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2009-01-29

Dog mauling case on DA’s backburner

By Judith Pannebaker

Late last week, rumors were rife throughout Bandera County that 216th District Attorney Bruce Curry had declined to present a felony dog mauling that occurred last October to a grand jury.

As the story was circulated, his decision was allegedly based on the extent of the injuries suffered by the victim and the difficulty in proving the owner of the dogs had been criminally negligent.

However, what a difference a weekend makes. On Tuesday, Jan. 27, Curry seemed to sing a different tune. The case, it appears, is not closed, but rather has been referred back to BCSO for “further investigation.”

In a telephone interview, Assistant District Attorney Steve Wadsworth made it abundantly clear the case would “definitely go to the grand jury once the investigation is complete.” He added, “It was always our intention to take it to the grand jury.”

In February, it will be four months since the attack occurred. When appraised of the seeming delay, Wadsworth conjectured that investigators might be waiting for additional medical records and physicians’ opinions. “Determining the full extent of the injuries takes time,” he explained. “In addition, we want to make sure all witnesses statements have been taken.”

When queried about the possibility of the case appearing on next month’s grand jury docket, Wadsworth said, “The State is waiting for the Bandera County Sheriff’s Office to complete the investigation. We could put it before the February grand jury if things are wrapped up quickly.”

In early October, three Rottweilers attacked Ninon Truax, 69, as she walked along Polly Peak in early evening. After hearing Truax’s screams, a neighbor, Ken Daniels, thwarted the attack by driving the dogs away with rocks. After being impounded by animal control officers, the Rottweilers were later euthanized.
As a result of her injuries, Truax spent nearly a week in the hospital, first at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, then at a rehabilitation facility in Boerne. The dog attack has apparently left her with nerve damage.

On Dec. 1, a grand jury indicted the dogs’ owner, Rosalia Clarice Sciafani, 46, of Polly Peak, for fabricating evidence related to the attack. Sciafani was arrested nine days later on a felony charge of “tampering with or fabricating evidence.” She was also charged with on a felony “blue warrant,” which, according to Wadsworth, usually indicates a parole revocation.

No stranger to the Bandera County court system, Sciafani has apparently been charged previously for theft by check and driving while intoxicated, in addition to allegedly serving a 30-year probated sentence on other charges.

To date, Sciafani’s only indictment stemmed from fabricating a rabies vaccination certificate. During the course of the investigation, Sgt. Shane Merritt of the Bandera County Sheriff’s Office said that Sciafani had assured him several times that the three Rottweilers involved in the attack had been inoculated against rabies. However, she repeatedly failed to produce supporting documents.

“When Dr. (Conrad) Nightingale (county rabies officer) issued an order to have the dogs euthanized and tested for rabies,” Merritt said, “(Sciafani) produced a record on one of the dogs that we suspected was fraudulent.”

According to Chief Deputy Don Berger, Sciafani had access to rabies vaccination paperwork due to her employment in a veterinarian clinic. “But when she filled (the paperwork) out, she put the wrong date. It was dated two days later than the attack,” he explained.

Fabricating evidence is a third degree penalty ranging in punishment from two to 10 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000. Additionally, Merritt substantiated, Sciafani is on parole and also subject to a revocation hearing that could send her back to prison to complete her original sentence.

In 2007, Texas Legislators enacted the new law that enables law enforcement officers to charge owners of dogs that attack without provocation with a felony. In May, prosecutors in Stephens County used the statute to secure seven-year sentences for a couple whose four pit bulls fatally mauled a 7-year-old boy to death. Because of prior felony convictions, probation for the couple was not an option.

Statute 822.005 of the Health and Safety Code requires that the dog attack be unprovoked, occur off the owner’s property and result in serious bodily injury or death.

The new state statute is also called “Lillian’s Law” after 76-year-old Lillian Stiles, who was fatally mauled in her yard in Milan County in 2005 by a pack of pit bull-Rottweiler mixes. It eliminates the “one free bite” law that prevented owners from being charged unless their dog been involved in a previous attack.