A Los Angeles County assistant fire chief charged with animal cruelty for beating a Riverside County neighbor's puppy so badly that it had to be euthanized was acting in self-defense, fending off an attack by a mature dog big enough to do serious damage, his attorney said Monday.
Glynn D. Johnson, 54, is charged with animal cruelty and using a deadly weapon in the Nov. 3 run-in with the animal, because he allegedly used a 12-pound rock to crack the 6-month-old puppy's skull. Johnson faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
"The dog had my thumb in a vice-like grip in his jaws when it became necessary to defend myself," Johnson said.
During much of a news conference in Beverly Hills, Johnson sat quietly with a bandage on his thumb. But his attorney, John E. Sweeney, insisted that the incident has been unfairly characterized by the media and protesters as an unprovoked attack on a timid puppy.
Sweeney said Johnson was bitten and attacked by a mature animal that was "clearly not a puppy." A veterinarian will be brought to court to testify about the size of the animal, he said.
The attorney also noted that Johnson struck the animal with his less-dominant left hand, because his right hand was being bitten.
"The dominant hand was in the mouth of the dog, being shredded," Sweeney said.
Sweeney also downplayed images of the dog, named Karley, that have been posted online showing it as a timid puppy. The attorney said the images are a clear attempt to sway public opinion against his client.
"I'm sure Jeffrey Dahmer had baby photos that were very cute," he said.
He also said Johnson has been receiving death threats.
The dog apparently got out of its yard in the 17000 block of Armintrout Drive in the Woodcrest community south of Riverside that Monday afternoon about 4:30 p.m., according to Riverside County sheriff's deputies.
Neighbor Travis Staggs was walking the dog back to its owners, Jeff and Shelley Toole and their teenage children, when Johnson -- another neighbor who lives between the two -- stepped in and said he would take the dog back. But Staggs told KTLA-TV that Johnson started beating the dog without provocation in his own front yard.
Johnson said the dog bit him.
According to Staggs, Johnson tried to break the dog's jaws by prying them apart, then started hitting Karley in the head with a big rock. A veterinarian told the Tooles that Karley had a crushed skull, according to ABC7.
Although he declined to discuss whether Johnson used a rock, Sweeney said Johnson had not actually killed the dog, but rather "... just did enough to get the dog to release his hand, which was mauled."
The puppy, however, had to be euthanized.
Police said they got a call reporting a dog attack about the same time someone else reported the attack on the dog. Apparently, the Tooles and Johnson had been at odds before Monday.
Sweeney stopped Johnson from answering any questions about a possible ongoing feud between the two families, but did say that relations between them had always been cordial.
Johnson went to a hospital for treatment of an injured thumb and wrist.
Johnson is an assistant fire chief in charge of several stations in eastern Los Angeles County. When Riverside County prosecutors did not immediately charge Johnson, animal lovers flooded their office with phone calls and protested outside the courthouse.
"This was a very calculated effort to get this case filed by the District Attorney's Office," Sweeney said. "But thank goodness for the legal system, because once all the facts come out in court, this man will be acquitted."
Johnson was arrested and charged last week and was briefly jailed before bonding out on $10,000 bail. He has been placed on administrative leave from his job at the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Johnson is expected to be arraigned on an animal cruelty charge on Jan. 13 in Riverside County Superior Court.