A 59-year-old Saint John man has been found guilty of four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm after several of his dogs roamed the lower west side and attacked people over a six-month period in 2018.
Michael Kirby is scheduled to be back in court for a sentencing hearing on Sept. 30.
Justice Arthur Doyle found Kirby not guilty of a fifth charge of violating a court undertaking to keep his dogs on his property and under control.
After already attacking several people, Kirby was put on a court order on Sept. 27, 2018, to keep all of his dogs on his property unless exercising them. In those situations, Kirby was allowed to take one dog at a time off the property, but the dog had to be leashed and "securely muzzled" at all times.
Reading from a 131–page decision, Doyle said there was no question that by Aug. 22, 2018, the date of the first charge against him, Kirby was aware of his dogs' "propensity to attack" people and knew, or ought to have known, they were a danger to innocent passersby.
While the date of the first charge was Aug. 22, 2018, that was not the first time Kirby's dogs attacked someone. Two months earlier, in the same location, his dogs attacked a man, ripping his clothing and causing several puncture wounds. The police and bylaw enforcement officers were involved in that incident, but it did not result in criminal charges against Kirby.
As he did throughout the trial, Kirby tried to downplay the incident — even accusing the victim of exaggerating his injuries.
In his lengthy decision, Doyle made note of several instances where Kirby downplayed the attacks and others where his version was inconsistent with other witness testimony.
The judge also quoted the Crown's remarks about Kirby's version being unreliable and how he was "a moving target" during cross examination.
In dealing with the Aug. 22 incident, the Crown had called Kirby's version of events "self-serving and illogical."
Doyle said he was satisfied that the witnesses accurately described the events.
"In my view, Mr. Kirby's testimony … is not plausible," he said.
Doyle also found him guilty of an incident on Sept. 2, when Kirby took three of his dogs to a Tim Hortons near his home at the corner of Winslow and Ludlow streets.
He tied them to a sign on a sidewalk near the Tim's parking lot and went inside. One of the dogs, Alice, broke free and bit a man walking across the parking lot.
After that incident, Kirby was put on a court order by provincial court Judge Henrik Tonning.
The final two counts occurred on Dec. 12. According to testimony heard at trial, Kirby left his dogs at home that day — by this time he had six dogs.
Two of the dogs, including Alice, roamed the neighbourhood, getting into garbage and ultimately attacking two more people, including an elderly man out for a walk and a 14-year-old boy on his way to school.
Doyle found Kirby guilty of those charges, but not guilty of the charge of breaching a court order that flowed from them.
The defence had argued that the dogs had never escaped Kirby's house before, the door had never failed to latch, and that Kirby left as he usually did.
Doyle said he was not satisfied that Kirby recklessly failed to act to abide by the court order.
Once Kirby was found guilty, Crown prosecutor Christopher Ryan said he wouldn't object to Kirby's release before the sentencing hearing on Sept. 30.
Defence lawyer Charles Bryant requested a pre-sentence report for his client. Such reports look at other factors in a person's life, including personal circumstances and background.
The Crown will also invite victims to submit impact statements for the judge to consider before sentencing.
Kirby walked out of the courtroom a free man, but he is still bound by the conditions of his initial release, including not to possess pets.
When asked inside the courtroom whether he wanted to make a comment outside, Kirby swore at the reporter.
The incidents involved various numbers of Kirby's dogs — from one to four dogs. Two were Louisiana Catahoula leopard dogs and two were Catahoula-Labrador mixes.
According to the American Kennel Club's website, the Louisiana Catahoula leopard dog "requires firm guidance and early socialization, as they can be independent, territorial, and protective."
Kirby got two more dogs during the time frame of the alleged attacks. By the time he was arrested in December 2018, he had six dogs.
Five have been destroyed, and one was found dead in Kirby's residence when the dogs were seized two days after his arrest.