Dog Day Afternoon

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The sheriff's office formed the Animal Cruelty Enforcement posse in the wake of the ritualistic slaying of several cats in the Ahwatukee area in 1998. As the cases of animal cruelty increased in number, Arpaio formed the Animal Cruelty Unit in January 2000.

According to the MCSO Web site, "This Unit responds to calls all over Maricopa County dealing with everything from complaints of no food and no water, to animals being starved, beaten, tortured, even killed by suspects."

Hey, Joe, what do you think about your SWAT team chasing the dog back into a burning house? Maybe your vaunted Animal Cruelty Unit should investigate the SWAT guys for contributing to the needless death of this animal.

Not only did your boys cause the house in which Kush was living to burn down with their assault, they stood by and watched in amusement as the dog's frantic cries gave way to eerie silence.

"I think it was a big joke to them," says Trisha Golden. "They knew how bad we were freaking out about the dog."

As usual, Arpaio is trying to blame his deputies' latest fiasco on someone else.

The scene hadn't even cooled down after the fire before the MCSO was trying to pin the blaze on Kush.

"They said I was upstairs in the attic burning all these missing guns," Kush told Channel 3. "Why would I burn myself in my own house?"

Especially since the only guns found in the house were the shotgun and pistol, which appear at this point to be legal weapons.

While Kush offers a plausible denial for starting the fire, a raging debate is quickly surfacing over what did cause the blaze. MCSO and the Phoenix Fire Department are vigorously trying to focus attention away from the tear gas canisters as the likely cause of the fire.

Meanwhile, the occupants of the house are convinced that the fire was triggered by the tear gas attack.

Phoenix fire officials tell me that four tear gas canisters were fired through upstairs windows in the front of the house, which matches eyewitness accounts by Barker and Delfino. A fifth canister, fire officials say, was reportedly fired into the attic of the house.

Two other tear gas canisters were fired at the arcadia window in front of the master bedroom, the room where the fire originated.

Phoenix Fire Department spokesman Bob Kahn says those canisters never entered the master bedroom. One reportedly bounced off a balcony rail and landed in the yard, and the second hit the arcadia window, but did not enter the bedroom.

Despite the highly suspicious fact that the fire erupted minutes after the tear gas was fired into the house, the Phoenix Fire Department's preliminary report is blaming a lighted candle located near the bed in the master bedroom for sparking the blaze.

"The cause was probably the candle on top of the refrigerator knocked onto the bed by either the pit bull or the occupant," Kahn says.

Kahn says fire investigators were told by MCSO Detective Mike Traverse that Kush reportedly stated that there was a "lit aromatic candle located on the refrigerator next to the bed."

Investigators, Kahn says, found a wax residue near the corner of the bed where the refrigerator was located.

Barker isn't buying this explanation.

She repeatedly told me during two interviews that there was not a lighted candle in the bedroom. She says the aromatic candle was located in the bathroom, but that it was not lighted.

"The only thing I had on my refrigerator next to my bed was an alarm clock and some pictures," she says.

Barker says she knew the MCSO fired at least two tear gas canisters at her bedroom window based on information she derived from sitting in the SWAT command vehicle.

She says she "heard it break the window."

"Two or three minutes after they shot it into the room, we had a fire in the master bedroom," she says.

Barker believes at least one canister landed on the down comforter on her bed and set it on fire.

Last week, I entered the burned-up house through an open front door. It was clear the fire started in the master bedroom, and there was a huge hole in the floor beneath the bed. It appeared that Dre fell through the floor and landed in the kitchen, where the dog was covered by charred debris.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty