Mimesis Law
21 May 2019

Katharine Lemansky Convicted Of Animal Cruelty By Judge & Jury Of Facebook Peers

June 7, 2016 (Mimesis Law) – Katharine Lemansky posted a picture to Facebook of her dog with duct tape around its muzzle. The social media version of all hell broke loose. Lemansky was charged in North Carolina with Class I animal cruelty. She was found guilty last week by a judge and sentenced to twelve months of probation.

Before we get started, this would probably be a good time to add a long disclaimer about loving animals and not condoning taping their mouths shut and whatever else might make you feel good. Not going to happen.

This is a post about criminal law, not animals’ rights. Sometimes the criminal justice system requires us to look at something that makes us mad, triggers our desire for revenge, and still be fair about the whole situation. This case is a perfect example of why we use courtrooms instead of pitchforks and torches when we consider criminal accusations.

Lemansky’s post to Facebook was stupid. She says she was trying to send the picture to her son, which would have been less stupid than posting it on Facebook, but still stupid. Every little thing people do doesn’t need to be passed about cyberspace for all the world to see. But in any event, Lemansky posted a picture of her dog with duct tape around its mouth. Apparently it was barking too much.

Hundreds of people saw the photo and called the police. Not the Facebook police. The real police. Several police departments, since it wasn’t clear where the picture was taken. Lemansky was eventually tracked to Cary, North Carolina, after numerous law enforcement agencies were contacted by outraged social media users.

Police in Avon and Torrington, as well as South Daytona, Florida, were inundated with phone calls and emails from people concerned about the Facebook post of the dog, claiming the photo to be evidence of animal cruelty and calling on police to do something.

People were pissed. In fact, so pissed they lost whatever semblance of sanity they might have possessed before this viral post. Which tends to happen when a Facebook mob starts to build.

The post, photo and Facebook account have not been authenticated and the post has since been removed from the “Katie Brown” Facebook page [the name Lemansky was apparently using on Facebook], but people who looked through Brown’s Facebook friends found one person worked at “Doggie in the Window” in Simsbury, and that quickly prompted negative posts about the Connecticut business.

“When I got online, I was seeing some of the comments. I was just astonished that people could accuse us of the things they were accusing of us,” said Martha Hickey, who co-owns Doggie in the Window with her sister, Ellen.

All of a sudden, the company’s stellar Facebook rating took a hit with bad reviews, including one comment that said, “You cannot be trusted with animals.” 

“We’ve worked very, very hard to establish a solid reputation and to have one thing like this potentially ruin that, that hard work you’ve done for 10 years, yeah that hurts a lot,” Ellen Hickey, co-owner of Doggie in the Window, said.

In case that is not quite clear, angry social media users combed through Lemansky’s Facebook page. They found she had one Facebook friend who worked at a business related to animals. They took out their frustration for a dog they didn’t know, being treated in a way they were not fully aware of, on a business they had never heard of. And you wonder why some blame the people for the problems in our criminal justice system?

Lemansky was charged in North Carolina with a cruelty to animals charge, which says:

If any person shall intentionally overdrive, overload, wound, injure, torment, kill, or deprive of necessary sustenance, or cause or procure to be overdriven, overloaded, wounded, injured, tormented, killed, or deprived of necessary sustenance, any animal, every such offender shall for every such offense be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Sounds like a crime reserved from some serious animal whipping. Based on the list of actions that qualify as cruelty, it also requires a fact-intensive inquiry in order to convict someone of the charge. So what was the result of that inquiry in this case?

According to Lemansky’s statement when the police arrived at her house, the tape was on the dog’s mouth for a very short period of time.

When asked if the dog was bothering neighbors, Lemansky said no, and that duct tape was only on the dog for 15-20 seconds. 

Of course that’s what she said. Everybody makes up a story when they get caught, right? Turns out she was probably telling the truth.

[Cary Animal Control Supervisor Shelly] Smith said Lemansky admitted taking the picture in a Cary garage on Churchview Street. Shelly found “Brown” [the dog] didn’t have any hair loss or swelling and was in good spirits so they allowed Lemansky to keep the dog.

In other words, the dog wasn’t harmed by the silly stunt. And he was happy and well taken care of. In fact, Lemansky’s other animals were also well taken care of. The testimony at trial didn’t reveal cruelty.

The officers acknowledged that they found no signs of hair loss or injury to Brown when they investigated the incident. They also noted that Brown did not seem to be afraid of Lemansky.

Lemansky had the veterinarian records for her pets with her, and Williams and Smith testified in the hour-long hearing Friday afternoon that they thought that was unusual but admirable.

The prosecutor’s theory? That this was done for punishment, causing pain to the dog.

The defense argued that prosecutor Alex Pulley, an assistant Wake County district attorney, had not proved that Brown suffered pain.

“Of course the dog cannot be here and tell you it felt pain,” Pulley told the judge in his closing statement. Pulley argued that Lemansky wrapped the tape around the dog’s muzzle to punish it, and by doing so, put it in a position where it could not eat or drink.

“She did this, your honor, for no other reason but to punish,” he said.

Right. Because when you can’t explain to a dog why it is supposed to be good, sometimes you have to think of other ways to “punish” it. Some horrible people call that training. And there are certainly ways of taking that too far, which are the subject of North Carolina’s statute. This wasn’t one of them.

How did she get convicted? There was no evidence Lemansky’s actions hurt the dog. There was no evidence the tape was on the dog’s mouth for more than seconds. In fact, the evidence supported Lemansky’s story. There was no other evidence of cruelty, or fear, or anything else harmful to the dog.

It was the picture.

The two Cary officers, Rachel Williams and Shelly Smith, testified that though many things had impressed them about Lemansky’s care for the dog and its litter mate and a pet cat, also in her care, the photo in their opinion showed tape wrapped so tight that there was swelling around the edges.

Remember what they said earlier. The tape caused no injury. They weren’t alone in relying on the picture to ignore the obvious. The judge was also swayed:

Before giving Lemansky a 60-day jail sentence that was suspended to 12 months of supervised probation, District Judge Jackie Brewer said: “This is one of those cases where a picture’s worth a thousand words.”

The only problem with the judge’s opinion is that it’s one step above the Facebook mob. Those thousand words were evidence the dog was happy, well cared for, and not injured. In other words, not the victim of animal cruelty.

But the picture is enough to make everybody throw the facts out the window and raise hell because your feelings are more important than those facts. Sure, dog lovers get mad when they see that picture. It looks like cruelty. But it turns out it’s not. No matter how mad it makes you, or how stupid it was to do, it is not a crime according to the statute.

In a courtroom, feelings don’t matter. Only evidence. A picture is worthless without the thousand words. Those thousand words add context. Without the context, it’s just a picture. And feelings are just feelings. Keep them out of our courtrooms. Nobody wants American courtrooms looking like a Facebook newsfeed.

2 Comments on this post.

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  • texan
    8 June 2016 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    The first rule when police come to your door: refuse admittance unless they have a warrant and refuse to talk to them without a lawyer present. When she tried to explain what happened she convicted herself.

  • casey bell
    9 June 2016 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Maybe you’re not aware of a case from a few years ago when a dog’s muzzle was similarly taped. Unfortunately in that incident, the tape was left of for several
    days, causing significant pain and injury to the dog, which ended up scarred and having part of it’s tongue removed due to circulation being cut off. The dog almost
    died of dehydration before it was rescued.

    People were outraged of course and so when this woman posted her dog’s picture with
    it’s muzzle taped, they were viscerally disgusted and outraged. Maybe they over-reacted but thw world is full of copy-cats, and there’s a very real possibility that people who see her dog’s picture will decide to do the same thing to other dogs.

    Personally I think it is totally irresponsible to pulish photos that suggest ways
    to be cruel to animals, even if the photos are staged and no animals are actually hurt. There’s just too great a possibility that someone seeing the photo will be
    inspired to do the same thiing to some innocent animal.