In a Pensacola courtroom yesterday a courageous judge issued one of the most articulate, well reasoned decisions I have heard or been a part of in 22 years of practicing law – a decision based upon facts presented in a long hearing about a man who truly loved his dog; a decision made without consideration to the misdirected television and press coverage this case had received in the days following the July 4th accident where the dog was accidentally injured by it’s loving owner Pompeyo Morales. Pompeyo had accidentally left his puppy tied to a passenger side mirror on his truck while Pompeyo could load his tools into the back of the truck after working all day on the July 4th holiday. Pompeyo drove off from his job site forgetting that the puppy still was attached to the mirror. When he found out he had drug his puppy, he was “shocked” and “stunned” according to witnesses who later contacted the authorities. He was arrested for Felony Animal Cruelty and Escambia County petitioned the Courts to find Pompeyo unfit and unable to adequately care for his pet. All of this fell immediately on the heels of the publicity involving the high profile dog fighting case involving pro football player Michael Vick. (See Steve Wyche’s report today in the Atlanta Constitution). Pompeyo and Bugsy’s case even reached the national spotlight by being reported by CNN and on national news programs, all of which cast Pompeyo in a negative light. Simply condemnation with out investigation.
In the short time I have been defending and helping Mr. Pompeyo Morales with his case he appears to be one of the hardest working men I have ever met or represented. The County alleged that Mr. Morales was not a fit “parent” for the dog, even after more that 85 people had stepped forward with letters and petitions indicating that Mr. Morales would never intentionally harm his puppy or for that matter harm any living thing. The day of this accident, Pompeyo had found a snake in a woman’s yard where he was working and instead of killing the snake as she asked him to do, he placed the snake into a container, punctured holes and placed food in the container for the snake to survive, all in order that he could take it to a friend who could release it into the woods on the friend’s property. Escambia County Judge David Ackerman, after hearing from both sides in a 3 1/2 hour long hearing, found that Pompeyo had simply made a mistake, a mistake like all human beings make from time to time. He denied the County’s petition and awarded custody of Bugsy to Pompeyo.
Today, for the first time in six weeks Pompeyo Morales was allowed to see Bugsy at the Animal Clinic where he is being kept. Bugsy hopefully will be coming home with Mr. Morales next week if Pompeyo can obtain enough money to pay off the veterinarian bills and the costs of kenneling the puppy since July 4th. From what I understand Pompeyo was sitting in a room when the kennel people let Bugsy, a high strung little guy, enter the room where Pompeyo was sitting. Bugsy immediately jumped into Pompeyo’s lap and began feverishly licking his face. Having come to know Pompeyo since I began helping him with his case, I have no doubt tears were also running down his face when he was reunited with his little friend. Justice was served.
We were contacted by prominent people in the Pensacola community who volunteered to testify on Pompeyo’s behalf. At least seven or eight witnesses took the stand, while 20 to 30 others looked on, in Judge David Ackerman’s courtroom to tell him that Bugsy should not be taken away from Pomeyo; that Escambia County officials were wrong and the County officials did not know the man Pompeyo really was. The letters and testimony revealed what a tremendously hard working, compassionate man he is and how he loved and continues to love his puppy Bugsy. On days off from his full time job with Merritt Glass Company in Pensacola Mr. Morales would work tirelessly performing handy man work for people in order to be able to send money back to his family, including his wife and six children, in the Philippines. Bugsy was his constant companion. They testified and wrote about how Pompeyo cried about the injuries his dog suffered. They testified about how remorseful he was and how he worried about his puppy. Pompeyo even apologized to his employer for bringing what Pompeyo believed to be shame on the company by all the negative media coverage.
Pompeyo and Bugsy were lucky their case was decided by a Judge who sought justice and was intellectually honest in his interpretation of the evidence presented. The publicity in this created a public perception that the injuries Bugsy incurred were an intentional act. Also, this accident occurred within days of the high profile case involving professional football player Michael Vick which only added to the hype and sensationalism of this kind of story.
Criminal charges are still a possibility in the criminal felony case against Pompeyo. However, after the Judge sent Bugsy home with Pompeyo, in a civil case where there is a lessor burden of proof than a criminal case, we are hopeful that the State Attorney’s Office will not file any charge. Dropping the case would be the right thing to do. Now, after there has been a favorable reporting in the media of Bugsy’s being reunited with Pompeyo, it would also be a politically popular thing to do as well.