Florida Homicide Charges for Deadly Dog Attacks
Most dog owners keep dogs for companionship and try to be responsible about making sure their dogs are safe for other people to be around. Under Florida dog bite law, if one’s dog bites or attacks someone, the dog owner may face civil liability and the dog may be designated as a “dangerous dog” for which the dog owner must make special arrangements.
Furthermore, there is a range of criminal liability the dog owner may face under certain circumstances if the dog injures someone. In the most egregious cases, when the very worst happens and the dog kills someone, the dog owner may be charged with homicide.
The Robert Freeman Case
The Robert Freeman case is one of the more disturbing examples of a dog owner showing more than just a reckless disregard for the behavior of his dogs.
Robert Freeman lived in a mobile home in Citra, Florida, with six pit bull mix dogs. His home was in a state of disrepair, with no electricity or water, and a hole in the front door where the door knob should have been. He would tie off the door with electrical cord, but it still had a lot of “give” when pushed. Neighbors would see Freeman’s dogs outside every day, and the dogs did not stay confined to Freeman’s property.
In January 2003, Charlie Sumpter was walking near Freeman’s property when the dogs charged from under Freeman’s mobile home and attacked, biting him numerous times. Freeman came outside and pulled the dogs off Sumpter. He became angry when Sumpter said he was going to seek medical attention for the bites.
In April 2003, Charlie Dennison was attacked on the street by three of Freeman’s dogs. He was bitten on the calves, but managed to fight the dogs off. Freeman came outside and said he thought the dogs were inside the house.
In September 2003, Jamal Williams was walking his dachshund on the street in front of Freeman’s home when six of Freeman’s dogs appeared and attacked the dachshund. Williams tried to beat the dogs off with a stick, but they continued attacking. Ultimately, the dogs stopped attacking and Williams took the dachshund to a veterinarian. The next day, Freeman was angry because Williams’ grandmother reported the attack to animal control authorities.
In another incident in September 2003, Lorenzo Colding was attacked by six of Freeman’s dogs as he walked down the street near Freeman’s home. All six dogs bit Colding. Freeman came outside and called off the dogs.
In October 2003, Andrew Williams was walking near Freeman’s home when Freeman’s dogs came from Freeman’s yard and attacked him. The dogs bit Williams several times before Freeman came outside and called them off.
In November 2003, Willy Clinton was walking on the street when Freeman’s dogs ran through Freeman’s front door and surrounded Clinton in a pack, threatening to attack. Clinton was bitten on the thigh. After 15 or 20 minutes, Freeman came outside and began petting and kissing his dogs. Clinton admonished Freeman for “rewarding” the dogs for biting people and warned him that the dogs would eventually kill someone.
Just weeks later, on December 12, 2003, Freeman made a call to 911 stating he had just returned home from work to find his neighbor, Alice Broom, “almost dead” with a hole in her neck and the dogs still biting her. Freeman told the 911 operator to call the “dog people” and admitted he should have gotten rid of the dogs long ago.
When paramedics arrived, they found Ms. Broom lying unconscious on the ground in the fetal position. Half her clothes were strewn around the yard. She had suffered massive bite wounds and was pronounced dead at the hospital. The medical examiner found that the locations of some of her injuries were consistent with an attempt to curl up and try to defend herself against the attacks. A forensic odontologist concluded that all six of Freeman’s dogs had attacked Ms. Broom.
Freeman was charged with, and ultimately convicted of, manslaughter by culpable negligence under Florida Statute § 782.07.
Manslaughter Charge for a Deadly Dog Attack
Freeman argued that he should have been charged with a second-degree misdemeanor under Florida’s Dangerous Dog Act instead of being charged under the homicide statute. The appeals court disagreed. The Dangerous Dog Act requires knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities and a reckless disregard for those propensities under the circumstances.
Manslaughter by culpable negligence, by contrast, requires more than knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities. The manslaughter statute requires knowledge that the dog owner’s negligent act or omission is “likely to cause death or great bodily injury.”
If the dog owner knew that his dog had approached a person in a menacing fashion, the owner might have knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities, but not necessarily knowledge that his failure to keep the dog contained would be likely to cause death or great bodily injury, as is required for manslaughter.
In Robert Freeman’s case, the court concluded:
There was ample evidence that Freeman knew his dogs had escaped from his trailer and attacked passersby on several prior occasions. Yet on the day of Ms. Broom’s death, Freeman went to work, leaving his dogs free to escape and attack passersby, as they had done many times in the recent past.
Robert Freeman is currently serving more than 12 years in Florida State Prison.
Although this case is extreme, it should serve as a warning that Florida dog owners who know their dogs might kill, but who do not take steps to safeguard others, could face homicide charges if the dogs do kill someone.
Disclaimer: This article is in no way intended as legal advice. For help with specific legal issues surrounding Florida’s dog bite law, or the dog bite laws in your jurisdiction, please contact a dog bite attorney or criminal defense attorney in your local area.