A Dog of a Case: Andrew Thomas Again Proves That Indicting the Innocent Isn’t a Good Idea

The crime was so heinous, it made headlines across the nation — and sent some animal lovers racing to their phones to make death threats.

Dr. Joshua Winston, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, had repeatedly punched a Chihuahua in the head, using such force that the poor dog's eye popped out. A Sheriff's Office spokesman said that the dog, Bella, had survived, but it was "wait and see" as to whether the eye would ever see again.

Led from his office in handcuffs, Winston was indicted on a felony charge of cruelty to animals. He was denounced by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. TV news crews filmed his perp walk.

But a funny thing happened last month, more than a year after Winston became the most notorious veterinarian in America: The case against him collapsed.

We're not talking technicalities here. We're talking about a charge that was complete bullshit from day one. Testimony at Winston's trial last month shows that he never actually punched the dog. He was merely trying to restrain a high-strung pup for a procedure when an accident happened. The rest was a witch hunt, spurred by a few disgruntled employees and perpetrated by a media-hungry sheriff and prosecutor.

Believe it or not, eye popping isn't even that bizarre, as far as animal injuries go. Experts say that bug-eyed dogs, like Chihuahuas, can have an eye dislodged from its socket under fairly benign circumstances. (There's actually a word for it, proptosis, and a quick Google search shows plenty of dog lovers discussing the problem.)

Dr. Winston's newer staffers were upset, and the doctor felt awful. But the accident apparently didn't even cause long-term damage. Dr. Winston stitched the eye back into place that day; Bella had already regained partial vision by the time of the arrest.

And here's the crazy part: The Sheriff's Office knew it. Deputies actually took Bella to three veterinarians to get expert opinions before making the arrest — but then ignored those opinions when they didn't agree with the sheriff's theory of the case.

All three vets, according to court filings, said they saw no sign that Bella had been punched. (A blow to the eye, one vet pointed out, would cause the eye to "recess" back into its socket, not fall out.) And one of the vets actually told the sheriff's deputy that, in his 17 years of practice, he'd had four different dogs experience the exact same problem while in his care.

Of course, the Sheriff's Office didn't tell the media that — nor did the Maricopa County Attorney's Office share that info with the grand jury. Hey, this was big news, and neither Sheriff Joe nor County Attorney Andrew Thomas ever let the facts get between them and a television camera. And once Winston had been charged, they certainly couldn't lose face by admitting they'd screwed up.

So they actually took this dog of a case to trial!

The state spent tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer resources to try it. Dr. Winston, meanwhile, was forced to clean out his savings, spending $60,000 for his criminal lawyer and an eight-day trial where his professional life hung in the balance.

In the end, it fell to the jury to determine what Arpaio and Thomas had been too stupid, or too stubborn, to acknowledge: Dr. Joshua Winston wasn't guilty of anything.

It took the jury less than three hours to find him innocent.


I wasn't planning to write about Joe Arpaio or Andrew Thomas this week. It's always the same story with these guys: a rush to judgment, an overzealous application of the law, and some poor slob stuck with a giant legal bill and a life in ruins.

These two are truly the most inept lawmen of our time — and yet this county will probably re-elect both of them anyway, just because of their success in rounding up Mexicans. Say "illegal immigration" frequently enough and brains across Maricopa County turn to mush. Really, I guess we deserve these clowns.

But then I went to Rick Romley's press conference.

Romley was county attorney for 17 years. When he decided to retire in 2004, he endorsed his fellow Republican, Andrew Thomas. (He now works part time for Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat.)

Last week, Romley held a press conference to say that, though he'd originally intended to make no endorsement this year, "I can no longer keep silent." He blamed Thomas, in part, for an atmosphere of "McCarthyism" in the county, then gave a stirring endorsement of Thomas' Democratic rival, Tim Nelson.

It was pretty good stuff, especially since with Romley's endorsement, Nelson has garnered the support of just about every big deal prosecutor in town. And Romley's not even the only Republican — Nelson has been endorsed by former Attorney General Grant Woods and former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton. These are fine men with excellent reputations; the fact that they're throwing their weight behind Nelson should make every Republican carefully consider their choices.

But in the process of reporting a blog post about the Romley announcement, I talked to Thomas' flacks, Jason Rose and Mike Anthony Scerbo. Both referred me to an excerpt from a book critical of Romley.

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12 comments
denise
denise

I worked with Dr. Winston for 3 years as part of a very large hospital with over 9 veterinarians and a tech staff of almost 20 people. When we first heard about these terrible accusations no one could believe that Dr. Winston was guilty. He was universally well liked and he is a very funny guy and generous with his time for the clients we saw and gentle with all the animals under his care. No one ever saw him lose his patience with an animal. I have been a vet tech for 12 years and have seen proptosis in a pug, boston terrier, basset hound and yes a chihuahua that were all struggling against being restrained humanely by either the doctor or their assistant. Everyone who works with dogs knows this can happen in certain breeds. And in the beginning when the story first broke we all wondered why no one else was talking about how many times this happens. Though it sounds meanspirited through the professional grapevine the comments on the characters of some of his accusers have not been very flattering and many times the people who made the comments did not know they were involved in this case until much later. It is sad that there was such a rush to judgement and that the media never reports the whole truth just what sounds sensational

vet tech
vet tech

I have to respond to the above comment which was obviously written by the 2 so called vet techs that have been discredited in 2 forums. The first time they were not believed was in front of the State Vet Board and the second time in front of a jury. So they were asked and not believed and in fact anyone who was there during the trial or took time to read the transcripts would find that these 'techs' ( which they are not) were caught in so many lies and could not keep their stories straight and during the trial actually badmouthed each other. Each witness against this fine doctor actually stated under oath that the other witnesses were habitual liars but they should be believed in this one case. I still do not understand why they were not charged with purgery.

vet tech
vet tech

After all this time I was just wondering? did anybody ever ask the tech's if it really happened after the fact or has whoever just taking to his side cuz no one else spoke out! I can tell you that it did happen and he should of spent lots of time in jail. So if you werent there shut your mouth!!!!!

Ted
Ted

If Joe Arpaio is re-elected Phoenix and all Maricopa county will be the laughingstock of the law enforcement world, especially when the sheriff and his thug deputies are indicted next year. Wake up folks, you are already paying much higher taxes because these corrupt criminals are in charge of county law enforcement. Arpaio and Thomas are peas in a pod, they are such self centered narcissists that illegally spending funds under their command to promote themselves just is too much of a temptation to them both. And ruining innocent peoples lives with malicious prosecution, hey neither of these fools gives a rat's ass. All they care about is publicity and making sure the voters never find out about their shared criminal conduct! But there is a new US Justice Department coming so even if Goodard remains so scared of Arpaio and Thomas that he won't investigate them, there will be criminal and civil charges forthcoming against the evil pair and their minions.

Scott
Scott

The County Attorney's Office is corrupt, incompetent and egregiously unconcerned about the truth and justice.

The New Times has been provided information about the false arrest and felony charges pending against a former Maricopa County Adult Probation Officer whereby his home along with his family was attacked by two units of Phoenix Police SWAT and ten detectives. No Probable cause to justify SWAT let alone criminal charges and yet the New Times does nothing but report selective stories. It is time to remove this county Attorney from continued misuse of his official duties and replace him with someone who will see and correct the injustices in this County.

helentroy4
helentroy4

I worked for a veterinarian for a number of years. Suffice to say that I have the dog and cat bite scars to prove it. There is nothing worse than a weak owner having a bull headed dog that is untrained and agressive. I'm not saying this chihuahua was akin to a pit bull or out of control dog of any kind, but working behind the scenes with agressive and sometimes seriously homicidal large dogs is no picnic. It's the reason I chose NOT to go to veterinary school. People don't realize how dangerous veterinary work can be.

JOSHUA
JOSHUA

SOMEBODY PLEASE FUCKING VOTE THE JOKE OF A SHERIFF WE HAVE HERE IN MARICOPA OUT OF OFFICE, AND WHILE YOU ARE AT IT ANDREW *FUCKWAD* THOMAS... When will the citizens of Maricopa county OPEN THEIR EYES.... I am so aggravated that my tax dollars went to a frivolous lawsuit so the Sheriff and prosecutor could save face. SABAN '08

Nina Scozzari
Nina Scozzari

Dear Ms. Fenske,Excellent article! I commend your integrity and ability to call it like it is. I've personally known Josh Winston for five years and have taken all my animals to him during that time. He's the very best and most caring person I know. I am also VP for FastDogs-FastFriends Greyhound Adoption group as well as Treasurer for the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition group. Josh has taken care of many of our groups' animals and everyone in the animal rescue community is 100% behind him. This was a set-up from the beginning by four of his employees, employees for whom there are no consequences for almost destroying this wonderful man. I wish there was a way to expose them for the malicious women they are, and for them to have to pay back (either by jail time, dollars or both) for the sins they've committed against Josh and society in general. And as for Sheriff Joe and Andrew Thomas, well you KNOW they're not getting my vote!Thanks for listening,Nina Scozzari

CooperG
CooperG

So you think, Sarah, that Arpaio and Thomas will be elected again? If that happens, it won't be because we don't have a qualified opponent. It will be because people with money are too cowardly to donate money to Saban's campaign because they'd afraid "they may be targeted by Arapio." If that isn't the dumbest rationale on the planet I don't know what is.

I don't notice anyone from the New Times writing Saban a check either. You guys are already on Arpaio's shit list, so what's the holdup?

You can redeem yourself. if you're too chicken to write a check to Saban, then write one to Arizonans for Professional Law Enforcement (the folks who did the Joe Arizona ads -- www.hesback.org) or to the Maricopa County Democratic Party, who run JoesGoToGo.com.

Talk is cheap. Quit bitching and write a check.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Rush to judgment and false allegations are standard operating procedure in Maricopa County -- the police and MCAO ignore the Maricopa County Multidisciplinary Protocol on Investigation, signed by Governor Napolitano, Arpaio the County Attorneys, the Scottsdale Police Chief Rodbell, Victim's Rights and on and on. The whole thing is a sham and a way of abusing the use of taxpayers dollars and at the expense of the lives of innocent people, their families and good name. Hope the doctor sues the Hell of everyone who destroyed his good name and life. The list is getting longer by the day....

pitlover
pitlover

You obviously don't know jack about dogs; you say "akin to a pit bull or out of control dog". So, you're comparing pit bulls to "out of control" dogs? Hence, you are basically saying that pits ARE "out of control". It's sad that a person who worked with animals actually believes the myths about pit bulls that are spewed by the media. Did you know that pits overwhelmingly beat labs, goldens and other non "out-of-control" breeds on temperament tests? Many temperament tests. Do you have any idea how NON aggressive pit bulls actually are? Did you ever meet one that came from a stable, loving family? I have ALWAYS been guardian to rescued pits; I've taken some from terrible situations of abuse and neglect. I've worked with many pits throughout my years in rescue. Not ONCE have I been bitten, attacked or even growled at by a pit - any pit - even if he/she was scared or in pain. I've been growled at and bitten by other breeds, though. Do the real research. The truth is, a chihuahua is much more likely to show aggression to humans than any pit bull ever would. As I said, I have been guardian to many pittie mixes. I'm not maligning chihuahuas, though. I've been guardian to two rescued chi mixes. The first one I took from the pound when he was about 15 years old. And, he lived with me another 2 years. Guess what? He bit ME! Currently, I have a pit mix and a chi mix. Guess who's the alpha? Right; the 11 pounder. He tells the 60 pounder what to do or not do. And the pit mix follows the chi's lead; he lets him be the doggie boss. Guess who wags his tail and happily greets any stranger/workman who comes to the house? Right; the pittie. Guess who's wary of strangers and COULD become aggressive if he felt the need? Right; the chi. Guess who would NEVER even entertain the idea of becoming aggressive towards any human? Right; the pit mix. It's not just MY dogs; it's pretty much the rule, not the exception. Why do you think drug-dealing, dog-fighting loser thugs use and abuse pit bulls? It's partially because pits are somewhat impervious to pain (The "locking jaws" crap is a myth, but you should know that if you were a vet tech). The high pain threshold is one reason why losers use pit bulls in fighting rings. But also, you won't find a more LOYAL dog than a pit bull. That's the other reason they use them. They will do what you ask of them; pleasing you is their priority. You tell your put bull to go and kiss and gently love up a little baby. He will do it. You tell your pit bull to get in a fighting ring and fight brutally with another dog until one of them dies. He will do it. Try telling a chihuahua, lab, poodle, pug, or cat to go and fight to the death. It's sick; I know! But the thugs USE pitties because they WILL do whatever is asked of them. Unfortunately, the pit bulls' loyalty is also their demise. They are portrayed horribly and unfairly in the media with junk journalism. They're also the most overbred, overpopulated abused and most often euthanized breed in the U.S. Someone needs to be their voice. YOU are just making things worse with your ignorant statement.

 
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