In the suit against Tulare County Animal Control (TCAC), the county has decided to demand a jury trial. Paul Grenseman and Julia Jimenez filed suit in Tulare County Superior Court against five Tulare County employees on November 10, 2014. The plaintiffs are suing the county for discrimination, racial/ethnic and sexual harassment, failure to prevent discrimination and failure to prevent harassment as well retaliation for objecting to, speaking out against, and complaining of illegal discrimination and harassment.
On December 4, 2013, Grenseman and Jimenez were “walked off the job” at TCAC and told that they were under investigation and being put on administrative leave. Jimenez was subsequently fired on July 2, and Grenseman retired June 5 — two hours before he would have been fired.
Tulare County had 30 days from the time of being served to respond to the suit. Instead, they requested an extension because of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. On January 15 of this year, the county filed their answer to the complaint.
According to Grenseman and Jimenez’ lawyer, John Sarsfield, “They entered what is called a ‘general denial’ on behalf of the county and all named defendants. A general denial is the equivalent in criminal law of a ‘not guilty’ plea. It simply puts the plaintiff on notice to be prepared to prove the allegations in the complaint. The discovery process will start shortly.“
The county hired a firm in Fresno, McCormick, Barstow, Sheppard, Wayte & Carruth LLP, to co-represent it. Grenseman was perplexed as to why Tulare County didn’t use one of the 20 lawyers on its payroll.
“It’s a gross mismanagement of the taxpayers’ money,” he said. “Instead of doing the right thing and approaching my attorneys with a resolution, they are content to just keep this going at great expense to the Tulare County tax payer and are sending this money out of county to a private law firm.”
Grenseman added, if the case goes to trial it could cost up to $1 million in legal fees because the Fresno firm is very expensive. If the two former TCAC employees are in fact guilty of the long list of crimes for which the county accuses them, it shouldn’t take a high-powered law firm in Fresno to find them guilty.
The next court date is March 10 in Department #7 with Judge Hillman named for the Case Management Conference (CMC). At the CMC the court will set the trial date and mediation date.
In the mean time, one of the defendants has disappeared. Sarsfield said they have not been able to serve Yessica Ozuna because they have not been able to find her.
“When you can’t find a defendant to serve them, after a period of time and documented effort, you can get a court to authorize service by publication,’ said Sarsfield. “ Essentially, you run (with the court’s permission) a legal notice in a newspaper of record an ad that says ‘Dear missing defendant, you’ve been sued. You need to come to court and answer or a default judgment can be taken against you.’ If the person still doesn’t answer, the plaintiff can take a default and wins.”
According to the county’s response to the suit, they are demanding a trial by jury. That’s a risky proposition in any court case, but it just got riskier for the county because they just lost their case against Jimenez with the Employment Development Department (EDD). The EDD is the state organization that determines if someone deserves unemployment benefits.
When someone is fired they receive unemployment benefits unless the employee got fired for egregious or criminal behavior. The county declared that Jimenez’ was just such a case and attempted to get her unemployment benefits denied.
After months of waiting, Jimenez got a hearing mid December. The county took long enough to testify that the hearing was extended to January. Grenseman, who was called as a witness, felt the county did this on purpose so Jimenez would not receive any benefits before Christmas.
The county indicated at the December hearing that it planned on bringing witnesses to the hearing in January. The county ended up bowing out and not attending the January hearing. Sarsfield and his partner, Maggie Melo, received the judgment in Jimenez’ favor the last week of January. If the county could not prove its case to the EDD, it might be advisable for it not to take the chance on a trial by jury.
The Case of Clyde: A Missing Dog
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department has not made much headway in the case of the dog, Clyde, who was stolen from TCAC on January 5. Many accusations have been thrown around about the break-in at TCAC, and the dog’s owner, Wendy Jones, is still perusing her legal case against the county for illegally seizing her dog without a search warrant.
Trouble started for Jones’ family when, on October 28 of last year, her dog, Clyde, bit Jones’ grandson. Because the dog caused injury to a child, Jones had to prove that Clyde was not a danger to society. The dog has no prior incidents of vicious behavior or of biting.
In November and December 2014 there were three hearings concerning Clyde’s fate. The first hearing, that seemed to be going in Jones’ favor, was invalidated by county council before a decision was rendered. At a second hearing, it was determined that the dog was a menace to society and was ordered to be euthanized. Jones appealed the case and lost, which gave her five days to file papers with the Tulare County Superior Court to request a trial.
Between the lost appeal and Jones’ filing with the superior court, Clyde was allegedly stolen from the TCAC facility. According to Jones, Clyde should not have been at TCAC in the first place, as Deputy Young of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department and an off-duty animal control officer in uniform, Chris Carothers, seized Clyde from a private kennel without a warrant.
The county Media Officer put out the following press release, “Sometime during the evening of January 4, or morning of January 5, someone cut the fences at the adjacent building and then broke into the Animal Control facility.”
Several accusations have been circulating since the day Clyde disappeared. When the news hit the streets, the primary suspect was either Jones or her son. During the sheriff’s investigation of the TCAC break-in, Detective Judd Hembree of the Sheriff’s Department went over to Jones’ son’s workplace on January 5 and, according to Jones, accused him of stealing the dog.
On January 14, Detective Hembree went to Jones’ house to question her about the break-in. During his visit at Jones’ house, Hembree said that he now suspected the bitten child’s grandfather. Hembree told Jones that after a little investigation he speculated that the grandfather stole the dog, killed him, and then did away with the remains so no one would ever find them.
Jones was very upset to hear the detective’s speculations, she said. She does not know why he shared that information with her. She is still hoping to find her dog alive, though the more time that passes, the less likely that is.
Jones added, before the news of Clyde’s disappearance had been made public, the grandfather accused Jones of breaking Clyde out of the animal shelter. He also posted pictures of his injured grandson on his Facebook page to elicit sympathy.
The third hypothesis is that the dog died on or before January 4. A person familiar with TCAC, who did not want to be named, said that, “I do not believe that anyone broke into animal control and stole him. It is likely that TCAC jumped the gun and euthanized Clyde and they staged this break in to cover their tracks.”
Everyone agrees that Clyde’s disappearance seems to have been an inside job, or engineered by someone intimately familiar with the facility. An outsider would not have known how to reach the quarantine area, enter a pen full of vicious and sick animals, then willingly handle what is considered a vicious pit bull.
Even with the uncertainty of Clyde’s whereabouts, Jones filed an emergency stay on January 9 to save his life. This is to prevent TCAC from putting the dog down if he is found alive. Tulare County Superior Court put her case off until April 16, when there will be a hearing on whether the matter should go to court or be settled.
Jones wants the case to go to court because of the various constitutional rights violations she felt were committed by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department and TCAC. Even if Clyde is found to have been killed, Jones plans on pursuing the case to vindicate him and honor his life.
While the case is pending the county is forbidden to proceed against the dog if and when the he shows up. Right now Jones has an appeal pending in the 5th district appellate court in Fresno.