Court hears of ‘spine-chilling’ dog attack on five-year-old

Gisborne Courthouse. File picture by Rebecca Grunwell

A FRENZIED dog attack on a five-year-old boy at a house in Emily Street was “spine-chilling”, a neighbour who witnessed it told a judge-alone trial in Gisborne District Court yesterday.

He heard someone calling for help and a horrible sound that he likened to animals feeding in a zoo.

“Not a howl or a bark, but a sound I’ve never heard before, a deep-throated growling that sent shivers up your spine,” the man said.

Clint Cormac Ward, 44, plumber, the owner of four unregistered American Staffordshire bulldogs, has pleaded guilty to charges of owning a dog that caused injury in respect of three of the dogs.

The attack on June 4 last year left the boy with head and leg injuries, for which he had surgery in Gisborne Hospital.

Ward denies that a fourth dog, Mushroom, the mother of the others, was involved.

A judge-alone trial was held yesterday on the fourth charge.

If Ward is found guilty of that charge the dog, impounded since the incident, will be destroyed like the others.

Ward was not home when the boy was dropped there by his father to visit. The only adult home at the property was Ward’s partner, who was asleep in a shed at the rear of the property.

Ward’s teenage son, 16 at the time, and a female relative, 14, were in the lounge.

The boy was scared of the dogs, which were barking and sounded aggressive, so his father stayed at the property playing soccer with him on a lawn, while Ward’s son went to lock the dogs in a bedroom.

After the boy’s father left, the youngster went to enter the lounge through a ranchslider off the front deck. The dogs rushed out, bowled him over and attacked him.

In court, the neighbour and his adult son, who also witnessed the attack, each told Judge Haami Raumati they were outside when they heard the attack and ran next door to help.

They saw all four dogs, including Mushroom, leaping up at the boy and the teenage boy frantically trying to intervene.

The teenager had hold of the younger boy and tried to pass him over fencing around the deck to them, but the dogs grabbed the little boy by the bottom and dragged the two of them down.

Too scared to wade in for fear of being attacked themselves, the younger neighbour ran back to their property to retrieve a steel bar to fend the dogs off. His father phoned emergency services.

Attack lasts up to 90 seconds

When they returned moments later the attack, which one of them said lasted about a minute and a half, had ended.

The neighbour said he had seen the dogs before at the property but did not know much about them other than they were not friendly dogs.

He was not a dog person.

In her evidence, the teenage girl said she had tried to kick the dogs away and had managed to wake Ward’s partner Lucietia Johnson by banging on the door of the shed, which she was not allowed to enter.

The girl said that about a week later Ward and Ms Johnson tried to persuade her that Mushroom was not involved. But she knew otherwise.

Ward’s counsel Manaaki Terekia (assisted by junior counsel Holly Tunstall) called Ward’s son, now aged 17, and Ms Johnson as witnesses for the defence.

The teenager initially said only one of the dogs — the male of the group — was attacking.

It pushed the young boy to the ground and was sinking its teeth into his head. The other dogs jumped over the boy and merely scratched him.

But under cross-examination by Sergeant Aubrey Ormond and in answer to questions from Judge Raumati, the boy admitted he was mistaken in some of his evidence and had downplayed the severity of the attack.

In her evidence, Ms Johnson said Mushroom had not attacked but was standing aside barking as if to chastise her offspring. Mushroom had no blood on her.

She was a family dog, a couch dog, Ms Johnson said.

Judge Raumati commented that Ms Johnson seemed intoxicated as she gave evidence. Her eyelids were droopy and she slurred her words. He asked her if she had been drinking or taking drugs before coming to court. Ms Johnson said no, but that she took medication for epilepsy and had little sleep the night before due to being emotional about the case.

Finding reserved

The judge reserved his finding on the dog attack and moved the fixture into a separate hearing on admissibility of evidence after a police search of the property later on the day of the attack.

After that search, Ward was also charged with cultivating cannabis, unlawful possession of a firearm, in relation to a gun that was found, and possession of a methamphetamine pipe.

A constable acting as a duty sergeant that day said he had been informed while at the property for the dogs, that there was a growing room out the back.

He organised to search without a warrant as allowed under the Search and Surveillance Act. Told by Ward’s son it was unsafe to go into the backyard where the dogs were put until rangers arrived, the constable said he was concerned the teenager could potentially destroy or remove evidence.

Nevertheless, he waited until Mr Ward returned home to start the search.

Mr Terekia put it to the constable he had plenty of time in the interim to apply for a warrant. The officer said he was busy organising other staff for which he was responsible that day. He had also done a computer check and found Ward had prior relevant history.

Judge Raumati reserved his finding. The case will be called again on November 13.

Mr Terekia said if the judge ruled the search legal, Ward would plead guilty to the charges.

Sergeant Ormond said if the ruling went against police, the charges would be withdrawn.

A FRENZIED dog attack on a five-year-old boy at a house in Emily Street was “spine-chilling”, a neighbour who witnessed it told a judge-alone trial in Gisborne District Court yesterday.

He heard someone calling for help and a horrible sound that he likened to animals feeding in a zoo.

“Not a howl or a bark, but a sound I’ve never heard before, a deep-throated growling that sent shivers up your spine,” the man said.

Clint Cormac Ward, 44, plumber, the owner of four unregistered American Staffordshire bulldogs, has pleaded guilty to charges of owning a dog that caused injury in respect of three of the dogs.

The attack on June 4 last year left the boy with head and leg injuries, for which he had surgery in Gisborne Hospital.

Ward denies that a fourth dog, Mushroom, the mother of the others, was involved.

A judge-alone trial was held yesterday on the fourth charge.

If Ward is found guilty of that charge the dog, impounded since the incident, will be destroyed like the others.

Ward was not home when the boy was dropped there by his father to visit. The only adult home at the property was Ward’s partner, who was asleep in a shed at the rear of the property.

Ward’s teenage son, 16 at the time, and a female relative, 14, were in the lounge.

The boy was scared of the dogs, which were barking and sounded aggressive, so his father stayed at the property playing soccer with him on a lawn, while Ward’s son went to lock the dogs in a bedroom.

After the boy’s father left, the youngster went to enter the lounge through a ranchslider off the front deck. The dogs rushed out, bowled him over and attacked him.

In court, the neighbour and his adult son, who also witnessed the attack, each told Judge Haami Raumati they were outside when they heard the attack and ran next door to help.

They saw all four dogs, including Mushroom, leaping up at the boy and the teenage boy frantically trying to intervene.

The teenager had hold of the younger boy and tried to pass him over fencing around the deck to them, but the dogs grabbed the little boy by the bottom and dragged the two of them down.

Too scared to wade in for fear of being attacked themselves, the younger neighbour ran back to their property to retrieve a steel bar to fend the dogs off. His father phoned emergency services.

Attack lasts up to 90 seconds

When they returned moments later the attack, which one of them said lasted about a minute and a half, had ended.

The neighbour said he had seen the dogs before at the property but did not know much about them other than they were not friendly dogs.

He was not a dog person.

In her evidence, the teenage girl said she had tried to kick the dogs away and had managed to wake Ward’s partner Lucietia Johnson by banging on the door of the shed, which she was not allowed to enter.

The girl said that about a week later Ward and Ms Johnson tried to persuade her that Mushroom was not involved. But she knew otherwise.

Ward’s counsel Manaaki Terekia (assisted by junior counsel Holly Tunstall) called Ward’s son, now aged 17, and Ms Johnson as witnesses for the defence.

The teenager initially said only one of the dogs — the male of the group — was attacking.

It pushed the young boy to the ground and was sinking its teeth into his head. The other dogs jumped over the boy and merely scratched him.

But under cross-examination by Sergeant Aubrey Ormond and in answer to questions from Judge Raumati, the boy admitted he was mistaken in some of his evidence and had downplayed the severity of the attack.

In her evidence, Ms Johnson said Mushroom had not attacked but was standing aside barking as if to chastise her offspring. Mushroom had no blood on her.

She was a family dog, a couch dog, Ms Johnson said.

Judge Raumati commented that Ms Johnson seemed intoxicated as she gave evidence. Her eyelids were droopy and she slurred her words. He asked her if she had been drinking or taking drugs before coming to court. Ms Johnson said no, but that she took medication for epilepsy and had little sleep the night before due to being emotional about the case.

Finding reserved

The judge reserved his finding on the dog attack and moved the fixture into a separate hearing on admissibility of evidence after a police search of the property later on the day of the attack.

After that search, Ward was also charged with cultivating cannabis, unlawful possession of a firearm, in relation to a gun that was found, and possession of a methamphetamine pipe.

A constable acting as a duty sergeant that day said he had been informed while at the property for the dogs, that there was a growing room out the back.

He organised to search without a warrant as allowed under the Search and Surveillance Act. Told by Ward’s son it was unsafe to go into the backyard where the dogs were put until rangers arrived, the constable said he was concerned the teenager could potentially destroy or remove evidence.

Nevertheless, he waited until Mr Ward returned home to start the search.

Mr Terekia put it to the constable he had plenty of time in the interim to apply for a warrant. The officer said he was busy organising other staff for which he was responsible that day. He had also done a computer check and found Ward had prior relevant history.

Judge Raumati reserved his finding. The case will be called again on November 13.

Mr Terekia said if the judge ruled the search legal, Ward would plead guilty to the charges.

Sergeant Ormond said if the ruling went against police, the charges would be withdrawn.

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