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County pays Palmdale family for fatal dog attack in Littlerock

City News Service | 9/13/2019, midnight

The Board of Supervisors approved this week a $1.1 million payout to the family of a 63-year-old Palmdale grandmother who was fatally mauled by a pack of four pit bulls.

Pamela Devitt was walking in the Littlerock area on May 9, 2013, as part of her exercise routine when she was attacked about one-eighth of a mile from where the dogs lived. She sustained about 200 puncture wounds and died of blood loss on the way to the hospital.

A motorist’s pickup truck was also chased by the dogs after the driver—who called 911—honked her horn in an effort to stop the dogs from attacking Devitt, according to the prosecutor who tried the criminal case against the dog’s owner.

Deputy District Attorney Ryan Williams wrote in a sentencing memorandum that Alex Donald Jackson kept the dogs and a shotgun to guard a drug operation at the house.

Jackson was convicted of second-degree murder in Devitt’s death and was sentenced in October 2014 to 15 years to life in state prison.

In 2016, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence in Jackson’s case.

“Appellant knew his dogs were jumping his fence and attacking passersby,’’ the appellate court panel found in a 14-page ruling. “As an owner of animals with dangerous propensities, appellant had a duty to exercise reasonable care in keeping his dogs from jumping the fence, and his failure to do so caused the death of another person.’’

Devitt’s husband and two children filed suit in 2015, alleging that the county Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) knew about the dangerous dogs but failed to take the appropriate steps to impound them.

In connection with the criminal case, Williams said there was evidence the dogs had attacked nine other people in an 18-month period.

The plaintiffs alleged that the DACC received complaints dating back to 2005 that a pack of pit bulls had escaped from Jackson’s property and were attacking people, pets and livestock, but did not impound the dogs. Complaints about the dogs attacking people and horses were made at least twice in the four months before Devitt was killed, but the animal welfare department determined that the dogs were adequately confined, according to the lawsuit.

DACC Director Marcia Mayeda told the board in May 2013 that no dogs were found on Jackson’s property when department employees responded to earlier complaints, but the family alleged that a whistleblower confirmed the department’s prior knowledge. They also accused Mayeda of deliberately misrepresenting the number of incidents to the board.

The lawsuit contends that the county had a mandatory duty to impound stray and unlicensed dogs, while county lawyers argued that the code section related to strays imposed no mandatory duty.