City of Mt. Vernon’s loose dog enforcement rankles some residents

By Steve Chapman

In September of 2016, Carrie Sapp was written a citation when her dog, a white pit bull, apparently cornered a postal carrier outside her house. She went to court, pled guilty, and paid the citation.
Though two years have passed since that incident, Sapp said she recently learned other people whose dogs were out of their yards weren’t fined as much as she was. So, during the Mt. Vernon Board of Aldermen meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 25, she came to complain about what she saw was inconsistent enforcement of the city’s animal-at-large ordinance.
“I was curious how much people pay when the city picks up their dogs, so I called them and found out they pay $25 (Sapp’s citation was $65),” she said. “So, I called (Max) Springer. He told me I got fined because it was the second time, so I got a ticket. Then I found out about the other dog that had been called about several times. Eventually the city picked the dog up, and (she) still was never fined.”
During the meeting, Sapp said she felt the way the city was currently enforcing the laws wasn’t equitable.
“I think anyone whom the city actually picks up their dog should get the same ticket I got, period,” she said. “I mean, the city is the one paying for the service, and they shouldn’t pay a little less when the city actually has the dog in their custody. There is no way that the dog is under the control of the owner.”
Sapp also defended the actions of her dog, stating the animal reacted the way it did due to trauma it suffered when Sapp’s son, Kevin Eugene Stafford, was murdered in 2015.
“She was there when my son was murdered,” Sapp said. “The cops had to get his blood off of her; she’s traumatized. They know who she is; she’s very protective of the house.
 They never argued that she got out. She won’t bite people, but she will chase people out of the house.”
“Did the dog bite the letter carrier,” Mayor David Eden asked Sapp.
“She has never bitten anyone,” Sapp replied.
“The letter carrier felt threatened,” City Attorney Bill Petrus said.
“He came to my house, to the front door, which is what the guy who murdered my son did,” Sapp said. “She’s better now.”
Carol Darter, who accompanied Sapp to the meeting, also spoke to the board; she told them about another situation where dogs escaped from their owner.
“They said, ‘Are you going to take care of them?’ And, she said. ‘Yes,’ and so, they said. ‘Okay. We’ll leave them with you.’ So, she put them in her house, and before (the police) even got to their cars, (the dogs) were back out and running around on the street. So, they asked her again, ‘Are you going to take care of them?’ And, she said, ‘Yes.’”
The next day, Darter said, the dogs were picked up by the animal control officer.
“So, in other words, if you want to get rid of a dog, you just let it run loose, the city will pick it up, and they will take it to the Humane Society,” she said.
Eden said he agreed with a lot of what the women were saying.
“I can’t disagree with either of you,” he said. “If there is a dog at large, that person deserves a summons, just like you got.”
“I’m not denying that my dog was at large,” Sapp said. “My question is, how can the city have a dog in their custody, and … (the owners) don’t get the same fine I got?”
Eden asked David Hubert, chief of police, to make a summons part of the police department’s operations when they pick up a dog at large.
“Obviously, (Sapp’s) right,” he said. “It is a dog at large.”
“The first time, we try to give them a warning; the second time, they’ll get a ticket,” Hubert replied.
Sapp also complained to the board that when she was given the citation, the officer refused to accept her military ID as identification.
“(The officer) made me walk back into the house to get my driver’s license as identification because he wanted my address,” she said. “And I was like, ‘We’re standing at my house.’ You know, it was harassment.”
Eden then asked Sapp if she would pay an unpaid utility bill to the city, which he said was $1,500. Sapp replied that she would not.
“Is there some reason for that?” Eden asked.
“Is there some reason you would bring this up in a meeting here?” Sapp replied.
“You’re here,” Eden replied. “There’s $1,500 that you owe us.”
“There was a leak under there … and I tried contacting the landlord, and couldn’t,” Sapp said.
“(It) seemed like a legitimate question to me,” Eden said.
Sapp then asked why Eden hadn’t made an appointment with her when she called city hall.
“Is there a reason that when I called up here to talk to you, you were out of town and wouldn’t make an appointment to see me about the dogs?” she asked.
“Did you identify yourself?” Eden asked.
“I did to (City Clerk Shannon Neely), yes,” Sapp said. “She said you were out of town, and she had no idea when you would be back. She said she didn’t want to take a message, that she said I would have to address that here.” Neely replied that this wasn’t true. Eden backed her.
“That part I will dispute,” he said. “She would take a message. The message I got was that you wouldn’t identify yourself, and that’s why. If you want an appointment with me, I’ll make one for you. I was visiting my son in Washington D.C.; this is not a full-time job.”
“Oh. I understand that,” Sapp said. “I asked when you would be back; she didn’t offer to make an appointment. She had no clue when you would be back …”
“She’s not my secretary,” Eden replied. “She doesn’t manage my calendar. It might be a good idea if she did; I probably could use a little help, but nobody (manages my calendar) but me.”
Returning to the original topic of discussion, Eden thanked Sapp for coming to the meeting and reiterated that he agreed with a lot of what she was saying.
“I appreciate your point of view, and I’ve expressed that I think you’re right,” he said. “If someone has a dog in custody, they deserve a summons.”
In other business, the board passed a bill authorizing a contract between the city and Anderson Engineering for engineering services related to Gibbs Park. During his report, City Administrator Max Springer said issues at 616 King Street and 905 Fillmore had been taken care of. The owners of both houses had been the subject of nuisance abatement hearings held during the board’s meeting on Tuesday, July 24.
Springer also announced that City Code Enforcement Officer Bruce Conway was retiring at the end of the year and asked for permission to advertise for someone to fill the vacancy. The Board OK’d the advertisement.
In his report, Hubert announced that Ryan Newkirk, the city’s animal control officer, was also leaving, and asked for permission to advertise for someone to fill the vacancy. The board likewise OK’d the advertisement.


Lawrence County Record

312 S. Hickory St.
Mt. Vernon, MO, 65712


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