SCHENECTADY — Two pit bulls that mauled a three-year-old girl last month will be formally declared dangerous under an agreement worked out between the city and the owner’s defense attorney on Thursday.
The deal comes after four days of prolonged proceedings in City Court which both parties described as contentious.
The decision of the dogs’ ultimate fate will be left to City Court Judge Robert Hoffman, who will issue a decision on Monday morning.
Owner Salvatore DiNovo, 28, the child’s uncle, has fought to keep the pit bulls during the state Agriculture & Markets Law hearing. The city's corporation counsel argued that the dogs should be declared dangerous, which could lead to euthanasia.
The victim, whom The Daily Gazette is not identifying, was attacked by the two canines, Styles and Damon, at a family cookout May 31 at the home the girl shared with DiNovo and other family members.
While Hoffman said in pre-trial discussions on Monday he “wasn’t inclined” to have the animals euthanized, the option remains on the table for the dogs that left the child with what city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico described as “horrendous" injuries.
Asked if euthanasia is off the table, DiNovo’s court-appointed attorney, Brendan Keller, said “not exactly.”
Hoffman has wide latitude in handing down a punishment. Short of being put down, the dogs could be outfitted with microchips or neutered.
The city could also order strict leash and confinement regulations, as well as require DiNovo to purchase an insurance liability policy of up to $100,000.
If the dogs are returned, DiNovo will abide by what the judge orders, his attorney said.
“I think at this point, he just wants to get back to his life,” Keller said.
DiNovo, he said, was focused his niece's recovery.
"This is an unfortunate situation for everyone," he said.
Falotico and Assistant Corporation Counsel Meaghan Fitzpatrick sparred with Keller throughout the week over evidence and witness testimony.
Keller repeatedly challenged Falotico’s motion on Thursday to introduce hundreds of pages of medical records into evidence, including graphic photos of the child, who was released from Albany Medical Center last Friday after a week-long hospitalization.
Both sides said they considered the agreement a compromise.
“It’s a sensible conclusion to a contentious hearing that represents a compromise,” Keller said.
The dogs remain under quarantine. At $40 impound fee per dog per day, Keller also indicated the cost was a reason to expedite a resolution.
Hearings are typically brief, and seldom are argued so vigorously, said Falotico.
He said the city seldom argues for euthanasia, having advocating for that option only twice before.
“It’s not something we throw out frequently,” he said. “The substantial injuries to the child absolutely warrant euthanasia.”
Much of the legal debate centered on whether first responders could testify about comments DiNova made to them and whether a Child Protective Services worker could testify about the girl's injuries.
Keller was initially successful in blocking the testimony, but Judge Hoffman ultimately ruled it could take place. DiNovo declined to testify during the hearing.
The girl’s grandmother, Lynn DeCenzo, testified on Monday the child will require physical therapy.
But Falotico said the injuries were more severe than alluded to in the courtroom: The girl suffered broken bones in her right leg; a portion of her ear had to be reattached after being torn off, and she was discharged with a wound-vacuum designed to help her injuries heal, he said.
DiNovo also faces eight misdemeanor charges under the city’s dog ordinance, and is scheduled to appear in court on June 24 for those charges.
Discussion captured in body camera footage indicated both dogs were unlicensed.
The child is currently staying with her father, Robert Pierce, at an undisclosed location, according to DeCenzo.
Pierce faces numerous felony charges for allegedly attempting to submerge the girl’s mother in a Colonie motel bathtub in January.
He was arrested at Albany Medical Center on June 5, two days before his daughter was released.
Pierce is scheduled to appear on July 1 in Albany County Court for pre-trial hearings.