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.”