The following press release was issued by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office:
Previously convicted by a no contest plea of felony animal cruelty on October 5th, defendant Katie Rhiannon Smith, age 35, of Caspar, was back in the Fort Bragg courthouse Wednesday afternoon for her formal felony sentencing hearing.
To recap, Mendocino County’s District Attorney personally charged defendant Smith back in April with felony animal cruelty, as well as a sentencing enhancement for personally using a firearm in the course of that crime.
These charges were the result of the defendant taking her German Shepherd out on a remote logging road in the Caspar area and shooting him multiple times in a botched attempt at do-it-yourself euthanasia. At the time of the shooting, the dog was being force to wear a plastic cone around its neck and head.
The gunshots severely injured the canine, but did not kill him. As one might expect, the gravely injured canine fled his owner with great haste into the woods.
After having wandered injured in the forest for approximately a week, the obviously malnourished dog was seen by Good Samaritans and rescued. The veterinarian who successfully saved the dog’s life – named Thunder the Wonder Dog by his rescuer — opined that the cause of Thunder’s severe malnourishment was likely owner neglect since he was able to return to a healthy weight following multiple surgeries to repair injuries inflicted by the bullets.
Rather than face a jury of her peers last October and have them decide her fate, the defendant plead no contest on October 5th to the felony animal cruelty charge the day before jury selection was scheduled to get underway. The personal use of the firearm enhancement was dismissed when the judge told the parties that he would exercise his discretion to strike and dismiss that enhancement after trial if found true by the jury.
Thereafter, leading up to today’s sentencing hearing, the defendant was ordered to cooperate with a background investigation by the Mendocino County Adult Probation Department. As required by law, the probation officer thereafter prepared a written summary of her findings and submitted a written sentencing recommendation based on all available information. In this case, it was Probation’s recommendation that the defendant be sentenced to the maximum term allowed by law for felony animal cruelty — 36 months in the local prison.
Likewise, in preparation of today’s sentencing hearing, the assigned prosecutor prepared in advance and filed a sixteen-page brief that analyzed the People’s evidence and applicable sentencing laws. Also citing to the callous nature of Smith’s cruelty and her dishonesty throughout the course of the investigation, Deputy District Attorney Josh Rosenfeld independently concluded that the defendant’s cruelty — and justice for Thunder – mandated that the defendant receive the modified maximum term allowed by law.
During the course of a four-hour sentencing hearing, the reporting Deputy Probation Officer characterized this case as one of the worst cases she had seen in her fifteen years of public probation service and she referred to Smith’s cruelty as “sickening.” Probation stuck by its written recommendation asking for 36 months in jail. Likewise, the prosecutor stuck by his written arguments and orally argued for the maximum sentence.
But then, when all was said and done, something shocking happened. Near the end of the sentencing hearing, Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Clayton Brennan unexpectedly invited defendant’s Smith’s public defender to make a motion to have the defendant’s felony conviction immediately reduced to a misdemeanor. Of course that motion was made and Judge Brennan granted the reduction over the People’s objection.
But he wasn’t done yet. Judge Brennan then placed Smith on a grant of unsupervised probation for a term of 36 months, understanding that come January 1st that 36 months may be reduced to 12 months as a matter of law pursuant to Assembly Bill 1950.
Judge Brennan also decided that defendant Smith need not serve any jail time for her now reduced conviction. Instead, he sentenced her to 360 days in jail but suspended execution of that time. This means that the defendant will not serve a single day in jail as a result of her cruelty unless and until the People are able to prove sometime in the next 12 months that she has violated her probation.
What are the terms of the defendant’s unsupervised probation? Judge Brennan ordered that she submit to a 4th Amendment waiver (search clause) and that she attend counseling so she can avoid committing animal cruelty in the future.
Judge Brennan denied the People’s request that defendant Smith be prohibited from owning or possessing animals during the term of her probation.
He also declined to address the People’s request that the defendant be ordered to reimburse the County for all or part of the cost of the legal services provided to her by the taxpayer-funded public defender, despite the defendant’s self-reported income of $11,000 per month.
If there was a small victory to be found in this travesty of justice, it may be for some that Judge Brennan ordered Smith to complete 500 hours of community service. However, he had the audacity to suggest that Smith be allowed to serve her hours working side-by-side with the kind-hearted volunteers who save and protect abandoned and neglected animals at the Mendocino Coast Humane Society.
At the direction of Mendocino County District Attorney Eyster, the People have filed a notice of appeal seeking appellate review by the higher court.
When asked for comment, DA Eyster paused, shook his head and then said, “It is tough to find justice for victims and the community when there are two defense attorneys in the courtroom – one sitting at counsel table and one wearing a black robe. Today’s actions by the coast judge diminish ongoing community and law enforcement efforts to hold animal abusers accountable for their crimes. What kind of message does this send? Not a good one.”