MIAMI (CN) – A 20-year-old man claims he was maliciously prosecuted as a “serial cat killer” in a widely publicized case that stemmed from sloppy forensic work and alarmist allegations.
Tyler Hayes Weinman was a high school senior in 2009 when Miami-Dade Police arrested him and charged him with 19 counts of animal cruelty, four counts of burglary and 19 counts of wrongfully disposing of dead animals.
All the charges were dropped, but not until after his name and photo had been published across South Florida, and he was subjected to public vilification, much of which can still be seen by a simple Internet search of his name.
Weinman and his father, a dentist, sued Miami-Dade County, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the University of Florida, and veterinarian Melinda Merck, in Miami-Dade County Court.
Residents of the Southeast Miami suburbs of Cutler Bay and Palmetto Bay believed they were being terrorized by a serial cat killer in the spring of 2009.
Police reported that at least 33 cats had been killed, and Miami-Dade Animal Services said the pets had been dissected, then dropped off at the owners’ homes and left in posed positions, according to the complaint.
Acting on an anonymous tip, police arrested Weinman, then an 18-year-old high school senior. Weinman says police arrested him in a desperate attempt to calm the mounting hysteria.
Weinman says government veterinarians bungled the investigation, and that his attorney proved that the dead cats had “puncture wounds consistent with bite marks of large predators, such as dogs.”
He also claims that Miami-Dade Animal Services waited “more than fourteen (14) months after the arrest of Mr. Weinman, to reveal that two (2) large vicious wild dogs had been seized in the area of Cutler Bay by Animal Services the very same day (June 13, 2009) as Mr. Weinman’s arrest and the end of the cat killings.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
Weinman says that after Cutler Bay Police received “numerous calls regarding dead cats,” they requested assistance from Miami-Dade Police.
“As part of the investigation, Miami-Dade Animal Services was contacted to have their investigators come to the Cutler Bay area and assist with the investigation inasmuch as the police officers believed that they did not possess the expertise to determine the cause and manner of death of the cats,” the complaint states.
“Miami-Dade Animal Services Investigator Fernando Casadevall arrived to assist the police department (accompanied by a film crew from the Animal Planet Television Network). That investigator made a determination on the scene that the deceased cats appeared to have been killed by a person and dissected after they were dead. Investigator Casadevall also explained that since the cats were found in ‘posed positions,’ with no blood around the area, the cats had been ‘cleaned’ and placed at the scene by a human being. Investigator Casadevall maintained the opinion that the ever-growing number of deceased cats were killed by a human being and not by an animal predator.
“Allegedly, an anonymous ‘tip’ came to the Cutler Bay Police Department stating that a young man by the name Tyler Weinman was involved in the killing of the cats.
“Initially, two contract veterinarians from Miami-Dade Animal Services did necropsies of the deceased cats upon the request of Investigator Casadevall. These veterinarians also came to the conclusion that the cats were not being killed by predators.
“At that point, Dr. Sara Pizano, the Director of Miami-Dade Animal Services, personally began reviewing and conducting necropsies. Dr. Pizano confirmed to the Miami-Dade Police Department and the State Attorney’s Office that the cats had been killed by a human being,” according to the complaint.
(The only defendants in this lawsuit are those named in the fourth paragraph of this article.)
Weinman was arrested on June 13, 2009.
“It is clear that prior to the arrest of plaintiff, Tyler Hayes Weinman, there was growing pressure on the detectives involved in the investigation to make an arrest,” the complaint states. “The residents of the Cutler Bay, Palmetto Bay and Kendall areas that owned cats felt particularly singled out as potential victims of violence and, as the State Attorney assigned to the case later acknowledged, ‘Everyone was on edge.’
“The opinions of the Miami-Dade Animal Services personnel greatly influenced the investigators and the others involved in the case due to their ‘apparent specialized knowledge of animal cruelty.’
“On the date of the arrest of plaintiff Tyler Hayes Weinman the killings of the cats in the Cutler Bay, Palmetto Bay and Kendall areas ceased. However, more than fourteen (14) months after the arrest of plaintiff Tyler Hayes Weinman it was revealed by Investigator Casadevall, that two (2) large vicious wild dogs had been seized in the area of Cutler Bay by Animal Services the very same day as this plaintiff’s arrest.
“Dr. Sara Pizano, the Director of Miami-Dade Animal Services, prepared reports detailing her analysis and opinions regarding the death of the cats, and upon which the charges against plaintiff Tyler Hayes Weinman were based. Her opinion was that nineteen (19) of the thirty-three (33) cats found by Animal Services between May and June 2009 had been killed by a human being, and not a predator.
“In September of 2010, Dr. Richard K. Stroud, an expert retained by counsel for plaintiff Tyler Hayes Weinman in the criminal prosecution, arrived at the offices of Miami-Dade Animal Services. Dr. Stroud specializes in veterinary pathology relating to the determination of the cause of death and the forensic evaluation of biological evidence.
“While at the offices of Miami-Dade Animal Services, Dr. Stroud conducted complete necropsies of eight (8) cats which had been preserved by Animal Services. During the necropsies of the cats he peeled back the skin showing the under layer below the skin. Dr. Stroud documented puncture wounds consistent with bite marks of large predators such as dogs in excess of fifty (50) pounds. Dr. Stroud’s reports with corresponding photographs documented his opinion that the eight (8) dead cats preserved by Animal Services had been killed by animal predators.
“During mid-November 2010, Dr. Stroud’s report and photographs were presented to Dr. Sara Pizano, and Dr. Pizano agreed with Dr. Stroud’s findings. Dr. Pizano recognized that she should have peeled back the fur in her necropsies which would have revealed the puncture wounds.
“Dr. Stroud’s report and photographs were also presented to defendant Melinda D. Merck D.V.M., and she concurred with Dr. Stroud’s conclusions.
“On or about November 24, 2010, the State announced that the State was not proceeding with the prosecution and filed their Notice of Nolle Prosequi, thereby resulting in a bona fide termination in favor of the plaintiff, Tyler Hayes Weinman, in that criminal prosecution.”
Weinman claims that the assistant state attorney who handled his criminal prosecution then wrote an interoffice memo, which stated: “‘In retrospect, the initial conclusion of Investigator Fernando Casadevall that the cats had been killed by a single person caused a sequence of events which led to the arrest and charging of Weinman. Dr. Sara Pizano, the head of Animal Services, who is an excellent director, is not a forensic veterinarian. The Miami-Dade Animal Services was simply unprepared and untrained for a case of this magnitude. Law enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office relied upon Animal Services as experts, which brought us to this posture.’
“Additionally, said interoffice memo stated: ‘The opinions of the Animal Services representatives greatly influenced the investigators and the others involved in this case due to their apparent specialized knowledge of animal cruelty.’
“During the deposition of Dr. Sara Pizano taken November 1, 2010 in the criminal case, she testified: at Page 61, Lines 19-20, ‘I would do things differently in the future.'”
Weinman seeks damages for mental anguish, humiliation, legal expenses, unwarranted incarceration, psychological counseling expenses, and lost wages.
His father seeks more than $144,000 in financial damages.
They are represented by Ronald Guralnick.