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Fairfield resident Vierra Morris’s two-year saga with the San Francisco criminal justice system concluded last week with the 21-year old mother-of-one’s acquittal of grand theft charges for allegedly stealing a dog.

A dog, you say? Yes, but not just any dog: a cashmere-sweater-wearing Yorkshire Terrier, owned by a wealthy San Francisco couple who for reasons unknown let said dog roam off-leash, without collar or identification tags, through Union Square during the busy holiday shopping rush.

Morris was minding her own business on Dec. 4, 2008 when she saw the dog running around in traffic on Grant Ave, according to her testimony. She scooped up the pooch and searched for its owner, asking a nearby security guard if he’d seen any folks who look like they might own a dog who wears cashmere. With no owners in sight and no way to identify the dog, she jetted off home in her green Pontiac Firebird, dog on her lap.

SFPD contacted her that very night (her car had been ticketed and described by witnesses to the owners, who called police) and she told them she gave the dog to a neighbor trained in animal rescue.

Nearly a year later, she was arrested in Suisun City on felony theft charges.

That’s the story she told in court, and that’s the story the Public Defender’s Office told the media after a jury deliberated for 90 minutes and found her not guilty.

The District Attorney’s Office who prosecuted Morris saw it differently.

The PD’s office isn’t telling the whole story, according to Assistant District Attorney Brian Buckelew, the office’s spokesman, who dissuaded at least one print outlet from running with the story.

When SFPD contacted Morris after she’d returned to Fairfield, she denied taking the dog, and went further: she denied being in San Francisco that day, according to Buckelew.

Either way, she took the dog after looking for no more than a few minutes, and what’s more, a witness says he saw Morris scoop up the dog from a store’s sales floor, saying “That’s my dog, thanks!” before immediately hopping into her car and roaring away.

After police confronted her with this, she became “unresponsive,” Buckelew said, and at any rate didn’t help cops locate the dog until after her arrest. After SF sheriffs brought her to County Jail from Solano County, prosecutors said they’d reduce her felony charge to a misdemeanor if she helped return the dog to its “distraught” owners. She agreed and “coughed up the dog,” but then her defense team chose to go to trial at the last minute, according to Buckelew.

It seems odd that the DA’s Office would say an acquitted defendant is guilty, especially an acquitted defendant its office couldn’t successfully prosecute (to be fair the prosecution’s best witness “couldn’t be found” to testify). It might also seem odd that District Attorney Kamala Harris would expend the time and money to track down a pooch whose owners didn’t bother to dress it with tags or obey leash laws, posing the question (unanswered): who were these people?

Buckelew says the DA respects the decision of the jury, but that “we think the evidence says otherwise. That’s why we brought the case.”

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  • Jennif

    I was on this jury. There were actually 2 very important witness who didn’t testify. 1) the security guard who apparently had some kind of conversation with Vierra Morris before she picked up the dog, and 2) this neighbor she turned the dog over to within 24 hours.

    Did Vierra Morris really claim to be the dog’s owner? This was not confirmed. Did the security guard tell her the dog had been running loose and unattended for 15 minutes? We speculated probably, but this also was not established. Yes the surveillance video showed her pouncing on the dog, but she doesn’t exactly “roar off” in the car. She testified her urgency was due to she seeing the dog almost get run over by another car on Grant Ave, which is plausible. If the security guard had testified, he might have been able to confirm or deny that.

    Then where exactly was this dog for the next 8 months before her arrest? We did not hear about that story at all. Who was this neighbor who allegedly ran some kind of unofficial shelter? Was it reasonable for her to assume this person would take over the responsibility of finding the owners? Probably she dropped the ball in a major way on trying to locate these (negligent) owners. But we really needed to hear more about the days after this incident & the other people who got involved before we could be sure.

    Because so many different reconstructions of fact and intent were possible in the jury room, we had to go with Reasonable Doubt.

  • Jennif

    I was on this jury. There were actually 2 very important witness who didn’t testify. 1) the security guard who apparently had some kind of conversation with Vierra Morris before she picked up the dog, and 2) this neighbor she turned the dog over to within 24 hours.

    Did Vierra Morris really claim to be the dog’s owner? This was not confirmed. Did the security guard tell her the dog had been running loose and unattended for 15 minutes? We speculated probably, but this also was not established. Yes the surveillance video showed her pouncing on the dog, but she doesn’t exactly “roar off” in the car. She testified her urgency was due to she seeing the dog almost get run over by another car on Grant Ave, which is plausible. If the security guard had testified, he might have been able to confirm or deny that.

    Then where exactly was this dog for the next 8 months before her arrest? We did not hear about that story at all. Who was this neighbor who allegedly ran some kind of unofficial shelter? Was it reasonable for her to assume this person would take over the responsibility of finding the owners? Probably she dropped the ball in a major way on trying to locate these (negligent) owners. But we really needed to hear more about the days after this incident & the other people who got involved before we could be sure.

    Because so many different reconstructions of fact and intent were possible in the jury room, we had to go with Reasonable Doubt.

  • Rick

    so … who were the dog’s owners?

    not many people can wield that much influence to get a dog found.

  • Rick

    so … who were the dog’s owners?

    not many people can wield that much influence to get a dog found.

  • Fred

    Yes, indeed! Who were the owners of this overdressed, unleashed pooch? Because this case seems like a prodigious waste of prosecutorial resources and our tax money.

  • Fred

    Yes, indeed! Who were the owners of this overdressed, unleashed pooch? Because this case seems like a prodigious waste of prosecutorial resources and our tax money.