Should jurors hear about pit bulls in Happy Valley assault case?
A judge is being asked to exclude attempted-murder evidence about a woman's dogs on the basis that jurors might be prejudiced against the assault suspect if they learned she kept pit bulls in Happy Valley prior to allegedly shooting a Gladstone police sergeant in November 2021.
Yvette Lares Garcia (aka Yvette Pando), 37, allegedly shot Gladstone Police Sgt. Travis Hill at her home in Happy Valley during a welfare check that she requested for her dogs while on the way to jail. Hill had arrested Garcia after police said they saw her commit a traffic violation in the city of Gladstone.
During the traffic stop, Gladstone officers discovered that Garcia had active felony warrants for her arrest from the state of Texas for embezzlement charges. Before going to Clackamas County Jail, Garcia requested that Hill and Gladstone Officer Clement Lau stop by her home to check on her dogs, identified as "full or partial American Staffordshire terriers" in court documents.
American Staffordshire terriers are also known as pit bulls, which have been the subject of various exclusionary regulations in jurisdictions nationwide based on the perception that these dogs originally bred for fighting are more violent or aggressive than other types of dog breeds.
In court documents, Garcia's defense attorney Michael Romano asked the judge to exclude evidence or any questions from prosecutors about the breed of Garcia's dogs, which Romano said might lead to incorrect assumptions about the propensity for aggression or violence on the part of dogs or their owner.
"Law enforcement witnesses will attempt to use outdated, stereotypical and what is sometimes called 'breedism' (an equivalent to human racism for dog breeds) to demonize so-called 'pit bulls,'" Romano wrote to the Clackamas County judge.
Garcia's defense attorney said the implication of bringing up "pit bulls" at trial would be that dogs' human owner had purchased or adopted the dogs for their aggressiveness, potential for violence or intimidation.
"Unless there is qualified expert testimony about the specific breed of Ms. Garcia's companions, no law enforcement officer should be able to give the lay opinion that this breed of dog is any more aggressive or dangerous than any other. Such testimony would of course be outrageous if a law enforcement officer attempted to make stereotypes about humans based on country of origin or race," Romano wrote.
While they were checking on her dogs at Garcia's residence near Causey Avenue, according to the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office, Garcia was able to break away from officers and run into the house, where she retrieved a handgun.
"She began firing and struck Sergeant Hill in the leg," wrote Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris Owen. "Sergeant Hill was able to return fire and render self-aid to his gunshot wound. Officer Lau also was able to return fire, and Garcia was shot."
Garcia's injuries were described as "serious but stable," and she next faces an Oct. 5 hearing on what types of evidence will be allowed at the trial. Scheduled to begin Oct. 11, the trial itself is expected to last two weeks.
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