IN THE NEWS: San Bernardino County DA creates unit to prosecute animal cruelty

By Beatriz Valenzuela, San Bernardino Sun

Posted: 04/28/16, 5:57 PM PDT | Updated: 8 hrs ago

SAN BERNARDINO >> A link between animal cruelty and other crimes — especially domestic violence — has prompted the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office to create a new unit to prosecute animal cruelty cases, District Attorney Mike Ramos announced Thursday.

“This is a link that experts across the country have known about for some time,” said Ramos following a press conference where he introduced the new unit. “Any abuse is something we will not tolerate, not in this county.”

The case of Fontana mother Lorna Lopez illustrates the connection, said Ramos. Lopez and her husband, Victor Lopez, were reported missing by family members March 12, 2013, after the couple was seen arguing. She was found in a Chino pasture two days later. Victor Lopez had turned himself in and led police to her body.

Investigators learned that two years earlier Victor Lopez had been convicted and sentenced to 30 days in jail for kicking the family dog in front of his wife and their four children.

“The abuser will start to see the connection the victim has with the animal, and they use that as a weapon,” said Caroline Reyna, program director for the Family Assistance Program in the High Desert, believed to be the only shelter for domestic abuse victims in the county that allows pets to stay with owners.

According to the American Humane Association, 13 percent of intentional animal abuse cases involve domestic violence.

The organization also found that 71 percent of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to gain psychological control, a tactic Ramos said has been seen in cases of human trafficking.

Last month, Keion Hector, 23, was arrested in Ontario after he allegedly killed a victim’s 8-week-old puppy as a way to control and intimidate a female victim.

“Lay in the bed or I’ll put your face by the dead dog. If you leave, I’ll kill you like I killed Sasha,” prosecutors allege he said.

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