A Texas woman was arrested by Harris County sheriff’s deputies and kept for 14 hours at the county lockup on the suspicion that she had engaged in harassment of a person who was mistreating a dog. At the end of the day, she was released without charge.
Amber Cammack, an activist and private investigator, noticed that a dog was being kept on a balcony of a neighboring unit at her northwest metro Houston apartment complex. An animal rights activist, Cammack saw that the dog was wearing a diaper and its muzzle was apparently tied shut. According to her attorney, Randal Kallinen, Cammack called the Harris County Sheriff's Office, the District Attorney, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Animal Control over the course of seven days to report that the dog remained outdoors exposed on the balcony at all hours, even during recent torrential rainstorms. Kallinen alleged that the tenant in the apartment below the balcony in question complained that the dog’s urine and feces were falling from above.
Cammack, apparently frustrated about the apparent lack of response from officials, posted photographs of the dog on Facebook, which then went viral. At some point thereafter, according to Kallinen, Cammack got a telephone call from Sheriff Ron Hickman who threatened her with arrest if she didn't remove the Facebook posts. "When the sheriff himself calls you and threatens you with arrest that is an extreme chill on your right to freedom of expression," Kallinen said in a statement.
Once the photos Cammack took were posted on Facebook, they went viral, said Kallinen, and drew attention from England, Scotland, and Europe. "The sheriff's office was deluged," said Kallinen at the news conference, with calls "and then, and only then, did the Harris County Sheriff take an interest in this case. And the interest they took was in her freedom of speech. They said 'You need to take that down.'"
Kallinen continued, saying "The woman by the way who lived at the apartment where the dog was, claimed that she was the daughter of a Harris County Sheriff's deputy. She claimed this to several people." Kallinen said Cammack spent 14 hours in jail, "for freedom of speech." Since the sheriff himself spoke to Cammack and demanded that she remove the Facebook posts, said Kallinen, who called this an example of what he called "old-boyism" in the sheriff's department. "This is looking like a horrible example of violating someone's freedom of speech," declared Kallinen at the news conference as he answered media questions.
Attorney Kallinen said that Cammack was soon arrested for allegedly “harassing” the apartment complex resident. "The word that came out of the deputy's mouth over and over was 'harassment,' " said Kallinen. She spent the night on November 3 at the Harris County Jail, after having been taken to several other facilities.
On November 5, Cammack held a press conference outside of the jail where she was joined by Attorney Kallinen and about two dozen supporters who bore placards denouncing cruelty to animals and in support of the so-called “porch pooch.” She was not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation into the dog’s condition. In addition, she wondered whether a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals investigator had actually examined the dog. "I was treated like a hard-core murderer felon," said Cammack at the presser, adding "I was thrown in a tank with the rest of the murderers, drug dealers, whatever, for filing a report on a crime."
"I'm not a criminal," said Cammack.
Representing Pitbulls of Houston – a rescue group - Christina Paaske said at the news conference that she examined the dog during a private meeting with the owner. Paaske said the dog could not apply pressure to its rear left leg, even though Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said the veterinarian's report said the dog’s limp is due to an old injury. Paaske alleged that the dog is "emaciated" but was "kissing everyone and wagging her tail."
Harris County authorities are saying that an animal protection investigator and a veterinarian examined the dog, a pit bull mongrel named June, and found it in good health. June is now back with its owner. District Attorney Devon Anderson is not planning to charge the apartment dweller Cammack had publicized nor the owner.
Anderson acknowledged that the photos posted by Cammack depicted an apparently unhappy pup. "The pictures are bad," Anderson said, according to the Houston Chronicle. "I'm a dog owner. You'll never see my dog with a muzzle, or stuck on a porch with a diaper. Nobody in this office condones that or thinks that person was properly caring for that dog."
District Attorney Anderson is not planning to make formal charges against Cammack either. For her part, Cammack is disputing with authorities over the dog’s condition. She also wants an apology from Sheriff Hickman for her arrest. The photos of the dog, she said, were posted on Facebook because every other attempt to report on the alleged inhumane treatment was unanswered.
According to Ryan Sullivan of the sheriff's office, deputies responded to a November 2 complaint from a Villas of Westdoor condominium alleging "continuous harassment of the residents." The officers recorded several statements that alleged that Cammack "had repeatedly published allegations of animal abuse on social media sites, including their personal information, their physical locations, security access information, personal vehicle information, and more."
When deputies then contacted the district attorney, the complaint was initially accepted for a misdemeanor charges for electronic harassment. Cammack also spoke with the sheriff and other members of department. "After a lengthy discussion, Sheriff Hickman advised Ms. Cammack that repeated posting of personal information to social media could result in arrest should the District Attorney move to file charges," a statement from the sheriff’s office said.
At the press conference spoke Kim Ogg, a candidate to replace the Harris County District Attorney. A Democrat, Ogg said that she was attending the press conference because District Attorney Anderson was not. "Animal Cruelty is a crime, it's in the penal code." She said, "It deserves to be investigated.
Ogg repeated the claims spelled out by Cammack that Anderson's office offered no response to her calls about the dog. Ogg said that Anderson's office failed to answer the calls or investigate the purported crime. "Robust animal cruelty prosecution divisions exist all over the country," said Ogg. "I'm willing to talk to you about good programs that are easily emulated, so as long as they're funded. Our D.A. cut our animal cruelty division out of the picture and reduced it to half a prosecutor not dedicated to animal welfare."
Anderson defeated Ogg in the 2014 race for the District Attorney position. Officers of the Houston Metro Fraternal Order of Police rescinded their support of her campaign, a development that was believed to have led to her defeat. Of her candidacy, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said at the time "Kim Ogg ran a stupendous race for justice, freedom and opportunity." The next race will come in 2017.