Ankle-Biters: Bill Montgomery Spurns the Canine Crazies, and Arpaio Goes Prosecutor-Shopping, Again

An indigo army of the insipid recently laid siege to the Maricopa County Administration Building in downtown Phoenix to berate County Attorney Bill Montgomery for dropping almost all charges against the owners and caretakers of Gilbert's Green Acre Dog Boarding facility in the deaths of 20-plus dogs last June.

Purple is the color the canine crazies adopted for ribbons in support of what they refer to as the "Gilbert 23." As they rallied on the steps of the building that's home to Monty's offices, they held purple balloons and hugged pups swathed in purple.

"We can't breathe," read one sign, "because we are sealed in a room without ventilation."

The sign was a play on the dying words of Eric Garner, the African-American man killed in Staten Island by a cop using a chokehold banned by the New York Police Department.

Not surprisingly, the holder of this sign was white, as were nearly all the protesters.

Blacks should not consider this a slight, however. It's not just black lives that these folks consider to be on par with that of man's best friend. It's human lives in general.

"What if it were your family?" asked another sign.

On one hand, I understand the question. We become attached to pets, treat them like children, pamper them, love them.

See also: -Green Acre Lynch Mob: Joe Arpaio Leads Media and Public on Mission of Vengeance Against Jeff Flake's Son -Joe Arpaio's Deputy Misled Grand Jury in Green Acre Dog Deaths, Says Flake Lawyer

Still, they are not humans. They are property. As I noted in a previous column, you cannot "murder" them. If this were the case, then employees of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control would be guilty of mass murder, as the agency puts down thousands of unwanted dogs and cats every year, disposing of the carcasses in a county landfill.

A letter writer to the Arizona Republic recently asked about the Green Acre dogs: "What if these were children instead of canines left to die?"

Duh, they're not children and to equate the two devalues human life.

And yet, that's just what this ridiculous lavender circus did during its demonstration, putting sentiment before the law, carrying framed photos of dead dogs like religious icons, and demanding that Montgomery meet with their icky clown show, which featured an individual dressed in a full-body Dalmatian costume.

Montgomery had promised to get together with the group and explain why, in late December, he decided to dismiss multiple felony and misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty brought against Green Acre owners MaLeisa and Todd Hughes and the young couple minding the Hugheses' home-based business when the tragedy occurred, Austin and Logan Flake, son and daughter-in-law of U.S. Senator Jeff Flake.

Apparently, Montgomery could sense that what he intended as a civil question-and-answer session with dog owners and their attorney, John Schill, was mutating into an infantile riot of emotion and irrationality.

For example, in the run-up to the meeting, one post to a Facebook page for the dog group claimed to be authored by a special-needs boy who supposedly lost his dog when it and others were left in a room overnight by the Flakes.

Similarly, during a press conference at Schill's offices after Montgomery's announcement that he was tossing all but a single fraud charge against the Hugheses, an indignant mom presented the media with her two young children, still sad from missing their dogs, who'd died at Green Acre six months earlier.

Such mawkishness may play well for the cameras or appeal to the never-ending outrage of Facebook users, but children lose pets to accidents, old age, or illness all the time.

When this happens, smart parents eventually buy the kid another pet. The younger the child, the quicker the recovery.

In an e-mail to Schill canceling the confab, Montgomery noted that the scheduled meeting was supposed to have been private and "for the benefit of the concerned families," but it was clear from social media that the group, made up of dog owners and supporters, was looking for more media hype.

"This is an unfortunate effort by the victims and their attorney to use a criminal case to advance a civil lawsuit against the defendants," Montgomery's flack, Jerry Cobb, said in a statement, referring to the civil claim Schill and the dog owners have brought.

Cobb rejected the contention of some critics that Montgomery was playing politics because Senator Flake's kid is involved, by referring to Montgomery's investigation of former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne.

"[The county attorney] pursued an aggressive enforcement action against the highest elected law enforcement official in the state, a fellow Republican who has far greater potential influence over the success or failure of this office than a sitting U.S. senator," wrote Cobb in the statement.

The pooch kooks suggest that because the Flakes' attorney, Dennis Wilenchik, has supported Montgomery politically heretofore, this explains Montgomery's actions.

Thing is, Wilenchik also has been a supporter of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose office investigated the Green Acre dog deaths.

Arpaio has demanded that the Hugheses and the Flakes be prosecuted on animal-cruelty charges, despite Wilenchik's revelation to the court that Arpaio's lead investigator on the case misled the grand jury, telling jurors that an air-conditioning unit for the dog's room was fully functioning even though a Salt River Project report on electricity usage shows that it was not.

This is a point Schill and the dog owners have conceded. They now argue that it doesn't matter, that all that matters is that about 28 dogs were in the room that night.

Shannon Gillette, who lost two golden retrievers at Green Acre, recently explained this ditsy legal theory to a Fox 10 News reporter.

"When you stuff 28 dogs into a nine-by-12 room, that's animal cruelty," she declared. "It doesn't matter what happens to the AC."

Wrong on both counts, as Dennis Wilenchik's son, Jack, who also is representing the Flakes, told me when I asked him about this common refrain from the canine crazies.

"Under the [state's animal-cruelty] statute, you have to prove intent [to harm]," he explained. "And our clients, Austin and Logan Flake, had been putting dogs in that room for several days with no issues whatsoever . . . What caused the dogs to die was the AC shutting down."

The Flakes were in charge of the business for a week while the Hugheses were away on a trip.

Two days before their departure, the Flakes shadowed the Hugheses, watching them put more than 20 dogs in that room overnight without incident.

For four nights before the tragedy, Austin and Logan, who is MaLeisa Hughes' daughter, followed the same routine. No dogs died.

Business logs that show the names of the dogs on hand are part of the MCSO's case file.

By my count, on the nights before the one in question, there were as many dogs at Green Acre, if not more.

Under Arizona's animal-cruelty statute, the state has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants acted "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly."

If the experts for the state and the defense are correct, and the AC unit for the dog room failed that night (probably because the filters had not been changed recently), leading to the dogs' deaths from heatstroke, then how can anyone argue with a straight face that the Flakes "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly" inflicted cruelty upon the animals, particularly when nothing had happened to the canines in their care on previous nights?

The dog nuts claim the mutts were not fed or watered properly, but even the MCSO's veterinary witness noted in a report that the dogs he necropsied were "in good flesh."

And the defense's expert (a real one who was involved in the dog-cruelty investigation of NFL player Michael Vick) explains that the lack of food in the dogs stomachs is the result of the dogs' emptying their stomachs and bowels while suffering from heatstroke.

The dog fanatics do not want to hear any of this. They just want their pound of human flesh, no matter how weak their case.

And the case is extremely weak, so weak that Arpaio went shopping for prosecutors, according to Jack Wilenchik.

See, Wilenchik and his dad supported Horne in his 2014 primary re-election battle against current AG Mark Brnovich.

(This was before the Flakes hired the Wilenchiks to represent them, natch.)

In fact, during the primary, Jack appeared as an extra in a pro-Horne commercial that featured both Arpaio and Horne.

At the shoot, Jack says he heard Horne and Arpaio discussing the case, with Arpaio asking Horne if he would take it on.

"I think that Arpaio understood that the case was weak criminally and that Montgomery would reject it," Jack wrote to me in a recent e-mail, adding, "So Arpaio was looking for another 'Andy Thomas' to do his bidding (as opposed to, say, following the law). Horne did tell the Sheriff that he could send the case over for review."

Jack says the shoot took place just days after the SRP report was made available to the MCSO, according to the investigative file.

If true, it means Arpaio knew he had a real dog on his hands, so to speak.

Animal cruelty is Arpaio's meat and potatoes. He garners media attention from exploiting the emotions of animal lovers and investigating tragic accidents as crimes.

As for prosecutor-shopping, Arpaio has done this before, too, most memorably in bogus criminal charges he ginned up against New Times in 2007, when he got now-disbarred county attorney Thomas to seek the arrests of the paper's former CEO and executive editor.

Needless to say, that's a long, engrossing story. But county attorneys other than Thomas had refused to pursue the initial complaint from Arpaio involving his home address being published on the Internet by New Times. Thomas, however, eventually went with the case, which led, Rube Goldberg-like, to the arrests of the newspaper honchos.

The special prosecutor assigned to that case? None other than Jack's dad, Dennis Wilenchik.

Hey, nobody's perfect.

Besides, on this issue, Wilenchik and son are on the right side of justice.

Presently, so is Montgomery.

Though I do not think the Green Acre case ever should have gone before a grand jury -- and though Monty has left a crack in the door, suggesting that his office still is reviewing the evidence -- the West Point alum is showing mettle in not bending to popular sentiment or the whims of a very powerful Republican sheriff.

Here's hoping he stays that course.

E-mail: stephen.lemons@newtimes.com.

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