Suit filed against New Llano for pit bull ban

By By Lauren Manary / American Press

A New Llano couple filed suit against

the town in federal court Wednesday, claiming the town’s ban on pit

bulls and pit-bull-like

breeds violates dog owners’ equal protection, property and due

process rights.

Christine and Victor Nelson moved to New Llano in August, after Victor, an Army staff sergeant, was assigned to Fort Polk.

The Nelsons said they were unaware of

the town’s ban, which applies to “dogs that have the appearance and

characteristics

of being predominately of the breeds of dogs known as

Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier or American

Staffordshire

Terrier.”

The Nelsons own a mixed-breed dog named Mazzy, which was banned by the town after a DNA test, ordered by Mayor Freddie Boswell, showed Mazzy to be 50 percent American Staffordshire terrier.

The suit claims the town is violating residents’ constitutional rights because the ban allows officials to seize dogs without

due process.

“The state of Louisiana, in dealing

with dangerous dogs, provides a full panoply of due process rights

including a hearing,

notice of hearing, a judge, right of cross examination, the right

to introduce evidence and rules of evidence,” Fred M. Kray,

an attorney for the Nelsons, said in a news release.

“And that is for dogs that have bitten

someone or acted aggressively. In Christina’s case, she received none of

these protections,

and Mazzy has been banned from the community even though Mazzy has

never harmed anyone.”

The suit says the methods used by New Llano to determine a dog’s breed can’t be defended by law. Under the ordinance, some

dogs can be subjected merely to a visual inspection by a town worker while others must have DNA tests, for which the town

charges a $200 fee.

Attorney Stacy Palowsky wrote in the complaint that forcing a resident to pay during the first-tier of determining breed is

a “pay to play” system and penalizes the resident and violates due process.

The town charges dog owners significantly more than the cost of the test, which is $60-$85. The complaint also calls into

question the validity of the DNA test, saying it isn’t 100 percent accurate.

Additionally Mars Inc., manufacturer of the test, says in its terms of use that it isn’t to be used in the enforcement of

breed-specific prohibition or in judicial proceedings.

The plaintiffs, who have requested a jury trial, are seeking injunctive relief of the breed ban, along with damages for mental anguish and emotional distress, statutory damages,

general damages, attorney fees and litigation costs. They are also seeking to recoup costs for boarding Mazzy from Sept. 6

to the present.

“When this began all we wanted was to

have Mazzy home with us,” said Christine Nelson. “It’s unfortunate that

we have ended

up at this point, but we know we also want to see this changed so

that no other families have to go through this type of heartache.”

Boswell did not return requests for comment.