Those greeting Jeremiah Aguilar as he turned himself in on a warrant Memorial Day were small in number, but vocal in their support of the Army veteran, who is fighting his Municipal Court conviction of ownership of a dangerous animal.
Aguilar is also fighting to save his service dog, an American Allaunt named Dutch, which was ordered euthanized after a Nov. 14, 2012 attack on a Montrose woman, his former owner. The dog was in the woman’s care at the time and bit her three times after she broke up a fight between him and her dog, then took him inside her home.
Aguilar said the dog was provoked. He also said Dutch is a service dog, and helps him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Aguilar appealed his conviction to the Montrose County Court, but was to surrender the dog during his appeal and did not. He also failed to show up for a Municipal Court hearing in April, which led to an arrest warrant. Aguilar surrendered himself Monday in order to preserve his right to an appeal, and was expected to bond out after booking formalities.
“Everyone is trying to do the right thing,” said Rick Crabtree, a decorated disabled veteran, who, like others in the group said the Americans With Disabilities Act wasn’t fully complied with when it came to Aguilar’s high-profile case.
He and veteran Hal Emick also said the current edition of the Colorado Peace Officer’s handbook needs far more information when it comes to dealing with the disabled.
“When you have emotions going on, there can be confusion,” Crabtree said “... Federal law was either misunderstood here or there was no understanding. Obviously, the dog did some damage. That doesn’t make Aguilar guilty.”
Crabtree said because Aguilar wasn’t present at the time of the biting incident, he should not have been cited.
Emick would later tell TV cameras that he viewed the case as “a war on patriotism” and he said the euthanasia order on Dutch was compounding Aguilar’s PTSD injury.
The city should drop the case, said Jerry Gallegos, a Grand Junction-based consultant for the ADA. He also called for trained ADA coordinators within Montrose law enforcement agencies. Gallegos said that by law, such coordinators have to be made available to defendants who are disabled.
The city attorney was not working Monday, because it was a holiday and could not be reached for comment.
“We’re trying to educate,” Gallegos said. “This is our way of celebrating Memorial Day, by supporting this gentleman.”
Gallegos also said that because the bite-victim was caring for Dutch when she was attacked, Aguilar is not to blame.
By law, a dog’s owner is responsible if it attacks a person or another animal, even if the owner doesn’t know that his or her dog might become aggressive, said Brandon Luna, Aguilar’s new attorney.
“Stunningly, there’s no knowledge requirement,” Luna said.
The possibility that Dutch was provoked is a potential defense, Luna said, but he just recently came aboard as Aguilar’s attorney and a decision has not been made.
Emick and others spoke of Dutch’s status as a service dog, and Luna said that status could become part of what is presented in court. He said, however, that the case before the court is whether Dutch is dangerous, not whether he is a service dog, or was one at the time of the attack.
“The plan is to let the jury decide (if Dutch is dangerous). I don’t believe in litigating in front of the court of public opinion,” Luna said.
Feelings have run high in that unofficial court. Although the biting incident occurred last November, the public did not catch wind of it until early February, when a dog lovers’ site portrayed the victim as having maliciously beaten Dutch prior to the attack.
Those initial reports — strongly refuted by the City of Montrose’s Animal Control officials — ignited worldwide interest in Dutch’s case.
Per court records, Dutch had bit the woman during an attack inside her home, puncturing her to the bone twice and inflicting a compound fracture and tendon damage to her finger on the third bite.
The woman had used a lightweight pole to break up a fight between Dutch and her pit bull, then took Dutch into her home, while leaving her dog in the yard, authorities said.
Dutch bit her when she tried to clean blood from his face. He bit her again after she tripped while trying to reach her bedroom, and a third time as she pried his jaws from her body. Dutch also attacked and heavily damaged wooden furniture in the home, court records and accompanying pictures indicate.
Aguilar was convicted at a court trial and sentenced to 20 days in jail, with 18 suspended. Dutch was ordered destroyed, but that order was stayed pending Aguilar’s appeal.
The city sought to have the appeal vacated after Aguilar’s failure to appear for the April hearing.
“The (county) judge allowed him the (opportunity) to turn himself in and preserve the appeal,” Luna said on Monday.
He said his client was “optimistic” about his chances.
“In the end, all he wants is his case heard by a jury. He never had any intention of putting his appeal at risk,” Luna said. “It really is a matter for the courts to decide. The evidence will always rule the day.”
Aguilar has twin goals of overturning his conviction on saving Dutch, Luna said.
“The two go hand-in-hand. The goal is to keep Dutch safe. He does care very greatly about Dutch.”
Luna said he is grateful for the show of support Aguilar received Monday. Being charged is traumatic, and knowing one has defenders is important, he said.
“I think it’s nice. I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
According to information from the courts on Friday, a review was set for today, although Aguilar was not listed on today’s docket. What information might come before a jury is to be hashed out at upcoming motions hearings, Luna said.