What’s the possibility of charges after deadly dog attack?

Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 6:42 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - How likely are criminal charges to come down after the dog attack that killed 7-month-old Serenity Garnett?

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office told us charges could be coming, but they did not tell us who could be charged. We looked at other cases around the country and heard what lawyers had to say.

“Any time you have a tragedy like this, and it’s either a serious injury or a death, it’s far different than a child getting nipped on the finger,” said Shawn Merzlak an attorney with the Hawk Law Group.

Attorneys tell us criminal cases from dog attacks are uncommon, but unfortunately not unheard of.

On Thursday, a South Carolina man was charged in an unrelated case. His dogs allegedly attacked a woman resulting in the amputation of her arms. He’s facing multiple charges and was granted a $15,000 surety bond, according to Abbeville County Magistrate Court.

Attorneys tell us charges would likely be dependent on the dog’s history.

“They’re going to look and see what type of animal was involved and the history of that animal. Whether or not the owners had any knowledge or reason to believe that the animal was a vicious dog or dangerous animal,” he said.

Though rare, there have been cases where murder charges were filed:

  • In Michigan in 2019, a man was charged with second-degree murder after a 9-year-old girl was allegedly killed by his dogs.
  • In California in 2002, a couple was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after their dogs, Presa Canarios, killed a woman.

According to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, the owner of the dog that killed Serenity, Donna Mills, was already incarcerated on the day of the attack. We haven’t been able to hear from her, but we did speak to her brother over the phone. He says at this time, he has no comment.

We reached out to animal control to figure out what’s next for the dog after its 10-day quarantine.

“Although we don’t know the facts or what is going on in the investigation, the charges could be as high as felony murder,” said Merzlak.

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