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Former L.A. County fire official gets 90 days in puppy beating

Glynn Johnson also is placed on three years' probation, required to do 400 hours of community service working with dogs and must take anger-management classes.

April 03, 2010|By David Kelly

A former Los Angeles County assistant fire chief was sentenced to three years' probation Friday on animal cruelty charges for beating a puppy with a 12-pound rock, injuring it so severely that it had to be euthanized.

Glynn Johnson, 55, of Riverside also was required to do 400 hours of community service working with dogs, take anger-management classes and serve 90 weekend days in jail.

He could have been given four years in prison, and the sentence was immediately denounced by those hoping for more jail time as a "slap on the wrist."

Before the sentencing, Johnson's family and friends begged Riverside County Superior Court Judge J. Thompson Hanks for leniency. They said Johnson had saved people and animals as a firefighter and had been an exemplary father and husband. His friend Jerry Austin, who identified himself as a former Anaheim fire chief, said the trial "dehumanized" Johnson and "humanized" a dog.

"That is unfortunate," he said.

Johnson apologized to neighbors Jeff and Shelley Toole and their son, Brandon, for the death of Karley, their 6-month-old Shepherd mix.

"I don't hate animals. I have horses, cats, chickens and I would never destroy an animal for no reason," he said. "My involvement here was me trying to help."

That's not how the jury saw it in a case that swiftly became a national rallying cry against animal abuse.

Prosecutors said Johnson had an ongoing vendetta against the Tooles over their animals and noise issues in their Woodcrest neighborhood. He was accused of putting dog excrement in their mailbox, shooting their former dog and a neighbor's dog with a pellet gun and videotaping their children playing in the driveway.

On Nov. 3, 2008, Travis Staggs, a friend of the family, was taking Karley for a walk. As he approached the Toole home, Johnson appeared and volunteered to take her the rest of the way.

Eyewitnesses said Johnson had walked barely 100 feet when he started punching the puppy. Then he pulled her jaws apart and bludgeoned her at least 12 times in the head with a rock.

Karley's nasal cavity was crushed, her skull was cracked in three places, her ear canal collapsed and she lost an eye in the assault. She was later euthanized.

Johnson went to the hospital seeking treatment for a bite he said came from Karley. He told investigators that he was simply defending himself against the dog.

The Toole family spoke in court Friday, asking that Johnson be given jail time and psychiatric help.

"I remember when I first met you," Jeff Toole said, looking at Johnson. "I said 'Hello' and you ignored me and I said 'Hello' again and you said, 'Can't you see I'm . . . busy?' I knew then that you would be the neighbor from hell."

He said if Karley did to Johnson what he did to her, she would be facing the death penalty now. "Your penalty would be death too if I was the judge," he said. "No one of sound mind would do the things you have done to our family. We continue to live in fear, wondering what you will do next."

Shelley Toole said Johnson was a sociopath whose remorse was insincere. "You could have apologized that day," she said. "Unfortunately for society, you will probably do this again."

The judge expressed shock at the number of letters he had received about the case.

"I spent 14 years as a prosecutor and 22 years as a judge, and it is unusual to see this kind of outpouring from the community, including in the death of children," he said. "I am a dog owner and I understand your feelings. What you do as a judge is seek balance."

After the sentencing, some Karley supporters yelled "puppy killer" at Johnson as he emerged from the courtroom, smiling, with his lawyer, John Sweeney.

"I feel sorry for those shelter dogs who have to put up with you!" one woman shouted.

Sweeney called the sentence "measured."

"I think the 90 days was a bit extreme," he said. "It should have been straight probation."

Johnson refused to comment.

Outside the courthouse, Johnson's friends defended him. A large contingent showed up from Millennium Corvettes, a car club of which he is a member.

"He is not a sociopath," said Tom White. "I never heard Glynn say a cross word to anyone."

Jeff Toole said Johnson had been let off lightly: "I think he deserved a minimum of a year in jail. Was justice done for Karley? No."

Some of those shocked by Johnson's actions said they still thought the sentence marked a milestone for better treatment of animals.

"Ten years ago, a case like this wouldn't even have gone to trial," said Chris DeRose, president of Last Chance for Animals, a Los Angeles nonprofit. "This case went to trial and there are felony charges. He does three years' probation and gets jail time. Every year animals get more and more rights."

david.kelly@latimes.com

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