Uptown Kingston dachshund at the center of legal tussle

Jonah Kelly Francis, Eric Francis and Henrietta Saint Francis. (Photo by Ellen Dockery)

City officials say they’re willing to pardon an Uptown pooch which a city building inspector says bit her earlier this spring. But the dog’s owner, astrologer, radio show host and investigative journalist Eric Francis Coppolino, says he wants the charge against him thrown out and the city to institute a written dog policy and new training for inspectors, so both city employees and pet owners will avoid future conflicts.

As a result, the city is embroiled a legal battle centered on a 10-year-old, 13-pound longhaired dachshund named Jonah.

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The incident occurred in April when, according to court papers, city building inspector Jill Gagliardi showed up at Coppolino’s residence and studio on North Front Street to conduct a routine inspection. According to Coppolino’s account of the incident, when his assistant opened the door to the studio, Gagliardi “marched right in” past Jonah and another dog without announcing who she was or why she was there.

Gagliardi, according to court documents, claims that one of the dogs reacted to her sudden intrusion with a quick nip at her leg. But, countered Coppolino, there is no indication Gagliardi was actually injured and the city has offered no medical documentation.

After the incident, Coppolino, a Kingston resident for the past 10 years who’s the astrologer for Chronogram, the New York Daily News and the Omega Institute, was cited under a city ordinance that bans “harboring a dangerous dog.” The ordinance defines a dangerous dog as any dog which “bites, inflicts injury, assaults or otherwise attacks a human being without provocation in public or private property.” Owners of dogs that have been deemed dangerous are required under the law to post signs on their property warning others about the animal’s propensity for violence.

City Assistant Corporation Counsel Daniel Gartenstein, who serves as prosecutor for violations of city ordinances, said he’s followed routine procedure in what he said was an open-and-shut violation of dog law. Gartenstein offered to drop the charge after a six-month waiting period, with no other requirements or stipulations. Coppolino is seeking an immediate dismissal.

“The city made a very, very reasonable offer to resolve this matter,” said Gartenstein. “I don’t look to euthanize dogs, I don’t look to confiscate dogs. All we want is the owner to make reasonable assurances that it won’t happen again.”

Coppolino said Gartenstein never asked him to make those assurances. Coppolino has engaged attorney and current state Supreme Court candidate Julian Schreibman to fight this case in city court and, Coppolino says, beyond if need be. Now the issue is before City Court Judge Phillip Kirschner, who must weigh Schreibman’s motion to dismiss the case and Gartenstein’s petition that it be allowed to move forward.

Schreibman claims that the accusatory instrument filed by the city in the case is fatally flawed in that it does not cite a specific subdivision of dog law that Coppolino could have violated. On a section of pre-printed form reserved for a narrative of the violation, Gagliardi wrote, “I was conducting an inspection @ the above location, front Apt. when the dogs came running over and the brown one bit me on my hand and leg. When I told them a man called them over.”

Schreibman’s motion notes that the city’s dangerous dog code does not apply to any dog that bites anyone for any reason. Since there is no evidence that Jonah had previously bitten anyone there is no way that the “dangerous dog” designation could be applied to him in Gagliardi’s case, and no action that Coppolino could possibly have taken or not taken to violate the law.

“Because the accusatory instrument does not allege conduct prohibited by law, it must be dismissed,” Schreibman wrote. He added, “The statute, for rather obvious reasons, does not regulate the dog’s conduct at all, nor does it make the owner vicariously liable for the dog’s conduct.”

Brought in to support Coppolino and Jonah’s case was a letter from Ward Stone, the well-known retired state Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife pathologist.

Jonah, wrote Stone, is “middle aged and has been masticating food that has worn much of the sharpness from [his] teeth, including wear on the canine teeth. Puncture wounds, are, therefore, impossible.”

A little later in the letter, Stone wrote, “It sounds like the inspector could use some training in handling inspection of spaces containing dogs. The entry of the inspector to the premises was a provocation to the little dog to nip the inspector.”

(According to documents provided by Coppolino which he got through Freedom of Information Law requests, the city does not have training programs in place to teach municipal code enforcement officers how to deal with dogs they come across as part of their job.)

 

Coppolino, meanwhile, said that he will not be satisfied with dismissal of the charge. He’s seeking a written policy for city inspectors on how to deal with dogs. He also wants the inspectors to undergo training with a qualified professional on how to handle dog encounters. Coppolino called the city’s dog law “antiquated” and claimed that, as it’s currently enforced, it could be used to prosecute people whose pets attack an intruder or someone who sticks their hand uninvited through an open car window.

“The city is putting the community on notice that it has a magical ability to come into your home, frighten your pet, then drag you into court and try to collect $500,” said Coppolino.

Gartenstein has filed his own motion against the request to dismiss the charge. In it, he argues that the dog biting Gagliardi — which Coppolino says didn’t happen — is sufficient to establish that Coppolino violated the law by keeping a dog that bites. Gartenstein declined to discuss specifics of the case, but said it was no different from similar citations routinely issued by the city.

“There is absolutely nothing interesting about this case,” said Gartenstein. “Other than the fact that Mr. Coppolino is Mr. Coppolino.”

There are 17 comments

  1. milk w.

    I fail to see how such a policy is necessary or furthermore could have averted this. Nervous little dogs nip. It’s not a big deal. City inspectors and anyone else ought not to make it one.

  2. Lei Issacs

    This ordinance discriminates against certain species, as cats receive special privileges, they can bite anyone, for any reason, and get away with it. After a Constitutional challenge, addressing the injustice of cats having just 3/5 vote of a dog, felines were issued reparations, forty acres and a mew.

  3. endrun

    Hot diggedy-dog, jurisprudence reigns supreme here with Lei’s comment!!! No need for any case law, jurisprudence before it, or anything for substantiation. We must be living in Trump Times–turning the wise into merely the simple!!

  4. endrun

    Let’s be serious for one brief moment. The inspector–or any such inspector for that matter–could use some form of protection, if after the fact. Health insurance coverage to treat any wound for example–which I assume is part of what covers such employees although this article doesn’t address that. So could mail and other delivery people–folks who work around houses and properties including contractors and folks such as meter readers. A written policy is nice, but wouldn’t do much in terms of prevention in all situations. To a large extent this is an occupational hazard and there doesn’t seem to be much of any way around that–“if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Obviously, someone just barging in may be perceived as a threatening situation to a pet. It could well be reasonably perceived to be a threatening situation to a person as well, although this will vary amongst individuals. But here we find a case where prosecution thereof at any and all cost simply makes no sense beyond any routine if not insatiable desire for local government to collect on any and all charges and citations:the ultimate arbiter, on thinks, of such a canine caper would’ve been the late Judge Wapner and his animal court, to recall one of the few judge shows on TV in the last 40 years that were not full of themselves and devoid of any usefulness except gratuitous— and frequently vacuous– drama. I would guess he would have seen no sense to such a thing, the identity and apparent semi-celebrity of the accused notwithstanding. I would question very strongly the declaration of the hot dog here —retrospectively— as some hazard in general to society;Dachsunds as a breed are not really known for this. One would have to prove that this beast was unusually tainted, such as with rabies, in order to satisfy my sense of fairness here. And certainly one would have to show there were wounds which justify quite such outrage. On the one hand, quite honorable that the employer is standing up for the employee for a change(a seeming rarity rarer than breathable oxygen on the moon);on the other, the way in which this is expressed seems well, sort of a Dachsund-style “stretch.” Who the “ultimate weiner” will be is more important than which sides ultimately wins.

  5. Common Sense

    Absurd that the inspector – who is 100% at fault – made this an issue.
    If you startle a sleeping baby – it will cray. If you – as total stranger – enter someone’s home unannounced and stomp through, you will scare a dog and odds are it WILL bite you. Common sense. Done.
    Shame on Jill Gagliardi – she comes to my house unannounced and startles me – I’LL BITE HER.

  6. Just Sayin'

    Is this a business or not? There have been multiple mentions of this being “Blue Photo Studio” on the web… if it is a business, then a walk-in seems perfectly appropriate.
    And if, upon walking into a business, you get bitten by a dog… well…..
    It seems to me pretty common sense… if this is an open business, then dogs who have a tendency to nip ought to be kept out of an area where strangers might walk in.

  7. Eric

    I run a private work studio, which is locked. It’s not a photo studio, it’s not a walk-in business, and it’s not “Blue Studio,” it’s a recording studio. You ain’t getting anywhere near the rock stars who come here. The 4th Amendment applies whether the door is locked or not, and the door was indeed locked.

  8. carol post

    Beware Dangerous Dog On A Leash,
    The New York Dog Bite Laws Need to be Amended, Case in point , July 1st, 2017 , our four pound Havanese ran out of our home when my husband opened the front door , he spied a German Shepard being walked on the road and ran up to greet them. He was grabbed by the German Shepard. The dog did not respond to his owners verbal commands or physical restraint . My husband had to open the German Shepards mouth to release our dog. In the process my husband was bitten and had to have the wound sutured. Sadly our little “guy” suffered severe trauma, his lung was punctured , there was ingesta in his thoracic cavity , macerations and internal bleeding . We needed to euthanize him. On obtaining the police report through FOIL, the report stated that a dog bit incident was filed . On contacting the Health Department , I was told a bite report was not filed. I asked that a form be sent to me . I filled out the bite report and had it notarized and sent to the health department on behalf of my husband . I was also told by the health department that the dog warden had no knowledge of one being filed. I proceeded with a Dangerous Dog Complaint . In the complaint we asked that the dog be walked by someone capable of handling the dog. We asked the dog be muzzled in public places to prevent further incident . We asked that the dog be evaluated by a certified animal behaviorist at the expense of the owner to prevent further incident . We were informed that it would be better if we filed the complaint through the town court. We pressed that the dog warden and town attorney file the Dangerous Dog Complaint on our behalf as tax paying citizens with a valid complaint . Our day in court arrived , with the dog warden and town attorney present and much banter about which way to proceed mediation with oral stipulation or move forward to trial with the oral stipulations off the table . The dog owners agreed to have the dog walked by someone capable, that they would not walk past our house out of respect, that they would use a choke collar but they would not muzzle their dog because their dog would not be able to protect itself. So in the end we reluctantly agreed to the oral stipulations set forth with the understanding if we went to trial and there was not enough evidence to support our complaint , it would be over. The Dangerous Dog Complaint was Dismissed in place of oral stipulations. This is a valid Dangerous Dog Complaint, and there is a Dangerous Dog on a Leash in our Community. Our little guy , “Patches” was the heart of our family , he was loved by us , our grandchildren , his canine family ‘Dharma and Lizzie” and our neighbors children who would ring our doorbell for some “Patch” time . A great loss , but a Tragedy to feel and be unsupported in a town in which one resides. Names have been omitted to protect the not so innocent .

  9. QuartzsiteAZ

    I’ve been bitten by Jonah before, and can recall other instances, one of which I observed personally. He can be sweet, but quick to shift–some people may not be able to navigate this smoothly, including ~children~. Eric revels in getting his own way, and is a master at it. I also get where Eric is coming from. Simultaneously amused and annoyed.

  10. Richard P

    New York State carves out a special importance for dog attacks The NYS Dog Law stipulates that its sanctions on dangerous dogs applies to all municipalities and states “that while cities can adopt their own dangerous dog programs , no such programs shall be less stringent than the one outlined by state law. ” Under the Agriculture and Market Law , Section 121 , the burden is on the complainant that there is clear and convincing evidence that the dog did attack and did behave in a manner that a reasonable person would believe posed serious and imminent threat and serious injury or death. We have many laws that are not enforced, poorly enforced or selectively enforced . Amend the New York State Dog Law. Protect our animal companions and their human families from dangerous dogs.

  11. endrun

    Amend the NY State Dog Law to what, exactly? You don’t offer any suggestion in this vein. It is not fair to require the complainant to have to prove his or her injuries before winning in court? Is this what you’re saying? What exactly ARE you saying?

  12. Richard P

    New York needs a strict liability law like that of New Hampshire. The state of New Hampshire has a law pertaining to canine inflicted injury that covers any cause of damage by a dog, and applies to injuries to not only humans but also any form of property, including another dog or cat.My understanding is that New York is a mixed state, meaning that it has a dog bite statue that mixes the one-bite rule with a limited degree of strict liability. the statute makes the owner of a previously adjudicated Dangerous Dog strictly liable only for the victim’s medical and veterinary costs. For other damages , New York requires a victim prove that the dog had the dangerous tendency to bite , and that the dog owner knew it . New York does not permit victims to recover compensation on the ground of negligence.

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