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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Pooch’s Treatment at Heart of D.C. Civil Case

(CN) - Quoting a Mark Twain quip about dogs, a federal judge refused to let police guarding our nation's capital shake off a lawsuit accusing them of treating a man and "his canine companion in an ungentlemanly and unconstitutional manner."

In 1899, Samuel L. Clemens, the man behind the celebrated pen name, held a dim view of the human race and expressed it in a letter to his fellow writer William Dean Howells.

"The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man's," Clemens wrote.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg uses this remark to introduce the case of Washington bar owner Mark Thorp, whose story about his expensive doberman named Vaughn includes a web of drugs, jealousy and conspiracy.

Thorp says that his troubles began when advisory neighborhood commissioner Kathy Henderson published false rumors that he used his local watering hole Jimmy Valentine's Lonely Hearts Club to sell narcotics.

The claims led a D.C. Superior Court judge to award Thorp more than $150,000 for Henderson's defamation in 2013.

Thorp's lawyer Matthew LaFande said in a phone interview that Henderson's political heft helped her get multiple officers from Washington's Metropolitan Police Department to interfere with the collection of that judgment.

"Unfortunately, that is very common in the District of Columbia," LaFande said.

Court papers ascribe a different motive for why one lieutenant allegedly targeted Thorp for retaliation later.

According to the lawsuit, Lt. Ramey Joseph Kyle, "is, or has previously been, in a romantic relationship with a woman who previously had a romantic relationship with the plaintiff."

Kyle allegedly turned up outside Thorp's house with other officers to taunt Thorp and yell into his windows, according to the complaint.

The day a newspaper reported Henderson's house would be auctioned to satisfy the judgment, Kyle and his comrades then executed a "no-knock" search warrant on Thorpe's house, Thorp says.

Though the warrant allowed police only to look into a spurious allegation of animal cruelty, police instead sniffed around further into "closed containers," Thorp says.

In a freezer, police found substances that tested positive for amphetamines.

Thorp claims that these were legal, prescription medications, but that police seized them along with his pooch, jewelry, furniture and more than $53,000. Authorities also slapped him with bogus drug and animal-cruelty charges, he says.

These charges were eventually dropped, but they led Thorp to bring constitutional claims in federal court.

Judge Boasberg notes that Thorp claims "that both he and his dog suffered various injuries during and after the raid, and that he was 'subjected to burdensome and humiliating conditions of pre-trial release.'"

Attorney LaFande, another dog lover who, unlike his client, favors rescues, said that his client's purebred stayed in his house for two weeks after the raid. Thorp had supervised visitation rights at the time, but he and Vaughn are now reunited, the lawyer says.

Boasberg's ruling Thursday advances multiple counts of civil-rights violations against Kyle and the district.

"In essence, Thorp believes Kyle knowingly directed officers in his unit to secure a search warrant for plaintiff's home using false information; if this were true, it would be objectively unreasonable for Kyle to rely on a search warrant he knew was improperly procured," the 27-page opinion states. "The Fourth Amendment is unambiguous that warrants shall not issue without 'probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation.'"

Apparently unsatisfied with a mixed victory, attorney LaFande said he's a "little perturbed" about the dismissal of several other counts.

In any event, LaFande added: "The immediate impact is that the music has stopped, and we still have a chair."

The District of Columbia's Office of the Attorney General declined a request for comment.

As bad as Thorp claims his troubles to be, Twain had it worse when he declared his preference for dogs over human beings.

Years before his letter to Howells, Twain went bankrupt on misguided investments and blamed his trusted business partner in publishing for cheating him out of his fortune. He went on an international lecture tour to recover from debt, and his beloved daughter died of meningitis before he returned.

By then, the United States entered into the Spanish-American War, and Twain's outrage at it fueled some of his most scathing political works as vice-president of the now-defunct American Anti-Imperialist League. His most pessimistic works such as "The Damned Human Race" would not be published until later, and others like "Letters from the Earth" and "The War Prayer" would not surface until after his death.

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