Tahlequah Daily Press

March 15, 2013

Dog case: Law doesn’t cover it


TAHLEQUAH — For anyone familiar with Oklahoma law, last week’s decision by the District Attorney’s Office to forego charges against Caisen Green should have come as no surprise –even if it came with a mountain of disappointment.

By now, hundreds of thousands of people know Green killed a stray pit bulldog a few weeks ago with an arrow, took a photo of the dead animal, and posted it on his Facebook account. He included a provocative message: “For all you Pit lovers out there. Here’s what happens when one shows up around my house.” Someone else “shared” Green’s post, and within days, it had gone viral, eventually eliciting thousands of comments from outraged viewers.

Remarks are still being posted to the site from which the photo went viral. Hundreds of them express the same sadness or sense of righteous indignation many Cherokee County residents felt when they saw it. Others, however, are laced with the worst type of profanity, and include death threats.

Many people had hoped Green would be charged with “animal cruelty,” and local prosecutors studied the law for weeks to find a way to make that stick. But in the end, First Assistant District Attorney Jack Thorp reluctantly had to demur. The only direct evidence that Green killed the pit bull, Thorp said, was the Facebook photo and statements made to authorities and on social media.

But here’s the key: Green says he acted in defense of himself and his younger siblings. And though Green obviously killed the dog – and has never denied doing so – there’s no evidence of “cruelty” per se, like dragging the animal behind a truck or beating it relentlessly. Oklahoma law allows people to humanely dispatch animals they believe may pose a threat of harm, destruction or injury. And while many observers pointed out Green didn’t claim self-defense in his original post, he did refer to keeping his younger siblings safe in private messages shortly after the photo was shared on Facebook and before it went viral. Later, he met with authorities to tell his side, and investigators could not find proof to refute his claim of self-defense. Authorities were also able to validate the statement by Green’s father that he had burned the carcass; he said he did so because the animal appeared diseased.

One cannot help but feel sympathy for Thorp, who clearly understood he will now draw much of the public wrath aimed at Green. The prosecutor was between a rock and a hard place: He could follow the law and decline charges, or he could appease the angry masses by spending thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to pursue a case he couldn’t win. As the Tom Cruise character said in the movie “A Few Good Men”: “It doesn’t matter what I believe, it matters what I can prove.” Thorp couldn’t prove anything that could be shoehorned into current state statutes.

Those of us who love and care for animals know Cherokee County has a stray problem. We also know some of those strays can be dangerous. Whatever its members might feel in their hearts, no jury of Green’s peers here in Cherokee County would convict him – and even if that happened, the verdict would likely be tossed out on appeal.

Hundreds of people are upset; we’ve spent many hours ourselves dealing with their posts on the Press’ Facebook page. It’s fruitless to try explaining the letter of the law under such emotionally charged circumstances, because for many animal rights advocates, it doesn’t matter what the law says; they want Green punished.

The only comfort we can offer is to suggest that Green has, indeed, been punished. He and his family have been threatened in a way that has altered the course of their lives, and he is reviled by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. That’s a type of notoriety most of us would not want for ourselves or our loved ones.

Green is certainly guilty of pulling a foolish and deplorable stunt, but that’s not covered under the law. Those who are alarmed with the turn of events should perhaps turn their energies to lobbying for other legal means that might be used to punish similar acts in the future.