Investigators May Be Liable for Shaky Dog Cruelty Case

     CHICAGO (CN) - A couple acquitted of animal cruelty can sue two Cook County investigators who allegedly leveled bogus charges about cages full of feces, a federal judge ruled.
     Demetria Hayes-Newell and David Hayes say they met Cook County Sherriff Investigator Tyra Brown when she appeared at their home undercover with the purported interest of buying a puppy.
     Though investigator Larry Draus had not been present, according to the complaint, he allegedly signed an affidavit for a search warrant against the couple. The affidavit said he saw "wire cages" that were "full of feces" in the home, and that there was a "very strong" smell of urine, according to the complaint. He also allegedly claimed the dogs appeared to be "very weak" or "did not move."
     Chicago police executed the warrant the next day and seized dozens of dogs as they arrested the couple on charges of animal cruelty.
     After they were acquitted in November 2009, Hayes-Newell and Hayes filed suit for punitive damages. They claim that Brown observed the "well-nourished, healthy, safe, warm and secure conditions of the puppies and dogs," but the department nevertheless chose to maliciously prosecute false charges.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnigan refused to dismiss last week, finding that the investigators may not have had probable cause to obtain a search warrant.
     "Plaintiffs here claim that defendants affirmatively knew from personal observation that the dogs in question were healthy and secure, but arrested them anyway," Finnigan wrote. "The search warrant affidavit does indicate that Brown received information about the dogs from a confidential source, but the second amended complaint alleges that she learned the information was false when she visited plaintiffs' residence before she obtained the warrant and effected the arrests."
     Although the search warrant was valid, plaintiffs may be able to prove that "the issuing judge was misled by information in an affidavit that the affiant knew was false or would have known was false except for his reckless disregard of the truth," the decision states.
     Finnigan also denied the investigators' claim to qualified immunity. "Once again, defendants' argument ignores plaintiffs' allegations that they made misrepresentations to the circuit court judge in obtaining a search warrant, and personally observed that the dogs in question were healthy, clean, safe and well-nourished at the time of the detentions, arrests and seizure," she wrote.
     "Assuming, as the court must, that these facts are true, a reasonable officer arguably would have known that he was violating plaintiffs' rights," she added.