Alleged dog beater aquitted of all four counts

Brandon Harrison, left, approaches the courthouse during the trial that resulted in his acquittal Friday. - Andrew Leong/file
Brandon Harrison, left, approaches the courthouse during the trial that resulted in his acquittal Friday.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

A man accused of beating his dog and uttering threats to the people who allegedly witnessed it was acquitted on all four counts.

Brandon Scott Harrison, 26, was charged with uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm, causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal, abusing an animal, and criminal harassment.

In his ruling Aug. 22, Judge Ted Gouge said the two main witnesses' testimony, Chris and Leigh Davies were unreliable. He criticized them further for the "name and shame," aspect of a Facebook campaign they mounted in the wake of the incident, saying it displayed poor taste and judgment.

"I do not consider Mr. or Ms. Davies to be reliable witnesses, and would not convict Mr. Harrison of any offence on the basis of their evidence," Gouge said in his written decision.

He said the testimony of a second witness, Shelby Harding, did not suffer from the same deficiencies.

"If her evidence had stood alone, Mr. Harrison would have faced a case to answer on the charges of animal cruelty, but not on the charge of uttering a threat. However, given the inconsistencies between the evidence of Ms. Harding and that of Mr. and Ms. Davies, I do not think that I can be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the accuracy of Ms. Harding's evidence. That conclusion, standing alone, entitles Mr. Harrison to be acquitted.

"Had I accepted Ms. Harding's evidence as sufficient, standing alone, to justify a conviction, the evidence of Mr. Harrison would have raised a reasonable doubt as to his guilt, and I would have acquitted him because of that doubt."

In the judge's ruling, he states Chris posted a drawing of an electric chair on his Facebook page adding the caption: "saved a seat, just for you." The posting garnered favourable comments from other Facebook users.

On another occasion, someone, not the Davies, posted a comment, to the effect the appropriate response to Harrison's conduct would be to, "beat the crap out of him with his hands tied behind him, then let him rot." Leigh signified her approval by clicking on the 'like," icon on the Facebook page.

Gouge wrote that by liking the page, Leigh publicly expressed her support for an act of vigilante violence.

Chris, he wrote, sought to explain his posting as, "dark, British humour," adding he appears to be blind to the risk that others, including some people with serious mental illnesses, may fail to see the humour and may be impelled to violent action by his posting.

"The conduct of Mr. and Mrs. Davies in relation to those two postings are grossly irresponsible," he wrote.

Gouge added the Facebook campaign itself establishes a motive for the Davies to exaggerate Harrison's conduct.

The Davies, he said, passionately believe that the existing animal-protection statutes are inadequate and saw an opportunity from the incident to stir up public support for their views.

"If exaggeration would serve their purpose, as it clearly would in this case, they are quite willing to exaggerate," he wrote. "For that reason, I conclude that their evidence is unreliable."

Upon hearing the ruling, the Davies said they were disappointed with the outcome, but that their campaign, to change the animal cruelty laws in Canada will continue.

"From the outset of this we were the ones who pursued this and pushed back against a lackluster attitude from the authorities that we thought were there to help this poor dog and us, as witnesses," they wrote in an email. "On the upside we hope that this event still sends a clear message that animal abuse is not OK. Animals are sentient beings and the laws need to change to reflect that and offer more protection."

Reached Monday, Crown counsel Peter Benning said he had no comment.

At a press conference held Tuesday by defence lawyer Seth A. Cooper, where Harrison interacted with his dog, the accused said he was happy with the decision.

"We're extremely pleased with the results; we're very pleased at how careful the judge was in his reasoning and that he gave a written decision, instead of ruling off the bench," Cooper said. "It was frustrating for him not to be able to defend himself when before the courts, he put faith in the court process and was happy to see justice done."

Harrison said once he was charged and his address made public, he received a death threat on Facebook, had to watch out for his car and had numerous people drive past his home.

When asked whether Harrison planned on suing the Davies, Cooper said at this point he's considering his options, and at this point Harrison wants his life back.

Crown counsel has up to 30 days to appeal the case from the day after the decision, August 22.

During the trial, the Davies testified that on April 21, 2013, when they were on Cowichan Lake Road, they witnessed Harrison punch his dog Rufus' head several times with his right closed fist. They said he then threw the dog into the ditch, a distance of about 20 feet.

The Davies testified that after Chris picked up her phone to dial police, Mr. Harrison threatened, "If that f----ing bitch call 911, I will f---ing kill her."

Gouge noted that although Harding, saw the entire confrontation between the Davies and Harrison, she said nothing about any threat uttered by Harrison. Harding testified that Harrison told them to go ahead and call and that he appeared to be unconcerned about the prospect of police involvement.

"If the dog had been struck by blows of the kind described by Mr. Davies, it seems unlikely that the dog would display no signs of physical or emotional trauma when examined by Constable Carniuk 60 to 90 minutes after the assault," Gouge wrote.

In addition to the examination by the RCMP, a SPCA employee, Matt Affleck, examined Rufus six days later on April 27.

"He conducted a tactile examination of the dog's head, jaw, teeth and gums," Gouge wrote. "The dog exhibited no signs of discomfort when he did so, and detected no signs of injury. He described the dog as healthy, in good condition, happy, friendly and wiggly. He observed no signs that the dog was in fear of Mr. Harrison. He did not believe that he had any reason to impound the dog."

During the high profile trial, more than 27,000 signatures were signed and presented to Crown, seeking the maximum sentence for Harrison.

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