Mother seeking justice for dog biting incident

Published 12:04 am Thursday, February 26, 2015

By Nita McCann

The Natchez Democrat

FERRIDAY — A mother whose 5-year-old child was bitten by an off-duty K-9 dog last fall near Harrisonburg said she just wants justice served for her son.

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But the dog’s handler, Harrisonburg Police Officer Josh Olds, said the boy provoked the dog, which simply reacted as he was taught to do in such situations.

Samantha White, who lives in Concordia Parish near Ferriday, still remembers how she felt Sept. 14, when she received the call about Lonnie, her son.

“I was at work. My kids were at my ex-husband’s house, and he called me at work to tell me my son had been bitten by a dog, and he was crying for me,” White said.

White’s ex-husband and Lonnie’s father is Johnathan Olds.

The dog in question was a K-9 officer named Rambo, who with his handler and owner, Josh Olds, worked full time with the Harrisonburg (La.) Police Department.

Olds said he and Rambo are now part time with the department as reserve officers.

White and other family members — including White’s mother, who brought Lonnie to Riverland Medical Center in Ferriday — met at that hospital’s emergency room.

And her heart sank when she saw Lonnie.

“When I got there, he sounded like he was choking and was in a lot of pain,” White said. “He had wounds on his entire body except for his face.”

According to a police report, the boy and his older sister had wandered into the back yard of their cousin, Josh Olds’, who was out of town. K-9 dog Rambo was in the back yard.

White said her son’s physical wounds only left scars but no other long-term effects. But she is more concerned about the wounds she can’t see.

“He was out of school for a week. He’s had nightmares and is more skittish in general,” White said. “He wasn’t that way before.”

According to medical records, a relative brought Lonnie to Riverland on the morning of Sept. 14.

“(Lonnie’s) father advised he was asleep and when he got to the child, the dog was lying down in another area of the backyard,” stated a dispatch report from the Catahoula Parish Sheriff’s Office, the agency that worked the case.

The ER report characterized the boy’s injuries as moderate in severity, stating Lonnie had suffered multiple abrasions with a few puncture wounds.

The doctor on duty gave them prescriptions for twice-a-day antibiotics in liquid and ointment form as well as a painkiller and discharged Lonnie from the ER.

White also said she’s angry that of all those involved, her son is the only one with repercussions from the incident.

“As far as I have been able to find out, nothing was done to either the officer or the dog,” White said.

But Olds said there is a good reason he and his dog have not seen any repercussions from the incident.

“There was an investigation and it was found that my dog and I were not at fault,” Josh Olds said.

Olds said that Lonnie’s older sister told him and a Catahoula Parish Sheriff’s Office investigator working the case that Lonnie hit the dog before he was bitten. The Catahoula Parish Sheriff’s Office worked the investigation.

“Apparently the boy and his sister went into his pen in (the backyard),” said Olds, who was out of town at the time. “The dog started barking at them and Lonnie hit Rambo and that’s when the dog bit him.”

Olds said before the incident occurred, he and the children’s father sat the children down before Olds left town and emphasized the importance of not going in the backyard.

“He’s a police dog, a trained dog,” Olds said, noting that Rambo has not bitten anyone else.

That and genetics likely both played a part in what happened, said Tony Smith, owner and operator of a K-9 training facility located in Little Rock, Ark.

Olds got Rambo from that facility.

“Dogs are pack animals, and they do not see people as people, but members of the pack,” Smith said. “They have the confidence to stay with the prey until it is dominated. They love to run and chase. They’re acting on instinct.”

As far as genetics are concerned, Smith said, German Shepherds are naturally more aggressive.

And if Lonnie hit the dog first, the training kicked in, Smith said.

“That is his territory, and he’s ready to defend it,” Smith added.

Harrisonburg Police Chief Lyndell Atkins said the department is not liable for the actions of Rambo because the handler, not the police, owned the dog.

The dog and his trainer were off-duty when the incident occurred, Atkins said.

Brad Burget, district attorney for Catahoula and Concordia parishes, said his office never received information on the case from the Catahoula Parish Sheriff’s Office.

In order for a dog’s handler to be charged in such an incident, “you have to prove it was an intentional act, like if the handler told the dog to attack,” Burget said.

If a dog has a history of biting humans, the animal can be declared vicious in a court of law. Only then would a judge order the dog be euthanized or restrictions placed on it, Burget said.

“It’s extremely rare that criminal charges (are brought) against a handler,” Burget said.

Burget said, even though no criminal charges were filed, White could file a civil lawsuit.

White said she has retained an attorney, but to date has not filed a lawsuit.

Burget said the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit is one year from when the incident occurred.

Johnathan Olds did not return repeated telephone or text messages attempting to seek comment for this story.