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Theft charge dropped for stealing dog
Judge Locke determines case not criminal matter
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A theft charge was dropped against an animal rights activist whose accuser says he continues to refuse to return his dog to him.
The defendant, Clay Lerch, left the courtroom a free man – but with a warning.
“There better be anything happen to that dog,” General Sessions Judge Bill Locke warned after an hour-long hearing ended when the judge decided it was a case for civil court, not criminal court.
The issue that led to charges being brought against the Warren County Humane Society member began when a 10-year-old boxer named Brutus disappeared from the farm of Joe D. Curtis. He testified Tuesday he figured the dog had run away or been attacked by coyotes. However, a call from his niece led him to check out a Facebook site where he saw what he strongly believes is his dog.
He then contacted the Human Society and talked to Lerch who told him to provide proof of ownership and he would return the dog. He agreed to provide proof. However, before they could meet, Curtis said Lerch did an about face and told him he would not return the animal, claiming there was an ongoing investigation concerning the dog.
“He decided not to give my dog back,” Curtis testified, noting Lerch refused to tell him who or what was being investigated.
During cross-examination, Curtis was asked why he waited so long to look for the dog, suggesting he didn’t care for the animal.
“If the dog didn’t mean anything to me, I wouldn’t be up here today,” Curtis testified.
While admitting he felt the dog on the Facebook page likely belongs to Curtis, Judge Locke said there is no evidence Lerch took the dog from his property. He also suggested Curtis try getting his dog back through civil court.
If an agreement cannot be worked out to get his dog back, Curtis reportedly plans to sue for his dog to be returned.
The decision angered Commissioner Sally Brock, who chairs the county’s Health and Welfare Committee, which oversees Animal Control.
“This is basically saying anyone can take someone else’s dog and it’s not a crime,” said Brock. “I don’t understand this at all.”
It was not Lerch’s first appearance before the court concerning an animal. Back in 2011, then-Judge Larry Ross threatened Lerch and an animal rights group known as Dames for Danes with contempt of court if they did not return two dogs Lerch reportedly took from someone’s property claiming they were being mistreated.
Charges were dropped against the couple Lerch accused of abusing the animal and Judge Ross ordered Lerch to return the dogs. When Lerch did not comply two weeks later, he was hauled into court and claimed he had been told by Dames for Danes the dogs had run away. Under threat of contempt of court, one of the dogs was returned. The other was not returned and Ross issued a bench subpoena for Dames for Danes. That case, however, was not followed up and the investigation was dropped.