadly dog mauling investigation

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Photo of dog mauling victim Antoinette Brown provided by her family.

A FOX 4 Investigation has uncovered new documents, including DNA test results, that explain why no one could be held criminally accountable for the fatal dog mauling of Antoinette Brown in May 2016.

Police records reviewed by FOX 4 reveal critical delays and roadblocks in collecting DNA evidence that could have linked specific dogs to the attacks.

The attack happened on May 2, 2016 just after 4:30 in the morning in an empty lot on Rutledge Street near Trunk Avenue in South Dallas.

Two witnesses who called 911 heard the attack, but did not see the dogs mauling the victim.

Neighbors later told investigators they believed the dogs all lived at a nearby home on Spring Street and had been loose and terrorizing the neighborhood in the days leading up to the attack.

Dallas police turned to forensic testing and DNA samples to try and link seven dogs seized from the Spring Street home to the attack on Brown.

But months later, in October, Dallas police announced that detectives were unable to link the dogs to the attack through DNA testing and closed the case without filing criminal charges against the owner.

FOX 4 decided to further investigate the case after police declined to answer questions in October about why a DNA match could not be made. Members of the public also raised questions to FOX 4 about why the dogs were euthanized when DNA evidence did not link them to the attack.

To answer these questions, FOX 4 filed an Open Records Request for the entire police case file on October 31, 2016.*

The records FOX 4 received include documents, e-mail chains and timelines from the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Animal Services (DAS). Dallas police also released more than a dozen audio files, including field interviews and phone calls recorded by the detective, 911 calls and 311 calls. FOX 4 also reviewed more than 100 photos and the victim’s autopsy report.

Here are the facts those records revealed, presented in chronological order.

May 2, 2016: According to a DPD timeline, DPD officers responded to the 911 call shortly after 4:30 am and completed an injured persons report. First responders took Brown to the hospital, where she passed away one week later.

At 1:30 p.m., more than nine hours after the attack, DPD Detective Todd Haecker and his partner were dispatched to Baylor Medical Center. Hospital staff had requested assistance with a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) forensic exam, because the victim was found without several pieces of her clothing.

In a later recording dated May 17, 2016, the detective discussed the case over the phone with Dr. Melinda Merck, a forensic veterinarian.

The detective said in that recording that, in an effort to save Brown’s life, at least one medical procedure was done on Brown before the SANE exam was done.

“So we have her DNA, and we even possibly have some dog saliva with that, the bite marks, but I’m not optimistic about that, because the hospital did try frantically to save her life,” the detective said. “So, I’m sure that they sterilized, re-sterilized and sterilized all the bites.”

At 2:30 p.m., more than 10 hours after the attack, the detective and his partner arrived at the scene of the attack. Physical Evidence Section (PES) investigators also arrived to process the scene, collect evidence and take photos.

“It had poured down rain, so the field was literally a swamp. The only reason we found it was because of the strewn clothing,” the detective said in a phone call. “It’s a mess all the way around.”

Crime scene photos show several pieces of evidence laying in the muddy field.

Police collected the evidence, including a pair of grey sweatpants, an orange jacket, a black Nike shoe, a blanket and two hair pieces.

May 6, 2016: Four full days after the attack, Dallas Animal Services seized and quarantined six dogs from the Spring Street home. Dallas police sent PES investigators to the animal shelter that night to examine the dogs for forensic evidence.

In the phone call with Dr. Merck, the detective explained, “PES guys were able to go out [to the shelter] with a black light. They were able to observe what was believed to be biological fluid on two of the six dogs…on their snouts and on their paws… They swabbed the nose and paws.”

Those samples were sent to the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences (SWIFS) crime lab in Dallas for testing.

Also on May 6, in a phone conversation with the detective, the dogs’ owner said she didn’t want the dogs back and gave permission for the shelter to euthanize them.

May 7, 2016: Dallas Animal Services obtained a warrant to keep the dogs past the standard 10-day quarantine period.

Sometime before May 9, 2016, Dallas Animal Services returned to the home on Spring Street and seized a seventh dog that was not present when the first six dogs were surrendered.

May 9, 2016: Antoinette Brown passed away at Baylor Medical Center as a result of her injuries.

That same day, police collected hair samples from all seven dogs at Dallas Animal Services.

May 10, 2016: DPD contacted DAS to have buccal swabs (saliva) taken from all seven dogs.

May 11, 2016: The SWIFS lab confirmed to police that blood samples from two of the six dogs yielded “negative results for human blood.” In an e-mail, a police sergeant explained that the blood is “likely animal blood from another dog, cat, squirrel, etc.”

May 17, 2016: Jody Jones, then-director of DAS, e-mailed police asking if the dogs could be euthanized. (Jones has since been demoted, but remains employed with the city.)

DPD Deputy Chief Robert Sherwin (who has since left the department) wrote back, “I understand you have a capacity issue but according to both the DA and city attorneys, the animals should not be euthanized at this time.”

DPD Lt. Israel Herrera sent another e-mail to Jones that day stating that dental casts need to be made of the dogs before they are euthanized.

May 19, 2016: Kris Sweckard, the head of Code Compliance which oversees DAS, e-mailed Deputy Chief Sherwin. The e-mail states: “Space is a big issue at the shelter and we need to outcome these dogs asap.”

Later that day, Deputy Chief Sherwin gave DAS written permission to euthanize the dogs, after explaining that dental casts will not be made after consulting with a forensic odontologist.

“We have spoken to [the forensic odontologist]. He has told us that bite marks will only tell us that the bite was from a dog or human. The rest of bite mark science is considered very unreliable.

We are giving permission for the 7 dogs seized from 3307 Spring be euthanized at this time. Because we have DNA swabs from each animal, we will not need the bodies preserved.”

May 25, 2016: The detective noted that he reminded the Dallas crime lab staff to send all evidence to the University of California, Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory once they completed their portion of the testing. 

August 25, 2016: All physical evidence in the case arrives at UC Davis, including the clothing found at the scene, the victim’s DNA and DNA samples from all seven dogs.

September 6, 2016: UC Davis notified the detective in an e-mail that, out of all of the physical evidence submitted, only three dog hairs found in the lining of the orange jacket would be worth testing.

A quick primer on dog DNA testing:

According to an explanation the UC Davis lab director gave the detective in an e-mail, there are two kinds of DNA that can be tested: nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA.

Nuclear DNA is found in the root of the hair or in saliva deposited on the hair. It can be used to identify individual dogs.

Mitochondrial DNA is found in the hair itself, but cannot identify individual dogs. It can only identify different “types” of DNA and allow scientists to conclude what percentage of the dog population shares that type.

UC Davis examined the hairs and concluded that “there doesn’t seem to be nuclear DNA present on the [three] hairs.” The lab did, however, “obtain mitochondrial DNA from two of the three hairs.”

October 21, 2016: The UC Davis lab concluded that the two hairs had the same mitochondrial DNA type. Additionally, DNA samples taken from five of the seven dogs also had the same mitochondrial DNA type. However, that specific type occurs in as many as approximately two percent of dogs in the United States, according to UC Davis.

Additionally, even if nuclear DNA was found and linked individual dogs to the scene, it does not prove the dog committed the attack.

As the UC Davis lab director explained in an e-mail to the detective, “We can’t speak to how the hair was left- the argument could definitely be made that Dog A just happened to walk by, or rolled around at the crime scene after the fact.”

Lastly, on October 31, 2016, Dallas police announced on their blog that “based on the lack of evidence, detectives will be closing the case.”

You can read the full statement here.

How FOX 4 obtained the records for this story:

FOX 4 filed an Open Records Request for the entire police case file on October 31, 2016. Dallas police did not fulfill the request in accordance with the Public Information Act, so FOX 4 filed a complaint to the Texas Attorney General’s Office on January 9, 2017. On January 19, 2017, the Attorney General sent a letter to the City of Dallas, asking them to release the records. On February 1, 2017, police finally released the records to FOX 4.

After reviewing the case, FOX 4 asked police why detectives were not dispatched to the hospital and crime scene until several hours after the attack. FOX 4 also asked why it took four days for the dogs to be quarantined and swabbed for DNA evidence. A police representative declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

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UC Davis DNA Test Results by Vicki Chen on Scribd