"The dog had the baby in its mouth": Update on pit bull attack, owner Sue Tacket's arrest
Update: Sunday night's pit bull attack on a toddler (see our previous coverage below) fueled an intense debate among readers about whether blame for the gruesome incident should be placed on the owner, the child's guardians or the dog's breed, which is banned in Commerce City, location of the attack, as well as the site of at least two controversial officer-involved dog shootings.
Zeus, the pit bull in question, died as police tried to wrangle it -- an outcome that breaks the heart of Sue Tacket, his owner, who remains in custody at this writing. Meanwhile, Tristan Klein, the nineteen-month-old hurt in the incident, is lucky to be alive following reports that Zeus leaped on the boy after he gave it a hug and took his head into his mouth.
CBS4 reveals that Klein and Tacket were among a group of transients from Florida who have been traveling across the country. They made camp in a vacant lot not far from a Commerce City King Soopers.
In a jailhouse interview, Tacket told Fox31 that she'd watched young Klein approach Zeus throughout the day. Then, she took a bathroom break, leaving Zeus leashed to a pole -- and upon her return, she discovered that a dog she described as having never hurt anyone before had latched onto the boy's face and neck.
Said one witness who spoke anonymously to CBS4: "It was tough to come up there and see the dog had the baby in its mouth."
Commerce City cops who rushed to the scene had been trained to deal properly with aggressive dogs, a department spokesman says. However, Zeus asphyxiated as three officers struggled to control him after snaring him with catch poles.
Tacket is taking the dog's death hard. She cried throughout her Fox31 interview, saying that he was the only thing that mattered to her in the world. She also expressed confusion about why she was in jail for, in part, violating a Commerce City ban on pit bulls she didn't know anything about until she was taken into custody.
At last report, Klein was in stable condition and is expected to recover, although he'll be hospitalized for several more days. Meanwhile, the Commerce City Police Department confirms that an investigation is underway into how the officers who responded handled the incident.
Look below to see Tacket's booking photo, followed by a CBS4 package and our previous coverage.
Original post, 6:37 a.m. July 14: In recent years, Commerce City has been embroiled in two related debates: municipal pit-bull bans and officer-involved dog shootings. Back in May, as you'll recall, two dogs were killed by police in Commerce City, where a pair of previous dog shootings by cops made big news locally and on social media.
Now, there's a new and disturbing twist on the story: Yesterday evening, a nineteen-month-old was seriously injured by a pit bull. But there are very real questions about the circumstances of the incident, including the actions of the child's guardians.
At about 7:30 p.m. last night, according to the Commerce City Police Department, officers responded to a report about a dog bite in the parking lot of a King Soopers, located at 4850 East 62nd Avenue.
There, they found the aforementioned toddler suffering from bites to his face and neck after encountering what's described as a pit bull weighing approximately ninety pounds. Fortunately, the injuries are not thought to be life-threatening, but they were plenty serious enough to require him being rushed to a nearby hospital.
As for what happened, the CCPD maintains that the boy tried to pet the dog, which had been tethered to a pole, when the animal attacked.
The dog is said to have still been very aggressive when officers tried to snare it with catch poles. This time, they didn't respond by shooting it -- but the dog reportedly "died from asphyxiation...during the restraint process."
Why did the boy's guardians let him try to pet a strange dog tied to a pole? The Commerce City cops don't get into that issue, but the sequence of events seems sketchy, to say the least. The child "was among a group of individuals traveling across the country" that had set up "a small camp in the parking lot to the south of the King Soopers," the CCPD notes, while "the pit bull and its owner were also staying in the same location, but were not known to the other group." A 7News report suggests that some or all of these individuals may have been homeless.
Given these details, the child's injury and the dog's death may not shed much light on the issue of whether breed bans like the one in Commerce City (and Denver, too) enhance safety. The same goes for the Commerce City Police Department, which points out that "the investigation into this incident is ongoing and investigators will determine what charges the pit-bull owner will face." There's no mention about whether an inquiry will also be conducted into how the officers handled things.
In the meantime, Commerce City is attempting to upgrade its reputation in general, as seen in the following paragraph affixed to the end of the press release about the boy's wounds:
ABOUT COMMERCE CITY
As the state's fourth-fastest growing community, Commerce City is redefining itself for the next generation, building on historic values of community, industry, agriculture and family. Centrally located along Colorado's bustling Front Range, Commerce City is a Quality Community for a Lifetime, with 25 miles of trails, a championship golf course, 700 acres of open space and parks, one of the country's largest soccer complexes and the nation's largest urban wildlife refuge.
Presumably, that wildlife doesn't include pit bulls. Here's the aforementioned 7News piece.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.