ANIMAL WATCH-In a hostile and childish Facebook rant on September 26, Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette publicly attacked the integrity and insulted the competence of her own animal control officers,
who made an experienced and professional determination that an animal needed to be removed immediately from its owner for its health/safety and to receive immediate veterinary attention.
GM Barnette had no experience in law-enforcement before becoming the head of this agency, and publicly expressed aversion to LAAS engaging in animal-protection activities at her confirmation in 2010. Yet, she posted the following on a public Facebook page, and it can be seen on Friends of the West Valley Animal Shelter:
Brenda Barnette. . .What is ludicrous is that the officers had seen the horse multiple times and he was improving according to the written reports. Who ever [sic] decided he needed to be seized at the end of a day without notifying management about it made a mistake that we had to scramble to correct. Luckily LAPD allowed us to use one of their stables temporarily. The horse is fine, has been seen by a horse vet who did not find a lot of issues. He needed a farrier and we had his hooves trimmed.
BRENDA - YOUR BAD JUDGMENT IS SHOWING, AGAIN!
Barnette heads one of the largest animal control departments in the U.S. after coming to LA from a small humane society in Seattle.
She is also the person who shut down two municipal animal shelters during the COVID-19 crisis and now wants to turn over the badly needed shelter spaces at the West Valley shelter to “rescue groups” and a rental/eviction-assistance organization, and have stray animals taken in and kept by strangers (Finders,Keepers Law) rather than impounded for the owners to find them.
Whatever prompted Barnette to promote her own bad judgment as expertise and throw her employees under the bus should be closely examined -- and probably will be -- in court.
The City may now be subject to a claim of unlawful seizure and increased liability because the chief of the animal-law enforcement department of the City announced publicly that her officers made “a mistake that we had to scramble to correct” before the animal-cruelty case was even presented to City or County prosecutors. Ouch!
And the Los Angeles Police Department has been made a party to this by asking them to take the horse.
DID LAPD KNOW THIS WAS AN EVIDENCE ANIMAL?
Barnette does not mention the LAPD being informed that this horse had been seized as evidence in a criminal investigation (animal cruelty).
Did the LAPD it agree to be included in the chain of custody, which entails serious responsibilities -- or was the Police Department asked to “help out” because Barnette has closed both shelters (West Valley and North Central) that do have space for large animals? This request and agreement would seem to require authorization from top management (GM Brenda Barnette or Assistant GM Tammy Watson.)
Did LAPD agree to take an animal that was illegally seized, according to Barnette?
A LEGAL EXPERT’S OPINION
A local legal expert warned, “The danger in executives of law enforcement agencies making public comments on pending investigations that could lead to criminal charges is that all public statements made by law enforcement are imputed to the prosecutor—that means they are given value and assumed to be true.”
“Prosecutors are strictly limited in the comments they can make publicly regarding pending or future criminal cases. Statements outside those boundaries—regardless whether they were made by the prosecutor or someone in law enforcement—can end an otherwise successful prosecution.”
“Statements that criticize or undermine the investigation may give grounds to defense arguments that otherwise would not have existed. This is especially true when the executive or manager isn't fully informed and the criticism of the investigation or evidence is not accurate. All statements potentially hinder prosecution by affecting the ability to empanel an unbiased jury.”
HAS WEST VALLEY SHELTER STABLE AREA BECOME A FIRE HAZARD?
With so much concern now about the prospect of a serious fire in Los Angeles, why are the Mayor and LA Fire Department not demanding that the weeds be cut at the seriously overgrown West Valley shelter barn/turnout area? (See photos here.)
The rumor is that the seized horse was taken to the West Valley shelter first, which Barnette had assured officers during COVID-19 Zoom meetings was available for emergency impounds of horses or livestock and could -- and should -- have been quickly cleared of the large area of unabated weeds.
Why, then, did Barnette order the animal immediately moved to the LAPD Burbank facility -- outside the City of Los Angeles -- when LAAS has its own stable? We know about Barnette’s “reconstitution” plan for the shelter, but is there more that is being hidden? Is there any other reason she does not want employees at this location?
Apparently, the LA City General Services Department has been busy painting and preparing the inside of the WV shelter for someone else -- non-profit “rescue” groups -- at taxpayers’ expense. That means there must be various inspectors and maintenance supervisors visiting the property. It’s not possible that they could be unaware of the dried brush. And it’s their responsibility to report dangers on City property.
Isn’t there an obligation for all General Managers of municipal departments to assure the City does not cause a fire?
BARNETTE MOVES HORSE TO DOG PLAY YARD
If LAPD knowingly accepted responsibility for an evidence animal and agreed to provide safety and care, why did Barnette have it moved a few days later to the East Valley animal shelter’s dog play area, where the ground cover is mud, dirt and grass (like any yard with a sprinkler) and not appropriate for a horse, especially if the animal had serious hoof overgrowth that was being trimmed by a farrier?
A makeshift corral for the horse’s safety was constructed with piping and a temporary cover for this very large horse, while temperatures reached over 100 degrees daily.
In order to get the horse to the dog play yard at East Valley, it had to be walked through the shelter, which means dozens of dogs were barking and jumping at him. Horses are prey animals. It is torturous to put them in close proximity to predators.
However, the very skilled and experienced employees and officers at the shelter reportedly led him, not only through the shelter, but also through several doors/gateways that are designed for dogs and humans, not for a 17-hand horse, which is his reported size. (For the purpose of comparison, the large draft horses, such as, Clydesdales, measure an average of 16 to 18 hands.)
Why would Brenda Barnette -- supposedly an avid horse lover -- knowingly and intentionally put an animal through this, when the West Valley yard -- covered with decomposed granite -- could quickly have been cleaned while the horse was with LAPD and would have provided a safe, suitable location for him to recover and/or be held until a decision was made about this case? (Ironically, in an August 21 interview on LACityView35, Barnette boasted that her horses are cooled by fans in their barn during hot weather.)
The horse is still in the East Valley dog play yard, which also limits the amount of exercise that can be provided for kenneled canines.
Is this the type of treatment of animals that LA taxpayers expect -- or will accept -- from LA Animal Services Department, for which they are paying a $43-million annual budget?
There is something very strange about this arrangement and the fact that the Mayor’s office, Councilmember Paul Koretz, who chairs the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, and the LA City Council -- five members of which represent the Valley -- are ignoring or condoning it. Certainly, enough complaints have been raised publicly to make them fully aware.
WERE THE OFFICERS WRONG?
According to a reliable source, the veterinarian at first put this underweight horse on a very high-nutrition diet to try to improve its overall health and has now ordered the shelter to double its food intake. This sounds like a prescription for a horse that has not been adequately fed for some time -- the amount must be increased incrementally to avoid a “hay belly.”
According to Barnette, the officers had been conducting visits because of their concern about the horse and “had noted improvement.” However, that does not preclude the officer’s discovering a reversal in the condition of the animal on the visit that triggered the decision that the horse’s health or life was now in jeopardy. These are trained law-enforcement personnel who deemed it necessary to remove the animal and provide it with immediate care.
Here’s an excerpt from Penal Code Sec. 597.1:
Penal Code Sec. 597.l states (in pertinent part) that, “Every owner, driver or keeper of any animal who permits the animal to be…without proper care and attention is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
“When the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that very prompt action is required to protect the health or safety of the animal or the health or safety of others, the officer shall immediately seize the animal and comply with subdivision (f). In all other cases, the officer shall comply with the provisions of subdivision (g).”
“The full cost of caring for and treating any animal properly seized under this subdivision or pursuant to a search warrant shall constitute a lien on the animal and the animal shall not be returned to its owner until the charges are paid, if the seizure is upheld pursuant to this section.”
“(j) No animal properly seized under this section or pursuant to a search warrant shall be returned to its owner until the owner can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the seizing agency or hearing officer that the owner can and will provide the necessary care for the animal.”
(Read entire Code Section here.)
Did GM Brenda Barnette, who has never been an officer but is still the chief of a law-enforcement agency, put the City, the case, and this animal’s future in jeopardy?
Barnette has not only spoken inappropriately during a criminal investigation, she has posted a public statement that LAAS officers -- for whose training SHE is totally responsible -- are not competent in identifying the elements of animal neglect/cruelty, and must notify “management” for approval before doing their job.
And she broadcast that taking the horse was a “. . .mistake we had to scramble to correct.” If the seizure truly was not justified, Penal Code Sec. 597.1 requires the horse be returned to the owner immediately at no cost. The City would bear all costs associated with the seizure, vet care, and feeding of the horse while in LAAS’s custody.
Barnette’s apparently uninformed public statement will no doubt be used as evidence that the seizure was unlawful. Whose opinion will matter more -- the chief of the law enforcement agency or her officer?”
WHY IS BARNETTE STILL ON THIS JOB?
This is not Barnette’s only public example of bad judgment. Our shelters are filled with dangerous dogs that are being adopted to the public and attacks have been discussed in many CityWatch (Animal Watch) articles. (See: Heroic Animal Control Officer Climbs through Window to Capture Vicious Pit Bull After Attack on Adopters.)
Or, was Barnette’s intense overreaction not actually to the officer’s decision but to the fact that she does not want the public to know about changes being made to the West Valley shelter as it is being readied to be “reconstituted” for use by non-profit “rescuers” -- rather than as the badly needed public animal shelter to serve the local communities who are paying for it?
LOS ANGELES, THESE ARE YOUR SHELTERS!
Residents and pet lovers of LA need to stand up to this theft of your right to have full animal-control services in all communities, shelter space for all stray and homeless animals to be taken in and be safe, and state-of-the-art large-animal housing space available.
All residents and animal lovers must stand up for these animal shelters for which you are still paying under the Prop. F Bond funding -- and for officers who are not bound by political favors but by the mission to enforce the law equally and fairly to protect animals and humans.
Do it also because this is just the latest example of government and department heads like Brenda Barnette (appointed by the Mayor) telling us what they are going to do, and not asking us what we want for our tax dollars.
If the West Valley shelter is allowed to be converted to valuable office spaces and kennels to be used by organizations that are friends and donors to LA politicians, it will not end there.
Demand your rights -- if not for yourself, then remember this horse and the other animals in jeopardy. They have no voice but yours. Speak for them now!
(Click this link to add your opposition to the proposed changes at the West Valley Animal Shelter directly to the City Clerk’s file. You do NOT have to be a Valley resident.)
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.