Neighbor says dogs in mauling chased her sons as pups

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Tears streamed down Yolanda Samuels’ face Friday as she recounted last year’s deadly pit bull attack on 4-year-old Xavier Strickland.

Yolanda Samuels said the dogs that killed Xavier were puppies when they chased her two young sons a few times.

“I looked at Xavier, and I remember ... he was looking at the sky. I was able to see his face,” said Samuels, who lives near the house where several pit bulls lived. She dabbed her eyes as she testified about the Dec. 2 attack.

“There was so much chaos; (police said) ‘we can’t wait for the ambulance,’ and they took off.”

Geneke Lyons, 42, who owned the dogs, is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and possessing dangerous animals causing death after the dogs attacked Xavier while his frantic mother, Lucillie Strickland, watched from behind a fence, helpless.

Xavier was bitten about 90 times. He died later of abdominal injuries at Henry Ford Hospital.

Samuels said the dogs were puppies when they chased her two young sons a few times before the attack on Xavier.

“My boys were scared. I didn’t take it too serious. In my eyes they were puppies; they didn’t seem harmful at the time,” she said. During cross-examination, she said the dogs hadn’t attacked her sons and that they were playful as puppies.

When Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Parisa Kiani queried the witness during redirect questioning, Samuels said she would have thought the dogs were a threat had they chased her sons after they got bigger.

On another occasion, Samuels said she saw the dogs chase a man, who “kicked at” the animals, causing them to flee. “It’s not like the dogs were on attack; they were chasing,” she said.

Samuels also said she saw the dogs outside their yard several times.

Samuels was Friday’s third witness. Five were called in the trial Friday, including Detroit Police Sgt. David Wright of the 12th Precinct, the first police officer to arrive on the scene after a neighbor called 911.

Wright was nearby, and said it took only about two minutes to get to the scene. He said when he arrived, “there were several people flagging me down and pointing to the back of the house.”

“I got out of the car and ran to the backyard ... I saw the child ... there were several people standing on the outside of the gate trying to distract the dogs.”

Wright said there was a chain on the gate, which fell loose when he shook the gate.

“I drew my weapon and went into the yard ... I saw that the child had been mauled; I drew my weapon to protect myself and the child. When I got close to the child, one of (the dogs) came toward me ... kind of quickly.

“I shot the dog ... because I perceived that he was dangerous. He stopped ... I shot him again ... because he turned toward the baby, and I didn’t want him to harm the child,” Wright said, adding he’s had to shoot dogs before in his 28-year police career.

Wright said two dogs tried to get behind him. “That’s when I started firing again,” he said. He added he shot each dog about four times.

“Two other officers came in; they picked the boy up and took him to the hospital,” Wright said, adding Xavier was awake as officers carried him to their squad car.

Yolanda Samuels said the dogs that killed Xavier were puppies when they chased her two young sons a few times.

Also Friday, Roy Hardrick, who lives near Lyons, testified he was inside his house when his mother asked him to go outside to see what the commotion was about.

“I heard people screaming and stuff. Then I asked the neighbor what was going on.” The neighbor was “kind of hyped up ... really didn’t know what to do. Frantic.

“I seen people on top of the fence; they was throwing things at the dogs (which) were circling ... a little boy.”

Hardrick said he also threw something at the dogs, but couldn’t recall what he threw.

“The police came, and started shooting the dogs,” he said. “I saw him kill two of them; then he shot one as it was running away.

“Then two officers picked up the boy and put him in the back of the car.”

Neighbor Ralph Milhouse said Thursday he used an iron bar to distract the dogs during the attack. He said three to four dogs mauled Xavier as he screamed for help.

On Thursday, prosecutors showed the jurors footage from a security surveillance camera at Lyons’ home on Baylis near the Lodge Freeway.

Jurors were visibly upset upon seeing the video, prompting Lyons’ co-counsel, Craig Daly, to tell Wayne Circuit Judge James Callahan the video was so “inflammatory” his client couldn’t get a fair trial.

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