CLEVELAND (CN) – A California man who was traveling through Ohio with his two adult dogs and 10 puppies claims in court that authorities seized the dogs, one of which is his registered service animal, because he did not have local dog tags.
John D’Angelo, represented by attorneys Michela Huth of Ohio and Richard Rosenthal of New York, sued the city of Middleburg Heights, two animal control officers, a police officer and Cuyahoga County in Cleveland federal court. The complaint was filed Tuesday night but was not made available by the court until Wednesday.
According to the lawsuit, Middleburg Heights police showed up at the Motel 6 where D’Angelo was staying with his two adult dogs – Sasquatch and Dazey, his registered service animal – and 10 puppies on July 4 of this year because friends who were visiting with D’Angelo had removed the smoke alarm in his room so they could smoke cigarettes.
Nothing further occurred with the police during that visit, but the following morning two Middleburg Heights animal control officers allegedly knocked on the door of D’Angelo’s motel room and claimed they could take his dogs because D’Angelo did not have Cuyahoga County dog tags.
The animal control officers initially declined to do so, the lawsuit states, “since they saw that [D’Angelo] was taking good care of them.”
D’Angelo, who says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, then arranged a ride so he and his dogs could leave the motel, according to the complaint, but as he was loading his property into the vehicle the animal control officers and a Middleburg Heights police officer “swooped in” and told him he was being cited for failure to register his dogs.
D’Angelo claims he refused to sign the citation, so the officers took the dogs and left without notifying him where his animals were being taken or how he could get them back.
The lawsuit further alleges that when D’Angelo and his attorneys contacted the Middleburg Heights Police Department and the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter, they were told that D’Angelo was facing unspecified criminal charges and that the dogs would not be released to him unless he has a house where he can take them.
“The seizure of plaintiff’s dogs is unreasonable because there exists no explicit statutory authority to seize a dog when a person is temporarily in Ohio, or in a specific county in Ohio,” the lawsuit states.
D’Angelo’s attorney, Huth, said in a statement Thursday that the dogs were finally returned to her client on Wednesday, but said it shouldn’t take a federal lawsuit to get “property returned as a result of illegal seizures.”
“The location of these dogs was hidden from Mr. D'Angelo and his attorneys for seven days, and categorically no information was provided to either him or his attorneys as to any process to redeem his property,” she said.
D’Angelo seeks attorney fees and $100,000 in damages for claims of unconstitutional seizure of property, violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, denial of due process and unreasonable search.
He also wants a permanent injunction enjoining the defendants from seizing unregistered dogs from people traveling through Ohio.
In addition to Middleburg Heights and Cuyahoga County, the named defendants include animal control officers Laura Takacs and Jane Doe and Middleburg Heights police officer Jim Steinmetz.
The Middleburg Heights Police Department and Division of Animal Control did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
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