Rachel Mitchell, seeking reelection, makes cruelty to dogs her pet issue | Phoenix New Times

Rachel Mitchell, seeking reelection, makes cruelty to dogs her pet issue

The Maricopa County Attorney is capitalizing on this reality: People love dogs and people love seeing politicians with dogs.
County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, running for reelection in 2024, appeared in an Arizona Humane Society video in January advocating for tougher animal cruelty laws.
County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, running for reelection in 2024, appeared in an Arizona Humane Society video in January advocating for tougher animal cruelty laws. Arizona Humane Society
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The Maricopa County Attorney's Office trumpeted the latest victory in its ongoing war against animal cruelty — the arrest of Lester Paul Richmond in Troy, Alabama.

Police arrested Richmond, 36, on Feb. 16 on a Maricopa County arrest warrant for a single felony county of animal cruelty. He's sitting in an Alabama jail on $20,000 bond, accused of killing a Husky puppy by taping its mouth shut. The dog's body was found in a Scottsdale alley in June.

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, in a Feb. 21 press release, thanked law enforcement agencies in two states for their efforts in nabbing Richmond.

“His extradition is expected in the next 30 days; once he is in Maricopa County we can proceed with prosecution," Mitchell added.

So, Mitchell isn't against all extraditions, despite her social media spat last week with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over alleged serial stabber Raad Almansoori. Bragg wants Almansoori extradited to New York City to face charges for allegedly killing a woman there on Feb. 8.

Mitchell said nope, causing an uproar and garnering her some serious media attention.

"It is normal practice for the jurisdiction with custody to go first," Mitchell's spokesperson Jeanine L'Ecuyer later told Phoenix New Times.

The Feb. 21 press release was the second from Mitchell's office on the Richmond case. The first was on Dec. 20. It announced Richmond's indictment and asked for the public's help in locating him.

Not every arrest or indictment earns a press release, much less two. According to the county attorney's "data dashboard," 47,027 cases were referred to the office for review in 2023. Around 56% of those, or 26,230, resulted in cases being filed.

"In Maricopa County, cases involving animal cruelty regularly include other crimes. And just to give you some numbers, in 2020, we had 34 cases. In 2021, we had 38. And so far in 2022, we have had 44," Mitchell said during a press conference in August 2022.

When asked recently, the county attorney's office did not immediately have the number of animal cruelty cases filed in 2023. Based on past years, it's likely the total falls well short of 1% of total cases filed in 2023.

Given the paucity of animal abuse cases filed, it's revealing that Mitchell's office had an investigator on the hunt for an alleged puppy killer. In fact, in her Feb. 21 press release, Mitchell credited her office's animal cruelty detective, Heather Krimm, with tracking down Richmond.

Mitchell, who is running for reelection this year, has made a crackdown on animal cruelty a priority of her office, particularly cases involving dogs, the most popular pet in the U.S., according to Forbes Magazine. She's thrown the book at dog abusers, supported legislation that could make Arizona's animal cruelty laws tougher and taken the opportunity to be photographed with rescue dogs at the Arizona Humane Society.

Arguably, it's smart politics. As one public relations guru put it in analyzing Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's use of her dog, Bailey, on the campaign trail, “Everyone loves dogs. It humanizes, if you will, a candidate."

Look at any local TV news broadcast. Nearly every night, there is at least one dog story. If it's a slow news day, there may be two.

Playing the dog card is smart politics. Just ask former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Following in Sheriff Joe’s footsteps

Arpaio, one of the most prominent, divisive and worst politicians in Arizona history, knew that dog stories were pure gold. He famously converted one of his jails into a no-kill animal shelter, with prisoners taking care of the pooches. And he would often brag about feeding the dogs better than the inmates.

He also pursued controversial dog abuse cases, milking them for publicity. These included: campaigning to save the life of a pit bull who mauled the head of a child, charging and arresting a Chandler police sergeant in the accidental death of his K-9 police dog, and pursuing charges against former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake's son and his son's wife in the accidental deaths of several dogs while the couple were the temporary caretakers of a dog boarding facility in Gilbert.

Mitchell is no Arpaio. It's hard to beat Arpaio's 24-year record of media manipulation and self-aggrandizement. But Mitchell is tapping into the same vein of canophilia as Arpaio and many other politicians.

At the August 2022 press conference, Mitchell announced that the gloves were off when it came to animal cruelty. She called animal abuse "a gateway crime" to serious offenses involving humans, such as sexual assault, domestic violence and "violent and nonviolent assault."

Mitchell said she was hiring a "specialized investigator" to assist in the prosecutions of such crimes. The office already has a prosecutor dedicated to animal cruelty, she added.

"Whether it's keeping dangerous sex offenders out of our neighborhoods, drug dealers out of our schools or prosecuting animal cruelty, I am not willing to look the other way," she said.
click to enlarge Lester Paul Richmond mug shot
County Attorney Rachel Mitchell wants to extradite Lester Paul Richmond, 36, from Alabama to Arizona on a single count of animal cruelty.
Pike County Sheriff's Office

Puppy politics

Mitchel's crusade ramped up on Jan. 10 when she announced that a Maricopa County grand jury hit April McLaughlin with 24 charges — eight of them felonies — for her alleged mistreatment of 55 dogs at her Chandler home. This was in addition to the 77 misdemeanor counts McLaughlin already faced in Chandler City Court.

On Jan. 16, Mitchell participated in a press event at the Arizona Humane Society, during which several of the dogs rescued from McLaughlin were on hand. Mitchell announced her support for two pieces of legislation: Senate Bill 1047, sponsored by Republican state Sen. T.J. Shope, and House Bill 2076, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Barbara Parker.

SB 1047 would amend state animal cruelty laws and extend the definition of "cruel neglect" of animals from denying an animal food, water and shelter to denying an animal food that is given daily and is appropriate for the species, water that is suitable for drinking and shelter that is "necessary and adequate."

HB 2076 allows law enforcement to treat cruelty to animals, in some instances, as a form of domestic violence.

Though the statutes apply to all species, dogs were the focus of the press conference at the humane society, with a huge photo of a puppy behind the podium and handicapped dogs roaming about.

Mitchell said the bills would remove ambiguities in the law and help prosecutors be more successful.

The county attorney then leaned over to pet a dog being wheeled around in a bassinet, saying the bills needed to be passed "for dogs like Billy, who, by the way, what he lacks in mobility, he makes up for in personality."

"If you're looking at this on HDTV, yeah, I have (dog) hair on me," she added.

The Senate approved SB 1047 on Thursday with a 17-11 vote. It now goes to the House for consideration. Also on Thursday, HB 2076 easily passed the House in a 55-2 vote and moves to the Senate.

Earlier this year, in January, Mitchell's office announced the indictment of ex-con Ruben Lupe Garza for animal cruelty and misconduct involving weapons. He's accused of shooting a neighbor's dog on Jan. 7 in southwest Phoenix.

As the Jan. 24 press release for the incident indicated, Garza did not kill the animal, but the pooch "will likely have his leg amputated."

Safe to say, this won't be the last shaggy dog story to come out of Mitchell's office this election year.
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