Morgan family seeks justice from Judge Judy

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­­By Tia Lynn Ivey Managing Editor

Judge Judy, daytime television’s favorite sassy judge, doled out a little bit of justice to two local families on Tuesday, June 9 during the show’s taping in Los Angeles, California. Judge Judy ruled in favor of the Bryans and The Leonards, who flew out for the filming of the case, awarding the families a total of $5000, the maximum amount the show will pay, to help compensate for the financial losses incurred by a series of attacks by a loose pack of aggressive dogs, owned by Clark Ellard, of Jasper County. Back in January, the dogs injured and killed cattle belonging to Carey and Warren Bryans and goats belonging to Raymond and Stacey Leonard, wreaking an estimated $9,000 financial loss, cumulatively for both families.

“Justice prevailed in this case and we are just happy to have it behind us,” said Carey Bryans, owner of Bryans Cattle. “We want to continue to be a good neighbor to Mr. Ellard and hope that this puts an end to any further conflict…We have no hard feelings. We wish him the best and hope he takes care of his animals in the future a little more responsibly.” Ellard, who appeared in court, too, claimed he did not realize the dogs were his and claimed one of the Bryans’ sons, Chase, trespassed on his property when the teen followed the dogs back to Ellard’s property after one of the attacks.

Judge Judy was not impressed and had some harsh words for Ellard, according to Carey Bryans. “He didn’t have a very good defense…It was a little embarrassing for him,” said Carey Bryans, owner of Bryans Cattle. “[Judge Judy] said she was sorry that this happened and that it was an unfortunate incident and wished she could make more restitution than she was able.” According to Bryans, even though Ellard lost the case, it was to his benefit to show up, because the show pays the damages.

By February 2015, the attacks ceased, primarily because several of the dogs were shot by the families, who were concerned the vicious dogs could attack a child next. The pack of dogs, believed to be originally comprised of two huskies, a German shepherd, a pit bull/boxer mix, a Chow mix, and at least two other mutts, killed three cows, a bull, and a calf, all belonging to cousins Carey and Warren Bryans, of Morgan County, and killed seven goats, belonging to Stacey and Raymond Leonard, of Jasper County. The dogs also severely injured another bull and two calves, as well as attacked two donkeys put out in the pastures to protect the livestock, all belonging to the Bryans.

The Leonards, who have small children and grandchildren, took matters into their own hands by shooting and killing two of the dogs during separate witnessed attacks, after numerous unsuccessful attempts by the Jasper County Animal Control to confiscate the dogs from the Ellards. “We went to the people we thought would help us, but they didn’t. What are you supposed to do when the people who are supposed to help and protect you won’t?” asked Stacey Leonard, who lost seven of her beloved goats in the attacks. “It’s horrifying that you have property where you think you are safe, and you’re really not.”

Sherry Braley, the former code enforcement officer for Jasper County, who was arrested this week for embezzlement, had been working on the case backin January. She reported back in January that Ellard only admitted to owning three of the described dogs, but denied his dogs would ever kill another animal. Braley also reported that Ellard ignored Animal Control’s multiple visits and mailbox notifications for him to contact the agency. “Our hands are tied to a certain extent,” said Braley back in January. “We have an order to confiscate the dogs, but that order does not give us the right to go on the Ellards’ property without him there to take the dogs. We have been out to his property at least 10 times now. The order is through our court system from our judge and we have tried numerous times to serve that order, but there is a locked gate on the Ellards’ property.

There is no way for us to get in, legally, at this point.” In addition to local authorities unable to remedy the situation, the families grew tired of Ellard’s empty promises. “Mr. Ellard told us after the first attack that he was going to make it right and come pay for any damages the next day…we haven’t heard from him or seen him since,” added Chase Bryans, Carey’s son. Likewise, the Leonards had not been able to reach Ellard either. It was this standstill that led the families to accept Judge Judy’s offer to hear the case. While both families are thrilled to have won the case, the loss goes far beyond money, especially for the Lenoards. The Leonards were devastated over the loss of their seven goats, which they considered family pets. “The goats were worth over $800, but they were our pets, part of our family, you can’t really put a price on that,” said Stacey Leonard. “These dogs are coming right up to our house…We have children that play out here. It’s very scary.” But amidst the tragic attacks, one “miracle survivor” beat the odds. A mother goat and her two five-day-old baby goats went missing for 48-hours after the first attack by the pack of dogs.

After a night of brutal cold and rain, Stacey and Raymond Leonard saw their family dog, Dakota, leading one of the baby goats back toward the house, scuffed up, but safe. They named the baby goat Lucky. Unfortunately, Dakota then led the Leonards to the site of the mother goat and other baby goat, where each had been mauled to death, presumably by the same pack of dogs. “We don’t know how she survived,” said Stacey Leonard. “Those dogs should have killed her or she should have died in the cold without her mama’s milk. But we are so glad she made it and we are taking care of her now.”

Since the Leonards took out three of the dogs themselves, assumed to be the pack’s leaders, no more attacks have occurred since late January. The Bryans and Leonards could not get a straight answer from the Jasper Animal Control if the rest of the dogs were ever confiscated. The Citizen could not reach the Jasper County Animal Control or Clark Ellard for comment. Carrey Bryans remarked, “We had to go all the way to California to get justice.”

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